I just finished Jose Luis Borges’s El libro de arena, published in 1975 and containing a number of his later stories.  On the whole it’s fairly meh, though I’m sure I lost a lot by reading it in Spanish.

The best of the stories, worthy of his overwhelming early ones, is the title story, which treats the theme of “The Library of Babel” from another angle: the Book of Sand is a book with an infinite number of pages.  The Library of Babel updated to fit in your hand, and this one is illustrated, too!  Playing with impossible concepts is always fun, though Borges always adds a certain depressiveness to them.

Also of note is the first story, “El otro”, in which Borges has an encounter with his fifty-years-younger self.  It’s a bit mild and bookish, but I liked the irony of his conclusion that his two selves wouldn’t find each other that interesting.

If you like Lovecraft there’s a short Lovecraftian homage.  (He gets Lovecraft’s indirection, but not really any of his strange fascinations.  Here, I’ll spoil it for you: it’s about a house that’s being rebuilt for an alien; the narrator visits it and is naturally baffled by all the things he simply can’t understand.  It’s a fine sf concept, but rather too clean and non-nightmarish for Lovecraft.)

The strangest tale is “El congreso”, which keeps changing gears.  I think he had an idea he just couldn’t find a way to make work.  A landowner, don Alejandro, wants to be a deputy in the national congress, but it doesn’t work out.  He decides to make his own Congress– one that will represent the whole world.  This could be a political story, or a parody of pre-WWI idealism, or something metaphysical, or a story of madness; it touches on all of these without ever settling on anything.  There’s an amusing bit where there’s some discussion of who each (self-elected) delegate represents– “Nora Erfjord was Norwegian.  Did she represent secretaries, or Norwegians, or simply all pretty women?”  But that’s as ‘Borgesian’ as the story gets.  There’s a pointless subplot about the Congress’s library; then the narrator goes to England; then he returns to don Alejandro’s ranch where there’s a big party that marks the end of the Congress.  It’s a bit of a mess.  I think at root the problem is that he can’t find a way to make the Congress’s ambitions at all real, so it devolves into the misadventures of a bunch of people we don’t really care about.  (In an afterword he mentions Chesterton; he may have been thinking of the end of The Man Who Was Thursday, but if so I don’t think the imitation worked.)

The other stories didn’t make much of an impression, though one of them, “Utopia de un hombre que esta cansado”, is perhaps notable for being a rather dark and dreary vista of the future (no apocalypse, just a dwindling bunch of melancholics who’ve grown tired of the world).  There’s also his only prose love story, “Ulrica”.