In his short story “The Library of Babel,” Jorge Luis Borges describes an infinite library, one which contains “Everything: the minutely detailed history of the future, the archangels’ autobiographies, the faithful catalogues of the Library, thousands and thousands of false catalogues, the demonstration of the fallacy of those catalogues … the true story of your death, the translation of every book in all languages.”

Would that such a library existed! It would also contain the vanished MSS. of history’s great writers, some of which are catalogued (truthfully, we presume) in Stuart Kelly’s new book. Numberless works have been lost to the sands of time, not to mention the floods, demolitions, thefts, fires, and even lungs of time: “Mikhail Bakhtin, exiled in Kazakhstan, used his work on Dostoyevsky as cigarette papers, after having smoked a copy of the...

 
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