Metaphors, cliches and originality

Jorge Luis Borges, interviewed by Paris Review of Book says:

"When I was a young man I was always hunting for new metaphors. Then I found that really good metaphors are always the same. I mean you compare time to a road, death to sleeping, life to dreaming, and those are the great metaphors in literature because they correspond to something essential. If you invent metaphors, they are apt to be surprising for a fraction of a second, but they strike no deep emotion whatever. If you think of life as a dream, that is a thought, a thought that is real or at least that most men are bound to have, no?"


This goes against every bit of advice that is given to all budding writers, and that is "avoid clicheslike a plague" - a piece of advice which has become a cliche itself.

My initial response to reading Borges' statement was a slight indignation - "But writers must strive for originality, they can't just rely on those cliches, they must be creative!"

But do they really?

Surely, they should be creative, but you can take an old metaphor and clothe it differently. A good example is the book I am reading now "Moth Smoke". The metaphor that runs through the book is, as you might have guessed from the book title, the one using a moth attracted to light/fire which will ultimately cause its downfall (i.e. death). Now, this is not the most original metaphor for self-desctructive behaviour. It has been done over and over again. Yet, Mohsin Hamid is an excellent writer, he slips the metaphor gently, he doesn't wave it in front of your face and then shove it down your throat.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have Simon Mawer and his heavy handed 'Glass Room' of which I gave a passing review in my last post. Mawer was trying to do something monumental using the 'Glass Room' metaphor for his narrative structure and his characters' lives. Sadly, it fell flat, it was too calculated and just too foreign of a concept to feel authentic.

What do you think? New original metaphors or old tried ones? If you have any recommendations of favourite books using successfully interesting metaphors (whether new or old ones), please let me know. I am less interested in the failed attempts but feel free to post them as well as a warning.