I finished this book an hour ago, and between customers who wander into the little country store I am overseeing today, I have been reading articles and reviews about it, hoping to get a better handle on what I’ve experienced.
The book is, first and foremost, an experience. While it can be read in the normal fashion up to chapter 56, the true format is one of “hopscotching” – leaping backwards and forwards between the first 56 chapters and 99 “expendable” chapters that follow. One of the strongest emotions I felt while reading was one of unbalance – I had to abandon my normal delight in the ticking away of pages and my resistance to “reading ahead”. I had to take a deep breath and give myself a shake when I read the last lines of the physical book, long before the end of the actual story!
In it’s simplest terms the book is about Horacio Oliveira, an Argentine adrift in Paris, coming to terms with his failings. For awhile his ceaseless search for what path to chose, or which path he ought to have chosen, is set aside by the lovely, simple La Maga. When he loses her, he returns to Argentina and gets tangled up in his best friend’s life, seeing the face of La Maga in his friend’s wife, and arriving at the brink of insanity.
What makes this fairly straightforward tale so interesting is the way Cortazar plays with language, not only crafting lively dialogue, but pulling the reader so much farther into the page, making the reader participate fully. Chapter 34 is a great example of this. It took me a minute to figure out what was going on, but once I had caught on it became one of the most interesting reading experiences in the book:
In September of 1880, a few months after the demise of my
And the things she reads, a clumsy novel, in a cheap edition
father, I decided to give up my business activities, transferring
besides, but you wonder how she can get interested in things
them to another house in Jerez whose standing was as solvent
How often have you sat reading a book with your thoughts wandering wildly, somehow taking in the words on the page while thinking about other things? In this chapter, Oliveira is reading one of La Maga’s books but is completely unable to focus, and his frenzied thoughts are threaded throughout the narrative of the novel.
In a review by the Quarterly Conversation I found this excellent description:
‘Cortazar does not clutch. Like the best authors, he trusts his readers. He constructs a labyrinth for them and then leaves them to figure it out. Physically, Hopscotch resembles a labyrinth in that it takes readers through its pages via an intricate, twisting path. The same is true for this prose that continually puts ideas in the reader’s head, continually tries to catch her attention and pull her into a maze of interpretation, of clues, characters, words, ideas that point back at one another like, to use Anais Nin’s words (quoted by Cortazar in Hopscotch), “a tower of layers without end.” ‘
Entirely unlike anything I’ve ever read before, Hopscotch drew me in even while it confused the hell out of me. Having finished it I find myself pleasantly puzzled, thoroughly intrigued, and quite relieved that I no longer am within the ranks of those who don’t read Cortazar. As Pablo Neruda once said:
Anyone who doesn’t read Cortázar is doomed. Not to read him is a serious invisible disease which in time can have terrible consequences. Something similar to a man who has never tasted peaches. He would quietly become sadder, noticeably paler and, probably, little by little, he would lose his hair. I don’t want those things to happen to me, and so I greedily devour all the fabrications, myths, contradictions, and mortal games of the great Julio Cortázar.