Thursday, April 15, 2010

Hopscotch - Julio Cortazar

Hopscotch , as the writer tells us is many novels in one book. The beginning of the books gives the reader the various options of reading. One way is to read conventionally, from chapter 1 to chapter 56. The story ends there, and the remaining chapters are extendable pages. The other option is to read the book as per the table given by the writer himself ( that is the way he wanted to you to read the book), starting from chapter 73 and then following the direction at the end of each chapter. You can also invent your own ways of reading, either odd numbered chapters or even numbered ..etc. It gives you a possibility of multiple reading.

Not only with various reading of chapters , Cortazar is also experimenting with telling two stories in one chapter ( no 34) , alternating lines corresponds to two separate threads. Thus, it makes a difficult and challenging reading experience. This complexity, this style and the often felt frustration while reading is makes this a worthwhile reading exercise.

Cortazar, in one interview says "The general idea behind Hopscotch, you see, is the proof of a failure and the hope of a victory. But the book doesn't propose any solution; it simply limits itself to showing the possible paths one can take to knock down the wall, to see what's on the other side."

Horacio Oliveira is a wannabe writer, intellectual living in Paris. He along with his Lover ( Lucia , called La Maga ) and circle of friends from the same fraternity ( they call themselves 'The Club'), spent their evenings drinking, smoking and listening to Jazz discussing various intellectual points. Oliveira, the most recent but the most influential of the lot has been living with La Maga for several months. Things changes after the return of La Maga's son Racamadour, after La Maga fails to pay his monthly expenses for his stay in Belgium. Racamadour has been ill and instead of treating him at the hospital , she decides to take care of him at home. Arrival of Racamadour, brings troubles to the relationship, and Oliveira frequents another girl Pola as his new found love, while the Club continue to meet and discuss topics of literary, art and philosophy. Death of Racamadour, changes the life of La Maga and one day she leave the flat. Oliveira's attempt to find her fails as various news of her returning to Montevideo or the news of unidentified corpse in the Seine shakes him up .

The second part of the novel follows Oliveira to Buenos Aires. After a failed attempt to find La Maga in Montevideo, he returns to his homeland, befriends Monola Traveler. Traveler and his wife Talita, works in the circus as administrators, helps him find a job there after a failed attempts to be a fabric seller. Later the team move to administer a mental asylum. the image and memory of La Maga continue to haunt Oliveira, and the visions of her coupled with the images of Talita causes enough despair to Oliveira taking him to the brink of committing suicide.

The entire novel is fragmented images of Oliveira. For all this book is referred as a hypertext. Alternating between first person and third person narrative as appropriate, looking from various character angle, the book as you read gives you various perspective of narration. The game of hopscotch with the characters, and with the readers.

Written during the time of experimental writing ( 1960s has brought out some of the most outstanding literature from the Latin America), Cortazar too does one of the most complex and significant novel of that era. While the book demand multiple reading, I am still at loss of words to describe the book. All I can say was this is one fantastic book.


Hopscotch ( 1963 )

Julio Cortazar ( translated from Spanish by Gregory Rabassa )

Pantheon Books

564 Pages

Rs 650

Further read : Powers Review,, The Electronics Labrynth


M.J. Nicholls said...

I thought this book was very poorly written and outrageously pretentious.

I think it's one of those books people generally kowtow to because of its structural significance. I don't see any merit in the writing particularly. It's intellectually vapid.

Nice review, though. :)

Justin said...

What a cowardly and useless comment. If you don't find anything worthwhile here in Cortazar's prose or intent, then I wonder which books you do find appealing.

crobl005 said...

I actually love this book, though difficult to read, my guitar instructor was the first to tell me about it and I borrowed it from the library, didn't get it, now years later I am reading it again, there is a website where they have the entire book for free in spanish with the rights reserved of course. I'll send you a message.