Nathaniel's Reviews > Hopscotch

Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar
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Dec 05, 08

bookshelves: originally-in-spanish
Read in October, 2008

As Cortazar's Table of Instructions will inform you, "Hopscotch consists of . . . two books above all." Do not read the second one.

A reader can volunteer to be launched after nearly every chapter of the relatively conventional narrative contained in chapters 1-56 (the first book) into a grab bag of unimpressive quotations from good authors, awful literary theory attributed to "Morelli" and scattered narrative chapters that the plot can do without. This disruptive method of reading "Hopscotch" is most tolerant of its experiment with form, most in harmony with the psyche of the novel's protagonist and, perhaps, most in line with the author's intentions. It is how I read the book and I enjoyed it soooo much less because of that decision.

The desultory and labyrinthine experience of integrating all of the scraps from the cutting room floor into the midst of a sometimes thought-provoking and well-crafted narrative, robs Cortazar's novel of its grace and is likely to rob many readers of their patience. It is an unusual sensation to be in the middle of a book and to have absolutely no idea how many pages separate you from the ending; just as it is unusually frustrating to lose your place when it means scanning back and forth through twelve jumpy chapters to find it. Perhaps the experience is meant to be more like life than reading.

Every time that I realized that the upcoming appendix-chapter that was about to draw my attention away from Horacio's existence was classified as "Morelliana" I sobbed inwardly and throttled imaginary songbirds. If you feel indulgent towards self-important amateurs who sit around and ramble about matters that have been written about with intelligence and skill, or if you like it when young novelists try to propound grand theories of aesthetics based mostly on the strength of their pride, you *may* have patience for Morelli's contributions, which, unfortunately, make up somewhere near half of the extra chapters.

"What Morelli is looking for is to break the reader's mental habits." Thanks, I got it and I also understand that a reader can use Morelli as a lense to gain some insight into Cortazar's novel and into the sort of milieu that his characters inhabit. It's just that Cortazar is actually a gifted story-teller with a poet's attention to memorable and overlooked detail whose work draws no strength from these digressions.

To a degree, Horacio and his buddies suffer from a similarly vapid chattiness. If I had to spend an evening with his Club in Paris, I don't think I could become drunk enough to find them unpretentious. Their self-congratulatory rambling seems, in fact, to infect the book as a whole, and the more I look back on this novel, the less I like it. Perhaps if Cortazar had been twenty something, if this was his "Stephen Hero," his degree of unfounded pedantry would be excusable. But he was forty and should have known better than to foist a bunch of used up ideas on people.

If this review seems harsh, it is because after reading "Autonauts of the Cosmosphere" I had very high hopes for Cortazar's other works.

On the bright side: "Hopscotch" is sometimes comical and sharply phrased. It is interesting to watch Horacio struggle amongst his associates to satisfy himself with a small cast of women, even if those women suffer from the sort of wide-eyed, uninitiated magical simplicity that gets really old in the hands of the surrealists and their devotees. At least, the chapters set in an Argentinian mental hospital are a pleasant digestif.
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