Oriana's Reviews > 62: A Model Kit

62 by Julio Cortázar
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Dec 25, 2014

it was amazing
bookshelves: perennialfavorites, phenomenal, read-2010, read-2011, read-2012, read-2013, dabbling, read-2014
Read from September 06, 2010 to October 26, 2014 , read count: 5

I just read this again for IDK like the 10th time. It is my favorite book of all time ever and I'd like to tell you about it.


I think what I'm actually going to do is like a CliffNotes sort of thing, where I tell you first a few reasons why this book is nearly impossible to read the first time, then give you the cast of characters and a few things they do, so that if you do try to read it, you'll have some hope of figuring out what's going on before you're 3/4 of the way through.

I suppose that means this'll be kind of spoilery? I mean it's really not that kind of book, but if you want to go into it blind, you should probably just not read this review at all.

Okay here we go. The first thing that's important to know is that Cortázar does this thing with time where it does not go the way it's supposed to, like in a way everything in the book happens all at once, in a clearly impossible way. So it opens on Juan alone on Christmas Eve at a subpar restaurant having just bought a book and in the process of getting diligently drunk, and someone else in the restaurant says something that reminds him of a series of things that he reminisces about -- except that it'll be clear later that those things haven't really happened yet, and not in the order he remembers them anyway. It's like this wild Möbius strip where everything is an eternal present and is also all in the past. So there's that at first.

Second, this is really just a book about a bunch of super-smart, super-silly, super-cosmopolitan friends; they all travel all the time for work and for play, and most of the book takes place in their various hotel rooms or bars or cafés in Paris or Oslo or Barcelona. But then also laid over all of this as a semi-comprehensible patina is the City, like the ur-city maybe, where everyone sometimes slips into on their respective journeys, and everyone seems to have a moment or a mission there that they are constantly reliving or trying to complete, and sometimes they run into each other and other times they are endlessly fruitlessly searching and never finding what or whom they're meant to.

Third, several of the characters are never really explained, like for ex. Osvaldo you find out many pages in is actually a pet snail, and I think Feuille Morte is a bird although I'm not certain. Then there's a character called "my paredros," which, like the City, is not exactly one person but a composite person, or maybe it's each of them at different times. So they'll say things like "my paredros said," but when Juan says it he might mean Polanco, and when Nicole says it she might mean Calac, or maybe they all have an imaginary friend in common that everyone believes in together.

Finally fourth, he does this thing which by the third read I adored but at first I just found so jarring, which is that he switches from third person to first person all the time, often in the middle of a sentence. And especially at the start when you don't know who these people are or what they're like, it's just about impossible to know who's narrating when.


Okay those are the disclaimers. Are you still with me? Because here are the characters.

Juan
He's the Cortázar stand-in, surely. He's ruggedly handsome (actually I don't know if he's ever physically described, but in my head he's devastatingly gorgeous because Juan is exactly the boy I always and forever will unreachably fall in love with). He's from Buenos Aires and works as a U.N. interpreter and so is always in new cities being exhausted by an endless barrage of words. For most of the course of this book he's in Vienna with Tell, his "crazy Danish girl." He's in desperate, aching, unrequited love with Hélène.

Tell
She is this fabulous redheaded Danish marvel, very independent and fun and demanding. She knows Juan isn't in love with her and she's perfectly happy to be his vixen for a little while when the whim takes her. Together they have a lot of sex and drink a lot of wine and have an adventure with a vampire (maybe). Tell is fiercely protective of her friends, especially Nicole. At one point she sends a doll to Hélène that has something mysterious and dirty in it, which has severe ramifications.

Nicole
She's French. Her boyfriend Marrast calls her "the Malcontent." She's quiet and mournful and an artist; through most of the book she's illustrating a children's book about gnomes. She's in desperate, aching, unrequited love with Juan. Things with Marrast are bad, and eventually she will do something about it, which I won't tell you because that does feel spoilery. When she's in the City there are red houses and high sidewalks and everything is despair.

Marrast
Also French, and darkly hilarious, and an overly smart sculptor. He does three things mostly in the book: 1. Make a gigantic commissioned sculpture for the town of Arcuile that's a deconstruction of what a sculpture should be in that it has its pedestal on top and the sculpture itself on the bottom, 2. Talks and talks and talks and drinks and talks and mourns the dissolution of his relationship with Nicole without being able to do anything about it, and 3. Crafts this elaborate sort-of prank involving a random painting in an art gallery, a host of Anonymous Neurotics, and an unidentified plant sprig.

Calac & Polanco
Argentinian BFFs. These two could easily be dismissed as comic relief, which is often the role they fill -- Polanco, for ex, works at a nursery school with a lake and has inherited a canoe and unattached motor; the first time we meet him he's in a hotel room with an electric razor submerged in porridge because he thinks if he can keep it running, that will bode well for his soon-to-be-motorized canoe not tipping him out into the lake. He and Calac often speak in their own made-up language that is unparsable but still you get the idea. They're not just comic relief, but their levity always comes in at just the right moments when things have got too heavy.

Celia
She's a fairly daffy young English girl who runs away from home and is very angstily sad. I can't go into what happens between her and Hélene, sorry. Eventually she winds up with Austin.

Austin
He begins as an Anonymous Neurotic, then becomes Marrast's French pupil, and winds up almost inadvertently as a major agent of the plot. Prior to that there's a hilarious episode where he describes sleeping with French girls who have huge elaborate hairdos and will only fuck in positions that will not get their heads anywhere near a pillow.

Hélène
The most mysterious figure in the group; she's an anesthesiologist and has a catastrophic hospital encounter with a young boy who reminds her of Juan. She might be evil actually, I can't say for sure. Her recurrence in the City has her always walking and walking, holding a package tied with a yellow cord that gets heavier and heavier, but she can't put it down until she gets where she's going, which of course she never does.


I don't know, I thought laying that all out would prove that this is one of the most difficult but also the most beautiful and strange book that exists, but I'm not sure that's what happened.

All I have left to say is this: This book is magic, magic, magic; on every page, in every line, shot through every twistedly long and nearly un-parse-able sentence. One day I will meet someone who loves it as much as I do, and we will read it back and forth, bit by bit, over and over every day for the rest our lives.
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Reading Progress

11/12/2013 marked as: dabbling

Comments (showing 1-29 of 29) (29 new)

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message 1: by Tosh (new) - added it

Tosh Oriana it looks like I have to read this book. In fact I may have it already. I have a box of New Directions I haven't read yet.


Oriana Tosh, I am so excited to hear what you will have to say about this book! Have you read Cortazar before? Because possibly this is his hardest book to read, but also oh my god his most amazing (not that I'm dissing Hopscotch). I will admit that I've read it maybe five times, and the first two were right in a row.


message 3: by Tosh (new) - added it

Tosh Oriana this sounds like a challenge! I better read it. If I don't you will think I a total s**t! I have to check my inventory. Due to long story I won't go into it, but I think I requested this book from New Directions. If I do have it I will read it.

Due to my obsessive British 60's thing, I know Cortazar's work via "Blow Up." But strange enough (or not that strange) a girl friend of mine who is also on this list, is crazy about Cortazar's work. I did read 'Blow Up" and Hopscotch in the 80's when I was ill in bed - and I don't have a memory of it! I think due to my flu at the time. But Oriana I am turned on that you like this book so much - so I wlll locate it and will read the damn devil.


Oriana Tosh that is awesome! A very dear friend of mine got me into Cortazar, who I maybe never would have read otherwise, and it seismically shifted my literary life. I would be thrilled to be able to continue that chain...

(Also how cool are you that you can just request books from New Directions?)

Probably I should also mention that most people think his short stories are better than his novels. But also most people are silly and don't know anything.

But goodness, trying to read Hopscotch while you had the flu? I can't even imagine.


Oriana Oh and come on. You'd have to try a lot harder than that to make me think you were a shit!


Oriana Gosh Robert, I'm thrilled to provide the nudge. If I can start a little fire here of people reading Cortazar, especiall 62: A Model Kit, I will be immeasurably pleased. Ah, the powers of teh internets!


message 7: by Tosh (new) - added it

Tosh Robert I know this website. And yeah his graphics and book covers are great. I am totally interested in book cover graphics as well as layouts on pages, etc. You are going to see more of that stuff on my press (TamTam Books).

Oriana it has been reported that I am s**t, but nevertheless even in the gutter I have faced the stars...


message 8: by Magdelanye (new) - added it

Magdelanye It just so happens I am on a Cortazar binge with a nice little stockpile of his work...this one tho I had to put a hold on,someone has it for another week. That's okay because I am having so much fun withCronopios and Famasand the literary bio

Cortazar might have died,long live Cortazar!


Oriana Long live Cortazar indeed!!! Have you read Autonauts of the Cosmoroute? I only recommend it for people who already love him, but for those who do, it is utterly magical.


message 10: by Magdelanye (new) - added it

Magdelanye Had to put a hold on that one too,but picked it up just yesterday. I have peeked but plan to read it after a few more fictiones.
And I must confess,gemini that I am, I am also right now reading that other hero of mine,China Mieville,punkster with a lot in common with the great JC, both wildly experimental,seamlessly juxtaposing the real and the totally bizarre and careful of every word.
i am reading Railsea and trying to catch up to my Mieville group.


Oriana Gosh, I never had any particular inclination to read Mieville. But you say he's like Cortazar??


message 12: by Magdelanye (new) - added it

Magdelanye well,I'm not quoting anyone,but to me,the similariies are manifold.They share a passion for language, and for the fantastic and the absurd,which they both treat casually;and both are geniuses of observation,exploringing the unusual nature of the ordinary.It is easy to read parables in most of their works. Not beligerantly political,their works are quite revolutionary,and both are splendid,hypnotic,playful writers.Their characters are inhabited with insight and compassion,and gentleness,mostly,even though both of them have written some pretty dark stuff,especially CM.They write not just about but from the far side of reality where things appear distorted and unfamiliar,the attic and the basement,with a marvelous lucidity and eridition that is inventive and seductive. We want to join in.

Reading them together like this may not be such a great idea,for once or twice,as I read myself to sleep,I have gotten mixed up as to where I read a certain phrase or idea, and bits easily conflate...


Oriana Wow!! I am totally convinced, thank you. Which Mieville would you recommend starting with?


message 14: by Magdelanye (new) - added it

Magdelanye oriana wrote: "Wow!! I am totally convinced, thank you. Which Mieville would you recommend starting with?"

Perdido Street Station


Oriana Onto the to-read shelf it goes!!


message 16: by Magdelanye (new) - added it

Magdelanye oriana wrote: "Onto the to-read shelf it goes!!"

Just dont let it languish there too long!
CM is someone whose work you want to be exploring.
I am very interested in your reaction,you will let me know.

Yesterday I started winners. It's very different,quite a sleeper, but finally finished the prologue and am gratified to note it's getting more interesting.Have you read this one?


Oriana I didn't love Winners, I have to admit. I've read all his books, I think, though many (including that one) only once.


message 18: by Gabriela (new) - added it

Gabriela Hi there - do you think this would be a good book to start my Cortázar experience? Or would you recommend something else for the Cortazár beginners?


Oriana Hey Gabriela -- I'd have to say no. This book is really pretty difficult; I had to read it twice through the first time to even begin to parse it, and I think you have to already know you love him to be willing to put in that kind of effort. Most people prefer his short stories, and although I love his novels much more, I think it's probably wise to ease in, maybe with Blow-Up (his most famous) or Chronopios & Famas (shorter and quirkier) or We Love Glenda So Much, which is two collections put together and so has a lot of wonderful stories but also a lot of filler, but would give a good overview to his oeuvre.


message 20: by Caroline (new) - added it

Caroline I love your enthusiasm. If it's better than Hopscotch that's quite an achievement. Cortazar is beautiful and it's such a shame his work is neglected in the English speaking world. Keep smiling.


message 21: by M. (new)

M. I think you need to convene a book club just for this book.


Oriana Aw, thanks guys. Caroline, I do prefer it to Hopscotch, but also I've read it twice as many times and am probably more intimately acquainted with it than any other book. And I'm definitely not knocking Hopscotch, which is itself a thing of immense devastating beauty.

Mimi, god I would love that!


Jimmy oriana, this review is new, no? I love it, and it makes me want to re-read this book soon.


Oriana Aw thanks Jimmy!! I just finished rereading this and was so sad that I'd never written a real review, so I put this up. If you do reread this I insist we discuss it!


Jimmy Yes! I will let you know. I love this book so much.


Oriana It really just makes my heart soar to hear that. : )


message 27: by Lucia (new)

Lucia Thank you for this review! I'm argentine, Corti is my fav writer, I did my major thesis in lot on hopscotch and still can't seem to get passed the first few pages of this book! Will have to give it another chance!


message 28: by Lucia (new)

Lucia Thank you for this review! I'm argentine, Corti is my fav writer, I did my major thesis in lot on hopscotch and still can't seem to get passed the first few pages of this book! Will have to give it another chance!


Oriana Definitely, definitely, definitely do! It's a bit like Hopscotch in the way it shifts narrators and perspectives and tones and levels of difficulty throughout -- though often without any warning! But if you push through that weird stuff in the beginning about the bloody castle and the mirror and the steak, it'll get easier, I promise. : )


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