Jimmy's Reviews > Hopscotch

Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar
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's review
Jan 20, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: argentina, male, novel, reviewed-in-the-style-of, year-1960s

Table of Instructions

This review consists of two reviews. The first can be read in a normal fashion. Start from 1 and go to 12, at the close of which there are three garish little stars which stand for the words The End. Consequently, the reader may ignore what follows with a clean conscience.

The second should be read by beginning with 1 and then following the sequence indicated at the end of each sentence or paragraph. For example, if you see “> 24”, then proceed to paragraph/sentence # 24 (which is conveniently labelled and bolded).

From The Other Side

1 I expected this book to be more inventive than it turned out to be, based mostly on how much hoopla there was around its experimental form. I had it in my head that the book could be read in an infinite variety of ways. While it certainly can be, the ‘instructions’ at the beginning specifies only 2 official ways of reading it. And besides, they are subsets of each other (with slight inconsistencies, for example chapter 55 is left out of one version). It seemed almost like watching a movie on a DVD and having the ability to watch it with or without the deleted scenes.

But as I progressed, I felt that the flipping of pages had a different effect on me. > 17

2 It lent a physical structure to the route that the book was taking. Having the expendable chapters wedged in between the normal chapters instead of at the end would have resulted in pretty much the same novel, but would also have had a slightly different, lesser effect. The need to flip constantly back and forth made the enterprise into a kind of personal search, with a possibility of getting completely lost. > 27

3 This is an exciting possibility. Unlike in a normal book where I could gauge my progress by the heft of pages in my right vs. left hands (almost like a subconscious scale), in this book it was clear that the page I was on meant nothing at all. In parts, where the narrative took me on a whole string of hopping-around among the expendable chapters, I felt completely disoriented, but in a good way. Like I was swimming with no sight of the shore. > 23

4 What’s more, the expendable chapters can be seen as a sort of appendage to the main book. In this way, the book is not a thing with defined borders, but one that flows and overflows in soft focus. Because the novel talks constantly about literature itself, it is inevitable to think of all the works that the novel references (and there are many: Oblomov, The Man without Qualities, Bouvard and Pecuchet, Under the Volcano, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, The Confusions of Young Törless, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, to name just a few off the top of my head) as “expendable novels” that are part of this one if you were to just expand those fuzzy borders slightly. > 14

5 So that another way of reading this book (not included in the instructions at the beginning) would be to read it straight through but at any mention of another novel, you must go immediately and read it in its entirety, then come back to this book where you left off. > 29

6 Similarly, one could expand the borders even further to works influenced by this book (including Cortázar’s own 62: A Model Kit, inspired by chapter 62 of this book). Or even further into fictional works that exist only in the book, like Morelli’s novels, and Ceferino’s writings. One could keep going until this book included all of literature, or you die of exhaustion, whichever comes first (guess!). > 7

From This Side

7 But maybe all this bullshit about form is way overblown. Maybe it’s all an elaborate distraction so that the book itself can be hidden underneath: a quilt with its little hopscotch squares performing its exquisite covering-over-nature. > 20

8 Because the form of the book is so dazzling, its shimmering surface attracts the reviewers’ full attention. They can’t look away. What ends up being ignored are the things hidden underneath, which sheds light on the whole reason for the circuitous form to begin with. > 16

9 Throughout the book, Cortázar is concerned not only with literature and writing itself, but with the possibility of writing at all. Is it even possible to say a thing, to communicate with an ‘other’?

If the person you are communicating with is truly an ‘other’, then communication would not be possible at all. For how can you talk unless you have some kind of shared experience? And yet if the other person was not an ‘other’ then they are the same as you, and you are in essence just talking to yourself. And what is the point of that? Mental masturbation. Therefore, is not the only worthy venture for language to communicate the impossible? To attempt interactions with an ‘other’ who will always misunderstand? > 24

10 Then again, isn’t it sometimes harder to communicate with someone you’re close with? > 31

11 At the center of this question is a deliberately silly scene. It’s morning and Oliveira wants some fresh maté as well as some straight nails. His best friend (Traveler) and wife (Talita) are just across the way, also on the same floor, but in an opposite apartment building. It would be easy for him to go downstairs, then go back up the stairs in Traveler’s apartment building, get the maté and nails, go back downstairs, then go up the stairs in his own apartment. Instead, they build an elaborate bridge from planks of wood and rope, weighing it down with the bed and the dresser and their own bodies like a scale. On this precarious contraption, Talita is asked to deliver the goods by crawling across the planks, risking a fall to her bloody death. This is a circus act made only more funny by its inelegant obviousness: Traveler and Talita actually work in a circus! > 25

12 Even the simplest communications require a circus act. And yet, we all carry within ourselves some morsel of deep understanding about everything, some essence that is impossible to share. Is Cortázar saying it is not worth trying? No, he obviously went through the circus act of writing this book, and made you go through the circus act of flipping through the pages. Because, for Cortázar, this bridge (across what he calls the “unbridgeable distance”) is never achieved elegantly (but so humanly in its inelegance), and never completely. And precisely because of that, we should try all the harder. He seems to be saying “Look what fun can be had along the way!” (but watch out, you can also fall to your death) > 21


From Diverse Sides (Expendable Sentences):

13 page 307: “The unbridgeable difference, a problem of levels that had nothing to do with intelligence or information” > 33

14 “At the center is the metaphor of imaginative numbers. Torless learns of them in math class, and spends some pages thinking about how we can start with something completely real, apply an element that does not exist to it (but we pretend it does, temporarily, just for the sake of conjecture) and that the logical result of that (because the imaginative numbers eventually cancel each other out on both sides of the equation) is a real result. But that the bridge between the two real worlds is one that's completely made up.” -- from my Goodreads review of The Confusions of Young Törless > 26

15 “All great works of literature either dissolve a genre or invent one.” --Walter Benjamin > 3

16 page 438: “Feeling that Heisenberg and I are from the other side of a territory, while the boy is still straddling with one foot in each without knowing it, and that soon he will be only on our side and all communication will be lost. Communication with what, for what?” > 9

17 By any literal definition, this book can be called a page turner. > 2

18 page 281: “that you would have given me such an urge to be different...” > 12

19 “In Germany, Austria, and Switzerland the game is called Himmel und Hölle (Heaven and Hell) although there are also some other names used, depending on the region. The square below 1 or the 1 itself are called Erde (Earth) while the second to last square is the Hölle (Hell) and the last one is Himmel (Heaven). The first player throws a small stone into the first square and then jumps to the square and must kick the stone to the next square and so on, however, the stone or the player cannot stop in Hell so they try to skip that square.” -- Wikipedia > 28

20 page 287: “This all seemed perfect to Talita and at the same time there was something like a bedcover about it, or a teapot cover, or some kind of cover, just like the recorder or Traveler’s satisfied air, things done or decided, to be put on top, but on top of what, that was the problem and the reason that everything underneath it all was still the way it had been before the half-linden, half-mint tea.” > 8

21 “For me, literature is a form of play. But I’ve always added that there are two forms of play: football, for example, which is basically a game, and then games that are very profound and serious. When children play, though they’re amusing themselves, they take it very seriously. It’s important. It’s just as serious for them now as love will be ten years from now. I remember when I was little and my parents used to say, “Okay, you’ve played enough, come take a bath now.” I found that completely idiotic, because, for me, the bath was a silly matter. It had no importance whatsoever, while playing with my friends was something serious. Literature is like that—it’s a game, but it’s a game one can put one’s life into. One can do everything for that game.” -- Julio Cortázar > 12

22 p160: “The actors speak and move about no one knows why or for what reason. We project our own ignorance into them and they seem like madmen to us, coming and going in a very decided way.” > 19

23 “I’m about half way through the first part/side, and I remember what frustrates me about Cortázar. His prose is so delicious, but I find myself enjoying the back-and-forth of the characters’ dialogue much less. Especially in some sections in here I just want to be reading Cortázar’s hypnotic prose where he’s inside one of his character’s head, describing a feeling or idea rather than the constant chatter between characters. Within this chatter, the rhythm drops off, and my enjoyment does too.” > 22

24 page 279: “...one draws back, from his best friend, no less, who is the one we have the most trouble telling such things to. Doesn’t it happen to you, that sometimes you confide much more in just anybody?” > 31

25 In this picture, Oliveira and Traveler are two faces in a mirror, and yet Talita is the bridge that joins them. Only through her is communication possible. The whole scene is ridiculous and ridiculously obvious, but this awkwardness is precisely its charm. No, this is not an elegant metaphor with a poetic flourish. It's a messy one, with all these extra appendages. > 18

26 With all the deliberate fragmentation going on in here, Cortázar seems unusually obsessed with the rather old fashioned idea of unity, or shall I say whunity. That “coherent scheme, an order of thought and life, a harmony” (p 291) > 5

27 page 442: “What good is a writer if he can’t destroy literature?” > 30

28 Sometimes these characters and their philosophical prattle annoy me, but I think Cortázar doesn’t always like them either, and is kind of making fun of them, which makes it suddenly OK to read 600 pages of it. (Or does it? It does if you love Cortázar’s prose to begin with I guess) Like all ‘big books’ this is a flawed one, but one which is so willing to make fun of itself, it seems. Even though on the surface it seems much more pretentious (the talks in the cafe about literature and philosophy might give this impression) underneath it all, there is a voice that never takes itself too seriously, a voice of loving laughter that is intensely self aware of its own pretensions (but realizes that those pretensions need to be said, that there is some limited (though dangerous) truth in them also). > 34

29 page 179: "Gregorovius had given up the illusion of understanding things, but at any rate, he still wanted misunderstandings to have some sort of order, some reason about them." > 6

30 page 286: “It couldn’t be (there’s a reason for logic) that Horacio was interested and at the same time was not interested. The combination of the two things should have produced a third, something that had nothing to do with love ... something that was close to being a hunt, a search, or rather a terrible expectation, like the cat looking at the canary it cannot reach, a kind of congealing of time and day, a kind of crouching” > 15

31 page 279: “The burden is the fact that real understanding is something else. We’re satisfied with too little. When friends understand each other well, when lovers understand each other well, when families understand each other well, then we think that everything is harmonious. Pure illusion, a mirror for larks.” > 32

32 page 291: What is being compared between Pola and La Maga? There seems to be always some kind of measurement between two people, and perhaps not only of lovers. That we put them on a scale. This side, the other side, and beyond it: “a race or to a people and a language at least” > 13

33 “You’re just like Horacio,” Talita says to Traveler. And while we're at it, what is the comparison being made between La Maga and Talita, whom Horacio mistakes for the former several times? Can a person serve as a bridge to be crossed over to another person? Or is the true metaphor here a scale, and not a bridge? Or is a bridge always a type of scale? When the scale tips over, the bridge crumbles. > 11

34 It's ironic that in all their talking about literature, the Club refers to a lazy reader as a "feminine" reader. For all the blatant sexism in this novel, none of the male characters ever do anything. They talk a lot, but even an empty threat to take the sardines away from Celestin is never followed through (the most active thing done by a male character in this novel, that I can recall, is when Traveler fetches a hat for Talita from another room). It seems all they do is talk and travel (and drink maté), while the women do all the work. > 4
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Reading Progress

January 20, 2011 – Shelved
March 23, 2011 – Started Reading
March 23, 2011 –
page 67
11.88% "Thingness is that unpleasant feeling that where our presumption ends our punishment begins."
March 24, 2011 –
page 416
73.76% ""Whunity," wrote Wholiveira. "The whego and the whother.""
March 24, 2011 –
page 91
16.13% "Let's cry face to face, but not with that cheap sob you pick up from the movies."
March 27, 2011 –
page 366
64.89% "its lines of flight astutely drawn in green chalk, the curtains in white chalk, the bed with its serape where all the chalks !Viva Mexico!, love, its chalks yearning for the fixative that would keep them in the present, love in perfumed chalk, mouth in orange chalk, sadness and surfeit of colorless chalks spinning around in imperceptible dust, settling on the sleeping faces, on the exhausted chalk of the bodies."
March 28, 2011 –
page 174
30.85% "You're so damned Dostoevskian, repulsive and pleasant at the same time. A kind of metaphysical ass-kisser. When you smile like that who in hell would ever want to hurt you."
March 29, 2011 –
page 179
31.74% "Gregorovius had given up the illusion of understanding things, but at any rate, he still wanted misunderstandings to have some sort of order, some reason about them."
March 30, 2011 –
page 511
90.6% "I suddenly understand better the frightening gesture of Masaccio's Adam. He covers his face to protect his vision, what had been his; he preserves in that small manual night the last landscape of his paradise. And he cries (because the gesture is also one that accompanies weeping) when he realizes that it is useless, that the real punishment is about to begin: the forgetting of Eden, that is to say, bovine conformity"
March 31, 2011 –
page 448
79.43% ""Wittgensteinly speaking...""
April 1, 2011 –
page 202
35.82% "there had been something like a great burst of laughter and that's what they call History."
April 2, 2011 –
page 240
42.55% "Shut up, you myriapod from four to five inches in length, with a pair of feet on each of twenty-one rings dividing the body, four eyes, and horny hooked mandibles which on biting exude a very active poison."
April 3, 2011 –
page 290
51.42% "To know that he was in love with La Maga was neither a defeat nor any sort of fixation in any outdated order of things; a love that could do w/o its object, that could find its nourishment in nothingness, that could be totaled up and come out as other strengths, defining them and bringing them together into an impulse that one day would destroy that visceral contentment of a body stuffed with beer and fried potatoes."
April 4, 2011 –
page 509
90.25% ""Call Cefe about it," said the voice of Oliveira from some site of a place."
April 4, 2011 – Finished Reading
August 10, 2012 –
page 6
1.06% "currently re-reading. 'We had barely come to know each other when life began to plot everything necessary for us to stop meeting little by little. Since you didn't know how to fake I realized at once that in order to see you as I wanted to I would have to begin by shutting my eyes'"
August 13, 2012 –
page 71
12.59% "a man is always more than a man and always less than a man, more than a man because he has in himself all that jazz suggests and lies in wait for and even anticipates, and less than a man because he has made an aesthetic and sterile game out of this liberty, a chessboard where one must be bishop or knight, a definition of liberty which is taught in school, in the very schools where pupils are never taught ragtime..."
August 16, 2012 –
page 101
17.91% "Only by living absurdly is it possible to break out of this infinite absurdity."

Comments (showing 1-50 of 55) (55 new)

message 1: by Adam (new)

Adam Floridia LOVE this review!!!

Jimmy Thanks Adam!

Geoff Your meta-review punched me in the gut like a nice aged Scotch; good and warm-like.

Geoff ...and also like Scotch it made annoying people less so, and ugly women more attractive...

Jimmy Thanks Geoff. Who are the annoying people? And ugly women?

Jimmy Or are you talking about the characters... like Horacio and Traveler, etc.? Also: have you read this book? I'd be interested in what you think.

Geoff Oh I was just speaking generally, like, going about my workday or post-workday I encounter sometimes people who are annoying, or ugly, in various ways, but then your review is in the background of all of that, and, like, annoyingness and ugliness don't really affect me that strongly, because you created a thing of beauty!

Because no I have not read this, but it is now in my mental queue...

Jimmy Wow! Cool! Thanks, it's an honor to be like (hop)scotch.

I think you'd like this book... something about it (i can't say what exactly) reminded me of Man Without Qualities, which I know you like (and I've only read part of). Also parts of it are quite knowingly pretentious, but if you can get past that, it's really quite amazing. And it gets better towards the last half too.

message 9: by Nate D (last edited Apr 05, 2011 10:32AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nate D This is truly the best conceivable review for this book. Probably exactly the review it deserves.

I have a total love/hate relationship with Hopscotch. It's full of stuff that I love, and fuller of stuff that I would love if I had bothered to work it out (philosophical ideas and allusions to other texts I should have looked up), but it wasn't until pretty late that the book convinced me that it was worth the effort to dash off into all these extra-extensible-chapters. The ones you mention in 5. I believe it is entirely worth it, now, but it's a massive undertaking. And for over the first half of the novel, as I was dragged through the endless ex-pat bohemian philosophical pretensions and crippling stasis (which you observe in 28), as I was dragged through these long late tedious nights, towards which the characters seemed to share my indifference and exhaustion in full, I just could not tell myself that it was worth the trouble or investment. And so I did not look up the extra-extensible chapters (I read every normal extensible chapter, of course -- as with Infinite Jest's endnotes, they conceal some of the very best parts, and even crucial plot points). Of course, the tedium and stasis are basically the point of that part of the novel (though they are hardly contentless in their own right. The parts that did convince me to pay attention had much to offer.) A tricky book. One that seemed at pains to convince me it wasn't worth the trouble, only to spring into perfection as soon as I looked away.

Your comment in 9 on the possibility of writing at all goes along with one of the most rewarding of the extra-extensible chapters that I actually did run down: the quotation from "Lord Chando's Letter" (found in Morelli's papers) which deepens the hall of mirrors quality already at work between Morelli's writing and Cortazar's (C. probably finds these games pretty amusing -- it's that underlying humor you observed, even as he's really shooting for big questions underneath). Here's the quotation:

Just as I had looked at the skin on my little finger in a magnifying glass one day, something like a field with furrows and hollows, so I looked at men and their actions now. I could no longer perceive them with the simplifying look of habit. Everything was breaking down into fragments which in turn were becoming fragmented; I was unable to grasp anything by means of a defined notion.

And here's more of that text, which is pretty great, about the inability of language to capture the world at all. All this to say that 1. yes, we seem to be intended to put in all the work and find these amazing extra-extensible bits and that 2. yes, it's worth it and that 3. yes, I must have missed innumerable amazing vital bits like this.

I stopped to write all this, and I think I got lost in your numbering system (good job). Backtracking...

message 10: by MJ (new) - rated it 5 stars

MJ Nicholls Immense review. Makes me want to love the book.

Jimmy Nate: Thank you. I also did not read much beyond the expendable chapters, unfortunately. Thank you for the information about Lord Chandos Letter, I've put it on my to-read. Very excited about that one. Also: very excited that you were lost in my review.

MJ: Thanks! I want you to love the book too! ;)

Oriana oh, spectacular, Jimmy. you've done Cortázar proud!

Jimmy Thanks oriana!

Mariel This review is beautiful. (I reread it after reading the book.) Bravo.

Jimmy Thanks Mariel! What a nice message to come home to :)

message 16: by Tony (new) - rated it 3 stars

Tony You have way too much time on your hands. Just kidding. This review is pure genius!

Jimmy haha thanks Tony. It's true, sometimes I spend way too much time on this site :)

message 18: by s.p (new)

s.p Wow this sounds awesome. I need to read this.

message 19: by Mona (new)

Mona Congratulations dear Jimmy, it was an amazing review! So glad you could express a bit of what this book can mean to the readers, and also present Cortázar to people in such a way they will surely love him.

Jimmy Thanks Mona!

message 21: by Jimmy (last edited May 01, 2012 01:04PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jimmy Mark, thank you! I'd love to hear your thoughts on Hopscotch once you're done reading.

message 22: by Kate (new)

Kate I enjoyed this review a hell of a lot more than the book itself!

Jimmy haha thanks Kate

message 24: by [deleted user] (new)

Wow. Great review. Your back and forth status updates are amusing, too.

Jimmy Thanks Sean!

message 26: by Alan (new)

Alan This is totally brilliant. (Don't worry, I am still going to commit social media seppuku when I have time to offload everything.) I think that I am in love with #5 and I think that I may try to read it that way. What a reading list! Also, I submit, humbly and at your service, that this might be even more amazing published by an outlet not affiliated with the Wal-Mart of literature.

message 27: by Alan (new)

Alan Yes, having now read your review the second way, I think that this is one of the most important things that has been written about HOPSCOTCH. You are a fabulous critic, you nailed it, and I applaud you.

Jimmy Thanks Alan! That's high praise indeed, I'm blushing a bit here. Have you dabbled in this book before? I'd love to hear your experiences with reading it according to #5. Also, I'm holding off on making a decision about GR/Amazon/WalMart/Seppuku right now, as I've got a lot going on in my life and haven't even been reading much in the last month or so. Let me know when you start that blog, though.

Katherin Marvelous! I'm still reading the book, moving through metaphysics just made me realize about many other things we do without any reason, besides the fact of the entertainment of the story between the characters. I really felt identified with the quote you put in there about literature. I will be looking forward into your reviews, not many people takes the time to write such a review anymore.

Jimmy Thank you Katherin! I'd love to hear your thoughts on this book once you finish. Are you reading it in Spanish? (I couldn't help but notice you're from Colombia)

Katherin Yes, I am. I just finished the first part and the book reminds me of Manhattan, a film by Woody Allen.

Jimmy I love Manhattan. Not sure I see the connection, though...

message 33: by Katherin (last edited Jun 27, 2013 12:44PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Katherin The only similarity is the club. In Manhattan they didn't tag as a club the few meetings they had to talk about films or arts, even though they had some conversations about it or hang out for walks to talk through this topics.

And, at some point the "friendship" Horacio had with Ossip reminded me to the one Isaac had with Yale.

Iñigo Palencia pulido Cotazar should be proud of this review. Great.

message 35: by David (new) - added it

David Iñigo wrote: "Cotazar should be proud of this review. Great."

La verdad que se lo ha currado pero que bien el tipo. Dejaré la crítica para cuando me lea el libro.

Iñigo Palencia pulido Ya estás tardando, May. Cuando termines serás mejor persona.

message 37: by Constanza (new)

Constanza " I expected this book to be more inventive than it turned out to be, based mostly on how much hoopla there was around its experimental form. I had it in my head that the book could be read in an infinite variety of ways. While it certainly can be, the ‘instructions’ at the beginning specifies only 2 official ways of reading it"

When I read this book for the first time I felt really disappointed and for the same reason. I was a huge "fan" of Cortazar's short storys and the idea of Rayuela as an experimental novel... I just thougt that it wasn't the book for me.
Now I want to read it again, without much expectations, maybe this time I'll just enjoy a good story. And perhaps I'm going to hate "La Maga" again!

message 38: by Swarnava (new)

Swarnava Beautiful review. This deserves to be printed by itself. Btw the I tried reading all the referenced books and am now stuck in Pataphysics. It's lovely stuff, check it out if you have the time. :)

Jimmy Thanks and yes! I love pataphysics. Have you read Mount Analogue yet? It's one of my favorites. I need to read more pataphysical literature, but my contact with it so far has been very rewarding.

message 40: by Swarnava (new)

Swarnava Been reading mount analogue and it's been great all the way! Hope i'll be able to see the Pataphysical college in Paris someday.

message 41: by Mala (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mala Brilliant review, Jimmy. I read Hopscotch in both its regular & extended version & my copy has 608 pages in total where chapter 56 came to 343 & thereafter I read 608 pages all over again! No wonder I'm exhausted.
Still, scrolling back & forth through the book was easier than scrolling up & down the review!
If you remember the details, what chance do you think a guy like Horatio would have today?
What did you think of the alternative ending in the extended version? Did it lessen the impact by removing the ambiguity?

message 42: by Constanza (new) - added it

Constanza Great review. Very original. But the character's name is "Oliveira", not "Oliviera".

message 43: by Jimmy (last edited Apr 29, 2016 05:00AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jimmy Thanks! Whoops, how did I miss that? haha thanks for letting me know :)

It's fixed now.

message 44: by Junta (new) - added it

Junta Saw this review recommended in Geoff's review - this is brilliant, one of the best reviews I've read on GR.

Jimmy Thanks Junta! :)

Cassandra I wish you were in our book club- we meet tonight to discuss Hopscotch.

message 47: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Penninga Would this book be appropriate to read in a classroom of high school juniors?

message 48: by Margaret (new)

Margaret Love this review. Thanks so much for writing and sharing it.

Jimmy @Lisa: it's been a while since I read it... but ummm, maybe? different people have different standards for what is appropriate, though, and I'm not an educator.

@Margaret: thanks! :)

message 50: by Ted (new) - added it

Ted 56 internets to you good sir.

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