Saturday, April 10, 2004

Hopscotch, by Julio Cortazar

Good grief, am I bad at updating this. Really bad. But I had to say something about Hopscotch. It reminds me in some wise of Durrell's Alexandria Quartet, in the way that it presents events, then later shows another, unexpected side to them. The difference is that while Durrell did it over the course of four books, Cortazar does it in one, which can be read as either a linear story which only covers two-thirds of the text, or as a looping narrative which leads from the middle of the book to the beginning to the end to the middle again to the beginning -- 153 numbered chapters, and at the end of each one there's a number pointing the reader to the next in Cortazar's story, which one begins to realize is both arbitrary and perfectly reasoned, a pastiche of Borgesian excerpts from the works of a Borges-like writer which reflect back on the protagonist Oliviera, on the writer, and ultimately the reader. This is one of the meanings of the title, this jumping metaphorically, physically (through the act of turning pages), textually, narratively (is that a word?) from one place to another--the destination being the same as the childhood game, that of Heaven. At times it's a bit dizzying, and at times the pretention of Oliviera and his cronies in the "Club" becomes too much to take, but I think this is deliberate: Oliviera in particular, the others by extension and even we the readers by participating in this sort of mental masturbation, are divorcing ourselves from real things, from life, from love, from simple experience. The novel, in the end, is about Oliviera discovering and dealing with this; his success or failure is left ambiguously looping into infinity. In all this there is a story, several, really, and in most of it Oliviera is an entirely unlikeable character, but not, at least to this reader, an unsympathetic one. As for the novel itself, I always appreciate experiments in structure, at least if they're done well, and this one is. It's thoroughly engrossing, at times exhausting, and ultimately rewarding.

Additional (Personal) Note: I finally found a review of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet #13, at The SF Site. David Soyka says, "David J. Schwarz's "The Icthyomancer Writes His Friend With an Account of the Yeti's Birthday Party" is as bizarre as the title suggests, yet if there was a point to the story beyond being bizarre, I missed it." So. My second review, about as glowing as the first. And I don't even really think the story is that bizarre. Ah well.