Wednesday 9 January 2013


Hopscotch - Julio Cortazar

"Or rather, there had been something like a great burst of laughter and that's what they called History."

This is my first post on Hopscotch, having finished the first of the 'books' within this book. In his introduction Cortazar suggests two ways of reading the book. The first is to simply read chapters 1-56 and ignore chapters 57 to 155 which are called the expendable chapters.

The second way is to read the book out of numerical order but in a specific order which is indicated in the introduction. Each chapter ends with the number of the chapter to be read next. I am going to read a book or two before returning for my second bite at the apple.

I would like to thank Richard at Caravana de Recuerdos for bringing this book to my attention. I read it with the intention of contributing to his Argentinian Literature of Doom reading event but as seems to be the case continually, I am late.
The book starts in bohemian Paris and ends in an insane asylum in Buenos Aires. The main character is Luis Oliviera, a writer. He is trying to find a way of ascending onto a higher plane through some alignment of forces, a quest reflected in the game of hopscotch, the upper squares of which he calls Heaven.
"Hopscotch is played with a pebble that you move with the tip of your toe. The things you need: a sidewalk, a pebble, a toe, and a pretty chalk drawing, preferably in colors. On top is Heaven, on the bottom is Earth, it's very hard to get the pebble up to Heaven, you almost always miscalculate and the stone goes off the drawing."

The section in Paris deals largely with Oliviera's relationship with his fellow exile in Paris, La Maga. They never arrange to meet but do so at random places. This roundabout courtship fits in with the books structure. There is also an element of magical thinking at play and we also learn that Oliviera has carried these thought patterns from Argentina - "Everything had been going badly that afternoon because the habits I had brought from Argentina would not permit me to cross from one sidewalk to another." This shade of superstition and fixation on patterns haunts Oliviera through the book and goes some way towards explaining his less forgivable actions, or inactions.

Some of my favourite chapters are those where Olivirea, La Maga and others who call themselves The Serpent Club drink, smoke and discuss early jazz and blues, often with sideways references to Joyce, Eliot and other modernists as well as jazz and painters such as Mondrian. All offer hints of how to read Hopscotch.  Indeed jazz plays such a large part in the novel that there is an album of the jazz featured in it, which I found on Spotify when trying to make a playlist.

All the skipping around which the structure of the book implies is paralleled with the ideas discussed by characters within the book. Is life a narrative or simply an agglomeration of events?
"Lets see now: your life, do you think it is a unity?"
"No, I don't think so. It's pieces, things that happened to me."
But you in turn went through those things like the string went through those green stones."

This string is later reflected in small 'sculptures' that Oliviera makes from thread, creations that he then burns. They seem to foreshadow Bolano's use of geometry. It is all simply lines drawn in the air.

I will return to Hopscotch soon, when I have completed my reading including the expendable chapters. Will they highlight the unity of the lives Cortazar has brought into being on these pages or will they highlight the random nature of events, the laughter that is History?


  1. So far I've read it once, and I started the other way around (doing the hopscotch, not reading linearly), so I'm curious what you'll make of your second reading. I've always wanted to do the second round, but somehow haven't managed, there are just too many interesting books out there!
    Also, thanks for the music recommendation - the album is great!

    1. Thanks Bettina. I thought that if I read it 'hopscotch' the first time that I wouldn't reread it so decided to do it this way round. I'm looking forward to finding what's in the 'expendable chapters'.

  2. Séamus, the ALoD was actually unofficially extended through the end of January thanks to an early Spanish Lit Month II scheduled for January that failed to materialize, so you are actually still on time even though it's now 2013! Anyway, glad you had a chance to read a big chunk of this chunkster and will look forward to seeing what you make of Cortázar's "expendable" chapters (some of which are aggravating, some of which are amazing) once you get to them. One of the non-jazz and blues sequences I liked later became the title of a fanzine or litmag Bolaño put together soon after he moved to Spain: Berthe Trepat. Sound familiar to you at all? Cheers!

    1. Yes, that was one of my favourite episodes as well, and one of the longest chapters, if I remember correctly. A truly bizarre character. You can definitely see the influence on Bolaño so nice to know there was such an explicit acknowledgement.
      There are lots of other great bits too. I loved the planks across the street episode &c &c. I hope to write at greater length when I've finished the whole book.

  3. Enjoyed your writeup, Seamus. Hopscotch opened my eyes to what I guess I would've called "experimental" fiction at the time. Here's a link I've had for awhile that might interest you, on rereading Hopscotch through the lenses of Ulysses: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/english/graduate/issue/4/pdfs/novillocorvalan.pdf