100 of 103 people found the following review helpful
on January 1, 2005
I suppose it's unreasonable to expect the world's first so-called hypertext novel - one in which you can read the chapters sequentially, or in an order recommended by the author, or in any other order you choose - to have a compelling plot. After all, plot relies on anticipation and surprise, both of which come from authorial control over how and when information is revealed. A lot of the delight in fiction comes from this, and most of the rest from character, theme and the texture of the language. Cortazar's revolutionary novel is big on the last few, but not unexpectedly fails to be very engaging when it comes to story. It's more of a character study, or rather an elaboration of a philosophical position through the depiction of certain people in a particular place and time, i.e. left-leaning international emigres in 1950s Paris, and later the locals in Buenos Aires, who spend most of their time smoking, drinking, listening to jazz, competing for affection, philosophizing about life, and trying not to be the creative geniuses they obviously know they are. There are some wonderful set pieces: the infamous Chapter 28 involving a baby in a darkened room; the afternoon a plank bridge is erected to join two hotel rooms on opposite sides of a busy Buenos Aires street; an elaborate booby trap of water-filled basins, tangled threads and ball-bearings to thwart a vengeful lover in the night; and, obviously, the hopscotch squares of the title which are drawn in the courtyard of an insane asylum. These incidents are all engaging, comic, and wonderfully laden with a metaphorical/philosophical import which serves Cortazar's embedded theme: that is, the conundrum of consciousness; the unending desire to break through "the wall" to the other side of life in order to achieve the "unity" we intuitively feel exists but to which there is no easy path. This is the novel's engine, but it does take a while to fire up. If slowly savouring 500+ pages of that kind of thing interests you, then you'll enjoy "Hopscotch" immensely. If it doesn't, then reading this novel will be somewhat like being trapped at a really bad party with drunk and depressive philosophy undergraduates who think they know everything about jazz. I had the urge to leave early, but I'm glad I stayed until the end. Eventually, someone shut the music off, opened all the windows, and in the silence of dawn something clicked.
93 of 101 people found the following review helpful
It has taken me years to sit down and finally make a serious commitment to read Julio Cortazar's "Hopscotch/La Rayuela." I cannot think of a better companion to devote a few weeks to, maybe even a bit longer - hey, whatever it takes! It depends on your reading speed and the time you take to savor the poetry of the author's language. So, be willing to make a small personal investment in this very special novel, and the reward you reap will be a worthy one. Julio Cortazar will take you to places you have never been before in literature, and may never experience again. I read "Hopscotch" over this past summer, after a thirty year delay. I can be real stubborn about putting off what is good for me!! Cortazar's imagination is boundless, his prose rich and luminous, his wit and sophistication rare, the dialogue brilliant, the plot...I won't attempt to describe that with a few adjectives. Wander through the extraordinary labyrinthine plot on you own - the way is yours to discover. I promise, you won't get lost!
My introduction to "La Rayuela", (which means hopscotch, like the children's game), is a personal story. I will make it quick. About 30 years ago, while living in Latin America, a friend told me that I reminded him of a character in a novel. The character, La Maga - the book "La Rayuela/Hopscotch." With personal interests at stake and much curiosity, I bought a copy in Spanish, which I read with some fluency at the time. After experimenting with which way to approach the novel, and trying both ways, I gave up...and just read the parts about La Maga. I was too impatient at that point in my life, and needed to become a mellower person, to read slower, with more of a sense of play and participation. And Cortazar wants his readers to participate - to make reading his book an interactive experience, not a passive one. I was and still feel touched when I remember my friend's comments regarding La Maga. She is a magnificent character and Cortazer's prose, his language, (Spanish), is exquisite. So, I thought I'd give it another try, in English, perhaps with better results. None! I just wasn't ready, I guess. That happens to me with fiction sometimes. I have to be open to the experience. However, after all these years, I still thought of Horacio Oliveira and La Maga from time to time. And why not? They are truly unforgettable. As I wrote above, I did make time, at last. For an adventure of a lifetime, I recommend you do the same.
When Julio Cortazar published "La Rayuela" in 1966, he turned the conventional novel upside-down and the literary world on its ear with this experiment in writing fiction. He soon became an important influence on writers everywhere. "Hopscotch" is considered to be one of the best novels written in Spanish. This is an interactive novel where readers are invited to rearrange its sections and read them in different sequences. Read in a linear fashion, "Hopscotch" contains 700 pages, 155 chapters in three sections: "From the Other Side," and "From This Side" - the first two sections are sustained by relatively chronological narratives and so contrast greatly with the third section, "From Diverse Sides," (subtitled "Expendable Chapters"), which includes philosophical extrapolation, character study, allusions and quotations, and an entirely different version of the "ending."
The book has no table of contents, but rather a "Table of Instructions." There, we learn that two approved readings are possible: from Chapter 1 through 56 "in a normal fashion", or from Chapter 73 to Chapter 1 to... well, wherever the chapters lead you. The instructions are all in your book and are extremely clear. At the end of each chapter there is a numeric indicator to lead the reader to the next chapter. One never knows where one will be lead. Due to its meandering nature, "Hopscotch" has been called a "Proto-hypertext" novel. Cortázar probably had this work in mind when he stated, "If I had the technical means to print my own books, I think I would keep on producing collage-books."
What is most important, as a reviewer, is to give you, the prospective reader, an idea of the narrative and the characters...and to tell you why reading this novel was such an extraordinary experience for me. Horacio Oliveira, our protagonist and sometimes narrator, is an Argentinean expatriate, an intellectual and professed writer in 1950's bohemian Paris. He and his close friends, members of "the Club," do lots of partying, drinking, and intellectualizing, discussing art, literature, music and solving the world's problems. Oliveira lives with and loves La Maga, an exotic young woman, somewhat whimsical, at times almost ephemeral who leaves behind her, like the scent of a light perfume, a feeling of poignancy and inevitable loss. La Maga refuses to plan her encounters with Oliveira in advance, preferring instead to run into each other by chance. Then she and Oliveira celebrate the series of circumstances that reunite them - although he knows well the places she frequents and is capable of causing at least a few planned surprises. Eventually, he loses La Maga, who loses her child. With her absence, Oliveira realizes how empty and meaningless his life is and he returns to his native Buenos Aires. There he finds work first as a salesman, then a keeper of a circus cat, and an attendant in an insane asylum.
As Oliveira wends his way through France, Uruguay and Argentina looking for his lost love, "Hopscotch's" narrative takes on an emotionally intense stream of consciousness style, rich in metaphor. Back In Argentina, Oliveira shares his life with his bizarre double, Traveler, and Traveler's wife, Talita, whom Oliveira attempts to remake into a facsimile of La Maga. The game of hopscotch is only developed as a conceit late in the narrative. It is first used to describe Oliveira's confused love for La Maga as "that crazy hopscotch." The theme develops as a metaphor for reaching Heaven from Earth. "When practically no one has learned how to make the pebble climb into Heaven, childhood is over all of a sudden and you're into novels, into the anguish of the senseless divine trajectory, into the speculation about another Heaven that you have to learn to reach too." The variations on the children's game are described as "spiral hopscotch, rectangular hopscotch, fantasy hopscotch, not played very often." The allusions continue and include some beautiful passages.
"Hopscotch" is much more than a novel. Ultimately, it is best left for each reader to define what it is for himself/herself. Pablo Neruda in a famous quote said, "People who do not read Cortazar are doomed. Not to read him is a serious invisible disease." I don't know whether I would go so far. Remember, I put off the experience for many years. But this is one novel that should be read during one's lifetime. It is brilliant and it is fun!
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2009
Julio Cortázar (1914-1984) was an Argentine author who wrote prolifically during the Latin Boom that inundated the world with a wave of great novels. While readers who rummage through the literature of Spanish America first come across writers like Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, these explorations would no doubt be rendered incomplete and pointless if they fail to acknowledge the work of this literary genius.
Julio Cortázar embarked on a life of letters as a poet. He was an admirer of the esteemed writer Jorge Luis Borges, a fellow Argentine who was a literary celebrity in his native country. Upon finishing his premier short story, Cortázar sought Borges for approval of his work, wondering if he was worthy of treading on the prosaic terrain over which his idol commanded with a sophisticated mastery. The older author gave him a thumbs up and thus set Cortázar off on a literary journey that gave the world a taste of his creative opus. In his illustrious career, Cortázar wrote a wealth of plays, poems and novels, the most famous of which is Hopscotch, or Rayuela as it was written in the original Spanish.
Hopscotch is not a novel for the systematic reader. It is a novel without a genre, a postmodern and experimental prose that plays like a game of hopscotch throughout its chapters. There is an abundance of metaphors, of connections, bridges, symbols, and artistic allusions. There are ejaculations of phrases in foreign languages and an interjection of aphorisms in verse. If history were to rewrite itself and eradicate all traces of Joyce, Hopscotch would have been the equivalent of Ulysses. The language is incredibly vivid, infinitely descriptive, colorful, sensuous, poetic, maddeningly abstract, and psychedelic. Cortázar urges one to participate in his prose and to divagate from the mental passivity of the female reader. One must come to this book with an open mind and faithfully follow and participate in this incredible novel's winding paths to fully understand the meaning of Cortázar's hypnotic writing.
Just as Cortázar is a master wordsmith, he is also an incredible sculptor of characters. The members of this novel are incredibly complex, obtuse, and curious, echoing bits and pieces of human personality that make us reflect on who we are and what we know. There are enigmatic hipsters like Étienne, Wong, Ronald, Babs, and Gregovorius. There is the neurotic pianist Berthe Trepat, the old man upstairs, the enigmatic Traveler, the sensuous Talita, the moribund child Rocamadour, and the painfully pragmatic yet mysterious La Maga. If you manage to hopscotch from one side of the novel to the other, another intriguing character is revealed, one who in fact embodies Cortázar. This is Morelli, the literary firebrand who attempts to deconstruct and reshape language and literature. Although Morelli does not play an active role in the novel, the true premise behind Cortázar's writing is revealed through the voice of this author. Finally, there is the hero, Horacio Oliveira.
Horacio Oliveira is a well-read bohemian who belongs to "the Club", a Paris-based group of eccentric intellectuals who seek the answers to life by meandering across the labyrinthine avenues of literature, art, music, and philosophy. We are first introduced to Oliveira as he searches for La Maga. He is an "amateur intellectual" whom the members of this Parisian intelligentsia regard as "very intelligent and alert, up to date on everything." Oliveira's life, however, is a great ennui. His erudition does little to quench his insatiable thirst, however, and pushes him to play a game of hopscotch towards an ideal, or as Cortázar would eloquently put, a Heaven where "one day someone would see the true outline of the world, patterns pretty as can be, and perhaps, pushing the stone along, you would end up entering the kibbutz."
Oliveira then decides that the Parisian metaphor no longer suited him, and he returns to Latin America, wending his way through Uruguay and Argentina to excavate that which was never unearthed in Paris. But his quest for purpose leads him towards a series of nebulous non-revelations that do little to answer his questions. Oliveira begins "to realize that you don't find those things in libraries." Throughout the novel, he criticizes realism and structure, craving for the innovative genius of a Boulez, an Ellington or a Tinguely. Little by little, he is edged towards a more pragmatic approach to life, even if he never gets there. The latter part of the novel reads almost like a downward spiral towards a maddening epiphany, and the epic close raises a number of questions without ever providing closure, inviting the reader to fabricate an ending of his own.
Ultimately, Hopscotch is much more than just a novel. It is a brilliantly written collage of radical ideas; a linguistic adventure for the participative reader; an experiment that hurls the mind into a whirlwind of art, literature, music and philosophy; a reflection for the loner. This no doubt is a book that deserves to be mentioned among the great modern classics. Although Cortázar is little known among North American literary circles, Hopscotch is just the kind of book needed to reintroduce his art to readers looking for something more than just the "average" novel. Truth be told, it takes more than just passivity to get through this literary maelstrom, but once you are able to understand the essence of the author's purpose and premise, you will literally be hopscotching across one of the most fascinating novels ever written.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
`Hopscotch' is a series of journeys through interconnected lives. It is simultaneously a reminder that we each read the same words and form different conclusions.
I have read `Hopscotch' twice: following the instructions provided by Mr Cortazar. I will read it again in the future when I will try to be less concerned about where I am going and more interested in why I am undertaking the journey.
None of the characters appealed to me and yet I found myself caring about the paths they took and the choices they made. The death of the child, Rocamadour, was so harrowing that I almost stopped reading. But I did not. I wanted to see if somehow this event would change the lives that La Maga and Oliviera chose. By then, of course, it was too late.
`Everything is writing, that is to say, a fable.'
So what is this book about? Who is the narrator? Which points of view does the reader obtain? Is there order in this chaos? Do any of these questions have answers, and are the answers relevant? There is nothing neat about `Hopscotch'. The endings are ambiguous, the characters are self-absorbed and the reader is invited to make choices. The novel comes to life and the reader becomes a part of it as the ultimate destination is driven by the choices made.
This novel made me uncomfortable. Yet, simultaneously, I am awed by the skills of the writer able to create such a world, invite me into it and leave the choices thereafter entirely to me. I agree with those who consider this amongst the best novels written this century. But don't take my word for it: read it for yourself. A word of warning: do not attempt if you lack balance. You may fall.
33 of 39 people found the following review helpful
One thing you won't find in Julio Cortazar's many excellent short stories is anything in the way of biographical data and Cortazar is thus a mysterious figure to his readers who constructs fictions from some marginal unidentifiable place. If you want to know about Cortazar the man you have to research on your own. Born in Belgium(1914) to Argentine parents the family returned to Argentina after WW1 . Julio grew up and attended university and made a living as a translator(Poe and others). Though offered a university position he refused it in protest of the Peron government and thus spent many years teaching grade school(which may explain why so many childrens or naive adult prespectives are employed in his work) then he left for Paris sometime in the fifties. So in Paris he wrote in exile and played trumpet in a Jazz band and lived the life of the boheme until his death in 1984. Hopscotch therefore with its bohemian characters and situations may lead one to assume Horacio is a sort of fictional version of Cortazar. I thought that at first and that was one reason the book was so exciting because I already liked his stories so much. The book is exciting to a point but I think it demands more patience with its methods than some may wish to give it. You can't really compare it to a novel in any conventional sense because there is very little plot and the characters exist only in mere sketch form, we know them only by the ideas they have. This works in Musil, an author mentioned in Hopscotch, but Man Without Quailities is a novel with many dimensions(political, historical, cultural, social)whereas Hopscotch only has one dimension. Since the novel/collage is 564 pages you may find yourself tiring of Horacios thoughts. And I don't think Horacio is a fictional Cortazar. I think Cortazar is writing a modern novel about a hyper modern creature. All of the things lacking in modernism are also lacking in Horacio. I think Cortazar may sympathize with Horacio but he is ultimately using him to show how lost someone can get when he is divorced from all those spheres of activity(political, historical, cultural, social)that modernism ignores. I read Hopscotch now differently than when I first read it. Now I perhaps see better that what is missing from it is a crucial part of it and perhaps such is the art of the collage artist. An art which remains incomplete...free in its unhibited exploration of the exile with no ties, yes, but as Janis Joplin said "Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose".
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 21, 2004
Many people think that the word interaction is a XXI century concept related to computers and cyberspace, but it as far as literature goes, this is one of the oldest concepts pursued by many writers. Argentinian Julio Cortázar comes as one of the most important authors to seek such structure with his monumental novel "Hopscotch", written in 1964.
Not only history did influence Cortázar in his writings, but also European Vanguards have a major role in his literary project -- most notably Cubism. The non-linear narrative of "Hopscotch" makes its structure reads like a hopscotch game. Reading the novel feels like jumping from one square to another, back and forth. Using that, the author tries to violate the rules established of writing and narrative structure.
If one chooses to read "Hopscotch" in the linear fashion --both ways are possibilities -- there are 155 chapters in three sections: "From the Other Side," "From This Side," and "From Diverse Sides" (subtitled "Expendable Chapters"). And in the introduction the reader will find a "Table of Instructions." There, we learn that two approved readings of the book are possible: from Chapter 1 through 56 "in a normal fashion" (i), or from Chapter 73 to Chapter 1 to... well, wherever the chapters lead. Each has a numeric indicator of the subsequent chapter following its terminal sentence. In this way, we do not know which chapter to expect next until it is time to actually read it.
Horacio Oliveira is an Argentinian writer living in the bohemian Paris of the 50s. After losing her lover, known as La Maga, he returns to his Buenos Aires to continue his picaresque adventures.
Another structure used in the novel is the labyrinth -- like the labyrinth of streets where Oliveira usually meets La Maga in Paris. And this also alludes to an emotional labyrinth to which both he and she will be trapped. By the way, emotion -- not the regular one-- has a major role in the narrative. All Oliveira's friends are somehow emotionally damaged -- trying to cope with their depression and problems.
However much the structure sounds like off putting, the novel reads smoothly once one gets into the cubism of the narrative. Needless to say that the reader must appreciated the bohemian way of life -- including alcohol and drugs, and art discussion -- to be interested in the book.
With his "Hopscotch", Cortázar defies his readers. Playing this game is worth the candle. Experienced readers will be delighted with the structure of hypertext and all the possibilities of reading this novel.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on April 12, 2004
Hopscotch is a story (or stories, for it can be read multiple ways) of a bohemian drifter, written in a surrealistic style that is captivates and entrances. I read it last year (in Gregory Rabassa's excellent translation) for a course in Latin American Literature. Normally, at school one is on a time-frame, and is pressured to complete the assigned book at an accelerated pace. I couldn't, however, because I liked the book too much to skim through it.
My advice for readers is, don't be put off by the romance-novel like front cover and the back cover's whimsical plot summary. Hopscotch is far more sober, meaningful, and wonderful than this. On almost every page, there is some unusual metaphor or bit of language that brought a smile to my face. I found the complexity and symbolic depth added to the enjoyment in an intelligent way without making the text difficult or esoteric.
I recommend that you take Cortazar's advice and regard the optional chapters (57-155) as optional. I couldn't help but read some of them--they tempted me and they undoubtedly add layers of depth and meaning--but for the most part they are nowhere near as good as the first 56 and seem almost "tacked-on." Ignoring them cuts the number of pages down to 350 or so instead of 576, and makes the book a good deal more coherent. Then, if you want to, you can read the rest of the chapters, or pick and choose from them as you like. It was Cortazar's intention that the book be treated like an encyclopedia, to be opened up and read in any order. I'm not sure I agree this is the best way to enjoy it, but the beauty is that how deep one goes is always left up to the reader.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 2011
If you're looking for plot, put the book down. It's not any more exciting than your own little life. But if you're looking for an insightful indepth look at a sort of bizarre little man, dripping in watery intelligence, this is the place. The prose is remarkable. (But you gotta be a prose lover) As an, uhhum, older reader, I can tell you, this book takes me back to the period in which it was written, truly. It's smoky and indistinct, drug-induced. It does shine some light into some very dark little corners, beware of where you look, some of it is not pretty. But it is a trip into a different world. Enjoy the walk....
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on April 16, 2000
"Hopscotch" by Julio Cortazar is a novel I read with pleasure and great interest. The plot line of this book is not direct. It is well written novel with a very distinguished style. A parallel could be drawn with classic masterpiece "The Sun Also Rises" by Ernest Hemingway. The main hero Horacio Oliveira is quite intelligent. His life style, his friends with long metaphysical discussions in the night Paris, his relationship with girlfriends- all of this attracted my attention, sympathy and understanding. It is really doesn't matter what personages of this novel do, but rather interesting how they think and what their internal world looks like. Julio Cortazar, through the well-written conversations, opens insight world of his heroes, their interests, and their view on life. Here, I could find some similarities between Hemingway and Cortazar. The difference, however, is in the described generations. The generation Cortazar talks about in his work are more close and understandable to me than generation shown in the Hemingway's novel. Self-analysis, or self-reflection of the main heroes in the "Hopscotch" is very similar to those of which I and my friends used to have. In my opinion, the novel "Hopscotch" is so attractive to many other people and me because Cortazar created metaphysical world of intellectual fantasies. I could not resist temptation to mention another novel placed on the same bookshelf with "The Sun Also Rises" and "Hopscotch" - the novel "Gantenbein" by Max Frisch.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Why hasn't anyone employed the term "Nouveau Roman" to describe this odd, meandering book? I suppose the fault may, in part, lie in the fact that it was originally penned in Spanish and is considered part of the Latin American canon. But Cortazar wrote much of it whilst working for UNESCO in Paris. And there are vast sections of both French and Spanish left untranslated here. - The French posed no problem for me, though the Spanish did. - The reason I stress the "Nouveau Roman" aspect of this crazyquilt work is that you'll not have any idea of why Cortazar writes as he does here unless you have an idea of what those 1950s writers were all about in this literary movement, because, for my literary capital, Cortazar's Hopsctch is the Nouveau Roman work par excellence. But this ends up being rather a backhanded compliment, perhaps.
So, yes, the novel can be read in several different modes of succeeding chapters, but I'm not going to dwell on this aspect here, because I have now read it in all the different sequences, and it really doesn't matter a hair's breadth of difference in the end as to the general import of the novel. I do agree with the reader who says that if you're reading it linearly, the book will have much more force if you put it down after the Second, or Argentine, section and eschew the "Expendable" chapters. But, if you do, you'll miss out on what Cortazar is all about here - which may not be a bad thing.
A brief description of the three sections (linearly, that is):
The first part amounts to an extremely high-brow, intellectualised to the nth degree, version of La Vie Boheme set in 1950s Paris. Brush up on your knowledge of jazz and, while you're at it, on any high-brow author, from Muesli to Lowry, of note in the early to middle part of the 20th century. You'll need them all for the third part, if you choose to read it.
The second part is set when Oliviera/Horacio (or whatever you want to call him) returns to Argentina and becomes a circus worker, salesman and employee at a madhouse. But, more importantly, he becomes involved in a psychic ménage a trois with a couple that brings him to the edge of madness and leaves the reader hanging. This part is, indeed, a masterpiece. It brings the whole question of consciousness and the meaning of "reality" to the fore, the goal of the Nouveau Roman movement. To cite from the book, this description of a prelude to a kiss:
"It was if they were coming together from somewhere else, with some part of themselves, as if they were paying or collecting something for others, as if they were the golems of an impossible meeting between their masters."
The third part of "expendable" chapters consists, for the most part, of notes by and about Cortazar's stand-in, the author Morelli, which are identical with what the Nouveau Roman authors were attempting to do.
It's rather hard, of course, to pass judgement on all this. But for me, most of it had a very dated feel, almost amounting to a caution against terming any movement in the arts "new" as it is bound to grow old. A quote from the book sums up the dated, elegiac feel of it for me:
"And when the feast is over, why are we so sad, brothers of nineteen hundred and fifty something?"
Footnote: Admirers and aficionados of Malcolm Lowry - such as myself - will be glad to see an entire chapter (118) devoted solely to a one line quote from Under The Volcano. But they may be mystified by another reference to him in chapter 99: "It's almost stupid to repeat that life is sold to us, as Malcolm Lowry said..." This comes from, I think, a letter of his. In any event, I've long had it memorised in full. Lowry says, "The real cause of alcoholism is the baffling sterility of existence as sold to you."