Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar, book of a lifetime: 'The deadpan formal playfulness still thrills'
Thursday 17 July 2014
In Fort Lee, New Jersey, there used to be a shop called The Book Cave. It was run by two women, one of whom was maybe in her twenties and the other in her thirties, but I can hardly be sure of that because, in my time as a customer at The Book Cave, I was between the ages of 12 and 14 and my perceptions of many things were unreliable, including the ages of women.
I was shy, and very pale, and the only things I could be sure of were books, and the worlds they contained. I lived in London, but I spent the summers with my father and step-mother, who in those three years in the mid-1970s lived in Fort Lee. Most days I would visit The Book Cave, to choose what of world literature I was next going to consume. Possession, when you can count up the things you own, is a magical act. Each new book I bought was an act of identification so strong that it was a kind of incorporation.
Some of the books I bought then are still with me: Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, which elicited concern from the younger bookseller, who wondered if I was quite ready for that one – and she was right, I wasn't. And Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar.
Hopscotch (originally published in 1963; translated into English in 1966) is probably a young person's book. Argentinian émigrés in 1950s Paris have long arguments about art and philosophy. It rains. They fall in and out of love to a jazz soundtrack. The book itself is in love with the modern city and chance collisions. The narrator returns home and disintegrates over the course of the increasingly fragmented novel, whose form provides a more reliable cohesion than consciousness.
Prefacing the book is a "table of instructions" in which the author informs us that "this book consists of many books, but two books above all. The first can be read in a normal fashion and it ends with Chapter 56… The second should be read by beginning with Chapter 73 and then following the sequence indicated at the end of each chapter."
There's an exhilaration of structure, a deadpan formal playfulness that still thrills. And while the young-man yearning doesn't have the same significance for me now as when I first picked it up in The Book Cave, I still love Hopscotch. It's the book that taught me most about reading. And, not entirely coincidentally, it's the book that made me realise I was going to become a writer.
David Flusfeder's new novel is 'John the Pupil' (Fourth Estate)
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 2 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
- 3 The 'sex selfie stick' lets you FaceTime the inside of a vagina
- 4 Why you're almost certainly more like your father than your mother
- 5 Westboro Baptist Church couldn't picket Leonard Nimoy's funeral because they didn't know where it was
Fifty Shades of Grey banned by Indian censors despite sex scenes being edited out
The 9 rules every Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoon had to follow are wonderfully pedantic
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Seth Rogan's pot fumes delay hacked Sony boss’s office move
India's Daughter: BBC Four documentary provokes outrage on Twitter
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Nigel Farage promises Ukip will not 'stigmatise' would-be migrants – and says he wants 'everyone to speak the same language'
Ex-head of MI6: 'We shouldn't kid ourselves that Russia is on a path to democracy'
Most people think legal tax avoidance is just as wrong as illegal tax evasion, poll suggests