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)
Final Top Gear reviewTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
- 2 People all over the world are getting semicolon tattoos to draw attention to mental health
- 3 Van driver who comforted Clark Carlisle and called 999 after suicide attempt dies age 24
- 4 James Blunt was special guest on the highest-rating Top Gear episode ever
- 5 The biggest first date turnoff has been revealed
Bad luck, One Direction: Paul McCartney doubts success of The Beatles will ever be matched again
This is surely the best way to watch Jaws
The Crystal Maze: Richard O’Brien confirmed to return as more details revealed about show's rebooted format
James Blunt was special guest on the highest-rating Top Gear episode ever
What if Nicolas Cage played every character in Game of Thrones?
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
Sickness and disability benefits could be reduced by £30 a week as part of £12bn welfare cuts