02 January 2009

Truly Bad Novels: the horrors of Cortazar's Hopscotch

I'm surprised at myself. I'm starting to hate novels I'm supposed to love.

Case in point, I picked up Cortazar's Hopscotch a few days ago-- a book recommended to me by no less than four people, independently of each other. I'm supposed to "love it, because it's the first hypertext novel!" And I tried to, I really did. I tried reading it in order, I tried the "out of order" thing, I tried just jumping around to see if anything ever happens in the whole goddamn book -- but I couldn't even get 50 pages in.

If it were 200 pages I would have sucked it up and finished it anyway, because I hate not finishing books. But 550?! That's too much to ask. I just can't get past wanting to take a red pen to those long, dreary descriptions of bohemians in the rain looking woefully at a Paris shop window full of bowls. Or sentences like this: "A perniciously comfortable attitude which even becomes easy as it grows into a reflex or technique; the frightful lucidity of the paralytic, the blindness of the perfectly stupid athlete."

Really? The frightful lucidity? I know it's a translation, but honestly. I have a pretty high tolerance for pseudo-philosophizing, and I just don't know what that means.

While I normally wouldn't bother putting my complaints on the interwebs, I did a little searching and found that the true awfulness of this novel is like one big secret; everyone knows it, but we're all supposed to pretend its not true by singing the praises of the . . nice prose? Interesting . . hypertextual . . concept? So I've decided I have to warn the others. For all those who, like me, toss the book aside in frustration and seek refuge in someone else's bitter blog post about being deceived by all those friends that cruelly recommended it to you: you are welcome here.

(Oh, and don't try The Rule of Four either. Someone gave it to me a long time ago and, after Hopscotch didn't work out, I turned to it in desperation. I mean, it's about the Hypnertomachia Poliphili, how it could it go wrong? Turns out, it can, and it does, sorely. A hundred pages of Princeton memories topped off with a dose sexism, a little more racism, and some very strange caricatures of scholars. I put it down after that. I don't know what took me so long. Avoid! Avoid!)


Nick said...

Yeah! The only explanation I could figure out was that somehow the aimlessness of the structure/prose reflected the characters in some way. Couldn't finish it on that alone though.

Whitney said...

If that's true, then I feel entitled to write a novel that consists of one blank page. IT REFLECTS THE EMPTINESS OF THE PROTAGONIST'S SOUL!

No one has ever recommended that I read a Kenneth Goldsmith novel over my winter vacation. There is a reason.

Martín said...

The mistake was that, fearing over and over again the over censored and mutilated focalization of points of view, he ended up accepting way too much both "yes" and "no" of everything, to watch from the middle both dishes of a balance.

--You know, when they talk about university with your aunts and grannies, you always end up mentioning how tough it is to study and prices and trite commonplaces which both tend to say positive and negative aspects of everything. When you are in the middle of the balance, you don't care about positive or negative aspects, you just mention them without bother to pass judgement.

In Paris everything reminded him of Buenos Aires, and viceversa. In the middle of the most estatic love he suffered and accepted the eventual loss of it, and eventual forgetting it. An attitude both comfortable and easy as it grows into a reflex and a technique (method).

--He just wandered between two worlds of which he couldn't feel a total part of. Knowing that everything is bashed by time, he'd accept that no feeling is eternal and thus will be lost eventually. This acceptance of minideaths became a habit, a bit of a "being used to just ignoring the emotional investment of everything, being indifferent to it", and then this was a very dangerous thing to turn into a custom, because you become somebody who is dead already.

the frightful lucidity of the paralytic.

-Nobody tries to understand something better, and nobody quites achieves it so perfectly and painfully, than somebody who WANTS to but CAN'T.
The main character wants to "feel", analyzes "feeling", but never gets there.

The blindness of the perfectly stupid athlete.

-And this is about those people who can and never realizes it, and even less so when they exceed expectations. The girl the main character hangs out with (any verb of emotion is misused.
The girl feels everything. She sees an old destroyed umbrella and gets really excited. She can live and feel life as a bird, and quite as a bird, doesn't feel the miracle she performs.

and the paralytic will watch the athlete who has no analisys of the situation and judge that he himself would enjoy that running more than the paralytic.
And the cripple goes on envying, and the athlete goes on running.

Martín said...

I am sorry. This is my favourite book. Every word is so well thought and used that the meaning is as sincretic as someone can hope to be.

Anonymous said...

"She would smile and show no surprise, convinced as she was, the same as I, that casual meetings are apt to be just the opposite, and that people who make dates are the same kind who need lines on their writing paper, or who always squeeze up from the bottom on a tube of toothpaste."

hopscotch is a casual meeting.

* * *

Anonymous said...

Believe me, this book is lost in translation. In spanish is amazing. Is not an adventure, lots of action book though, it would make a terrible, terrible movie.

About the language that he uses, it has a theory on language, reality and literature that is embedded In the novel, about how we signify and how through it we translate and create the world and face the impossibility to perceive, grasp, understand it, he plays a lot with language throughout the book for that reason, to play with and on its limitations.

The thing is that this book is more than one book not only because it can be read differently depending on if you read it in the traditional order, or following his chart, but because is layered. First layer is a plot about love, otherness and casualty agains causality. The second is a theory about language and literature in a time when everybody was talking about the death of the novel and the death of philosophy. The third layer is philosophical and almost religious, seems to be influenced by Buddhism and wonders about transcendence of the human being in a very intimate level, not as a society, but as human beings, wonders if there is really an order on things or if everything is random, if we are an accident from the universe or if there is a mean for us to be here. Randomness is a big thing in this book and is in every layer.

Sad you hated it, but It seems correct, I totally get it, I think I would have if I would've read it in a translation. When I read Alice in Wonderland in spanish, I just couldn't understand what all the buzz was about, when I finally read it in english, totally different book, I loved it.

Danae... said...

Hopscotch is a beautiful novel.
Maybe you would have to read it in Spanish to understand...

Carolina said...

I have to agree with the comment above me, I tried to read the book in english and is terrible, i look for the quote and is totaly different in spanish and even sounds awfull in english. The translation lose all the meaning and the game with the words.