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Literature / Hopscotch

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"We went around not looking for each other, knowing we would find each other."

1963 novel written by Argentinian writer Julio Cortázar.

Where to start??

"Hopscotch" (originally titled Rayuela) is not a simple novel. Credited with causing a revolution in Spanish literature by its mere appearance, the novel declares itself to be aimed towards being as un-literature-esque as possible. It easily succeeds on breaking pretty much all "conventions" of this thing called literature.

Hopscotch is meant to be more of an intellectual experience for the reader than a simple "book". It is perfectly possible to read the over a hundred chapters in whichever order you may wish without altering the "logic" of the book and the author himself recommends two different reading orders at the beginning of the book: you can either read all chapters in the conventional, boring numerical order or read them in a seemingly random succession of numbers (from 73 to 1 and so on), which the author helpfully provides in a little chart at the start of the book.


The "main" storyline involves Horacio Oliveira, an Argentine writer and lover of metaphysics living in Paris. Despite (or because of) his immense knowledge, Horacio devotes his time to philosophical acrobatics with the loosely-knit Serpent Club, and wandering around Paris with his Muse, the strange and mysterious La Maga. Interspersed with Horacio's journey to find the absolute are chapters about the author Morelli, whose work a perennial fascination to the Club, yet is troubled by his own literary conundrum. After a series of bizarre events and reflections, Horacio decides to return to Argentina, where he is reunited with his old friend Traveler. There, he begins work first as a circus helper, then in lunatic asylum, all the while sinking into an existential maelstrom.

Really, Hopscotch is a story about journeys. Horacio is constantly searching for something, whether it's the absolute, love, or meaning, while Morelli undergoes his own, parallel literary quest. Tragically, they both realize on some level how they can achieve what they desire, but also that they'll never be able to do so.


Not to be confused with the 2002 novel by Kevin J. Anderson, the 1975 novel by Brian Garfield, or the 1980 film adapted from the latter.

Tropes found in this work include:

  • Abusive Parents: It's not like she outright abuses Rocamadour, but she's very neglectful. The baby dies because of it, so...
    • Gregorovius' mom, maybe.
  • Anti-Hero: Discussed by Horacio in order to hide the fact he is performing a heroic action.
  • Author Appeal: Jazz music.
  • Author Avatar: Possibly Horacio and Morelli.
  • Beta Couple: Roland and Babs.
  • Betty and Veronica: Pola and La Maga. Who exactly is which is anyone's guess. Also Oliveira and Gregorovius for La Maga.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Including French, Italian, English and Latin.
  • Broken Aesop: The story can be taken to be a critique of excessive intellectualism and over-philosophizing. This, taken from a novel built on Genius Bonus is rather infuriating.
  • Cliffhanger: The ending is rather abrupt, leaving us while Horatio is contemplating suicide, although it's given a little more closure in the non-linear narrative.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander:
    • La Maga, which both mystifies and frustrates Horacio.
      La Maga: I remember that once when I was a child I made this story about a little sound that goes through the walls of a house...
    • Also Oliveira
      Traveler: Why are you straightening those nails?
      Oliveira: I don't know. I was hoping that once I'd finish I would find out.
    • Also Traveler and Talita, who fell madly in love after a conversation on suppositories. And Morelli, who is ran over by a car because he didn't saw it coming. And there is a eccentric something in the way Pola obsesses on the way "Pola Paris" sounds. The members of the Serpent Club are no paragons of pragmatism, either; cheerfully talking about the near suicide of Guy de Nonnod and cheerfully wasting intellect overanalyzing jazz and shenanigans. And, judging by the rest of his works, the author himself is one massive Cloud Cuckoo Lander. Heck, Hopscotch is what would happen if CloudCuckooLanders gained power over reality.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Invoked and discussed. "Casual meetings are apt to be just the opposite."
  • Deadpan Snarker: Oliveira and Traveler entertain themselves by finding absurd ideas and books, and making fun of them in story.
  • Doppelgänger: Horacio says Traveler is this to him.
  • Downer Ending: Oliveira ends up in the madhouse, or commits suicide. La Maga disappears after her son's death.
  • Easily Forgiven: Almost everyone. They're so apathetic they could even shoot someone's mother and he would say he doesn't care. Then averted after Rocamadour's death.
  • Everyone Calls Her La Maga
  • Foil: Horacio and Traveler.
  • Gratuitous French: Granted, the novel takes place in Paris.
  • Ironic Name: Traveler has never got out of Argentina.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Discussed by Horacio and La Maga. Leaving would be the right and cruel thing to do, so of course he couldn't do that.
  • Littlest Cancer Patient: Completely subverted with Pola. Oliveira's relationship with her (and thus all we see of her) ended before her cancer appeared. The Magician immediately proceeds to help her despite previous ill-meanings, but Oliveira merely philosophies about it.
  • Meaningful Titles: The Argentinians call "heaven" the last square in the hopscotch. Hence the little game becomes a representation of Oleveira's search of a center/kibbutz of desire/heaven/home with the squares representing life and all that (actually, if taken out of context, description) that must be traveled to reach it with the little stone being perhaps the philosophy needed to reach it.
  • Mind Screw: So Oliveira is based on Morelli's work. But Morelli exists in the same universe as Oliveira. That means that Morelli coincidentally reached the ideas while Horacio was living them, but the grade of correspondence would still be massively eyebrow-raising. The most logical conclusion would be that Oliveira exists as a retroactive representation for the ideals of Morelli, which would mean the ideas came to exist because he existed, or that he existed because the ideas where going to exist. In other words... (head explodes).
  • Noodle Incident: In the first part of the story, it is said that Horatio can't come back to Argentina for some reason. More egregious is the fact that, in the second part, he does return to Argentina, with no explanation.
    • To escape from Gekrepten perhaps?
  • Persona Non Grata: Horatio can't come back to Argentina. In the first part, at least.
  • The Philosopher: Everyone in the Club, but Horacio is this to such an extent even the other members call him out on it.
  • Portmantitle: Of the words "Hop" and "Scotch".
  • Proper Lady: Gekrepten, Oliveira's wife/girlfriend/whatever back in Argentina. She immediately accepts him after running away to Paris and never complains the fact that he stays all day at her place, never working. Heck, she even takes care of him after the trap incident. Subverted in that, no matter what she does, Horacio will never respect, care or love her because she isn't as intelligent/interesting as La Maga or Talita.
  • She Is Not My Girlfriend: A decidedly serious variation: Horacio insists he's not in love with La Maga, though he really is because he isn't.
  • Shout-Out: Listing all the allusions would be impossible. Notably, One Hundred Years of Solitude makes a passing reference to Hopscotch.
  • Unconventional Formatting: Chapter 34, in fact, has two different texts in one. To read one or the other you must count only the odd or even lines.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Gekrepten is so used to Oliveira being Oliveira that when coming back home to find him and Traveler setting a bridge made out of a wooden table between their apartments and across the streets and with Talita literally hanging in the middle; all just so that Traveler could pass some maté powdre to Horacio her reaction is basically: "Honey, once you've finished come eat something."
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: Like you wouldn't believe. Extensive knowledge in at least three languages, as well as philosophy, mythology, painters, classic literature and jazz is needed to know all the references. May count as Genius Bonus though, as most are not pivotal to understand the plot.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: Not all of the Club gets the spotlight. Perico Romero gets some relevance when they visit Morelli's house, at which he takes the position of the Only Sane Man, but Guy de Monod tries to kill himself and... that's it. That's literally all he does in the story. Lampshaded by Oliveira, who mentions disliking him and therefore not give a crap about him. Some theorize he may have killed himself because he was so inconsequential to the plot.


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