Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch is a bizarre novel; the first 56 chapters represent a complete work, a single story with a single protagonist and enough pseudo-intellectual pablum to make this Virginia Woolf hater want to light the book on fire. The last third of the book comprises interstitial chapters which may be added to the story proper if the reader wants to read the longer work. A few relate to the main narrative, a few more are of the newspaper-clipping style seen in a lot of other works, but most are just nonsense. The book is quite acclaimed – someone named C.D.B. Bryan is quoted as saying it’s his favorite novel, although why I’m supposed to take the opinion of a man with three initials in place of a first name seriously I have no idea – but it was a slog, and even slowed down towards the end. The core storyline is somewhat directionless, and doesn’t really conclude in any conventional sense; the main character needs a smack upside the head, both to get him to stop talking nonsense and to get him to do something with his life. The “freewheeling adventures” promised on the book’s jacket don’t even begin until the book is two-thirds finished, and they’re not freewheeling, not terribly adventurous, and are by and large extremely boring. (Exception: a bit of chapter 51, where the main character begins working at an asylum, a scene which sparks a few laughs.) So I wouldn’t exactly recommend this one.
Cleaning up a few books I read in March: Dashiel Hammett’s The Thin Man doesn’t exactly need my recommendation. Hammett’s one of my favorite authors, with a spare style that conveys so much more than Hemingway’s more-praised sparseness (which often struck me as a bit sing-song). That said, I’d probably send Hammett first-timers The Maltese Falcon, and for readers who want a lot of action I’d recommend Red Harvest. The Thin Man is best-known for the characters it introduced to the world, Nick and Nora Charles, but the book didn’t have quite the same tension as the other two I mentioned.
Ingrid Rowland’s The Scarith of Scornello was a fun, short read, telling the true story of a simple hoax orchestrated by a teenager in 16th-century Tuscany that turned into an elaborate academic fraud and ended up altering the course of the kid’s entire life. It’s billed as a bit of a mystery, which it isn’t, because the back cover of the book tells you that the whole thing was a hoax, and it turns out that some of the teenager’s contemporaries knew it was a hoax all along, while others were more than happy to believe in artifacts that appeared to increase the glory of their region in ancient times.