In this 2020 September it is impossible to understand what the future will bring. This makes it difficult to imagine being in that future and then looking back to discern what will stand out as important.
For me I will look back at my Rosemary’s and my declining health and how two brother and sister cats made that 2020 a bearable one by the comfort they bring to our lives.
There is one item in that year which will be represented by the reading of one book. The book is Julio Cortázar’s Rayuela. If more people were aware of its existence in a language other than Spanish they might understand that Hopscotch (the book’s title in English) is up there in complexity with anything that James Joyce ever wrote.
I read it first in 1966 in Buenos Aires. The reading left no trace in my memory. This time around I read it slowly in the evenings to the point that some of my nightmares centre on events of this novel, particularly as I met the author in my home many times in my youth. He was a friend of my fathers.
Of the novel, Cortázar points out that Rayuela is many books and in particular, two. As a reader I am given a few choices. The first book, he explains ends in Chapter 56 after which on the last page of that chapter there are three little stars indicating that it is the end. The second book begins on Chapter 73 and Cortázar makes no comment on what to do with the interim chapters but does have a chart with pages and chapters to read.
"Table of Instructions" and structure
Written in an episodic, snapshot manner, the novel has 155 chapters, the last 99 designated as "expendable." Some of these "expendable" chapters fill in gaps that occur in the main storyline, while others add information about the characters or record the aesthetic or literary speculations of a writer named Morelli who makes a brief appearance in the narrative. Some of the "expendable" chapters at first seem like random musings, but upon closer inspection solve questions that arise during the reading of the first two parts of the book.
An author's note suggests that the book would best be read in one of two possible ways, either progressively from chapters 1 to 56 or by "hopscotching" through the entire set of 155 chapters according to a "Table of Instructions designated by the author. Cortázar also leaves the reader the option of choosing a unique path through the narrative.
Several narrative techniques are employed throughout the book, and frequently overlap, including first person, third person, and a kind of stream-of-consciousness. Traditional spelling and grammatical rules are often bent and sometimes broken outright.
At this date, September 15 after quite a few months I can state that I have finished that first book. But I had to find a rest from my obsession.
That rest came from Donna Leon’s Trace Elements which I purchased two day s ago and finished in two evenings. It was refreshing (and soothing) to read without the help of my Galaxy 5 as it was with Rayuela with all those translated passages in French and the names of to me unknown jazz musicians, etc.
It was soothing to sort of know what to expect. I have read all of Leon’s previous Commissario Guido Brunetti novels set in Venice. After having been with my Rosemary in Venice in 2019 the places so nicely described by Leon are even more familiar.
The novel was like having comfort food (mashed potatoes and stew?). But this comfort-food-novel gave me a tad of indigestion. The ending I thought would be predictable. It was not. Commissario Brunetti had to make an ethical decision involving two situations. He had to let go of one of them. The ending was therefore not tidy. All the villains did not all go to jail.
It made me think and realize that Leon has been living so long in Venice that she knows about the slowness of justice in Italy or that the Mafia will be in existence for as long as people eat pizza. If the book were made into a film it would not pass the censorship of the American system of what is okay and what is not.
And then there was another content in this novel that fascinated me to no end. Leon must have done a thorough examination on how a glass of water from a Venetian tap gets there. Trace Elements is a novel about crimes committed to make that tap water questionable.
Breaking a pattern of distraction
To cope with the decision that Brunetti has to make he reads the tragedies of Aeschylus to determing how the tragedian inserted justice into them.
So, in the end, the mashed potatoes where just fine. There might be smoke in the air, but we have lots of space in Vancouver and the tap water is safe.
And best of all the novel was written in 2019 and events occur during a hot Italian summer full of tourist throngs in Venice. Imagine that!