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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 691

The novel begins with a “Table of Instructions” for reading Hopscotch, which consists of two main books. The reader is given a choice between reading chapters 1 through 56 (the first two sections) and a more unconventional reading beginning with chapter 73 and proceeding in hopscotch fashion through all 153 chapters.

From the Other Side. Horacio Oliveira is an unemployed Argentine intellectual in his forties, living first in Paris and then, around 1950, in Buenos Aires. He searches day and night for some unknown element that he senses is missing from his life. Adrift in Paris, he spends much of his time listening to jazz and classical records, smoking, drinking, wandering the streets, and playing intellectual mind games with a small group of his bohemian friends, a Russian, a North American couple, two Frenchmen, an Asian, and a Spaniard, who form a group called the Serpent Club. His female companion, La Maga, is perceived by herself and by the others as their intellectual inferior, although she is much more attuned to her surroundings and to life. She is intuitive and straightforward, with neither a capacity nor the need for intellectualizing. La Maga is devoted to Oliveira, but he, despite having relationships with other women, is wildly jealous and eventually abandons her because he suspects that she has or will in the future have an affair with Osip Gregorovius, the Russian in the group.

Oliveira leaves La Maga shortly after the death of her infant son, Rocamodour. Although he repents shortly thereafter and searches the streets of Paris for her, he never finds her again. Friends suggest that she has gone to nurse Pola, a former lover of Oliveira who suffers from breast cancer. Later, Oliveira looks for her in her native Uruguay; occasionally he fears that she might have committed suicide by drowning.

From This Side. Oliveira returns to Buenos Aires and is living with a former girlfriend, Gekrepten, across a narrow street from one of his oldest friends, Traveler, and his wife, Talita. Oliveira’s search for La Maga becomes more desperate, since his need to rationalize and intellectualize his entire existence cost him what could have brought him happiness. Traveler arranges a job for Oliveira at the circus where he and Talita work, but Oliveira’s presence is a strain on his friends’ marriage, since Oliveira begins to see in Talita a replacement for, perhaps even a reincarnation of, La Maga. When the circus owner sells out and purchases an asylum for the insane, the three friends become caretakers there and leave Gekrepten behind, much to her distress. Oliveira confuses Talita with La Maga more often, but he recognizes that he is infringing on Traveler’s life. This leads him to fear that Traveler might kill him. Eventually, he barricades himself in his room and fills it with traps made of yarn, basins of water, and other objects placed strategically on the floor to warn him of Traveler’s approach.

Traveler nevertheless forces his way into the room, where Oliveira is precariously perched on the windowsill. After doing all he can to calm his friend and keep him from jumping from the window, Traveler retreats to the courtyard below. Here, he joins Talita, who stands on a hopscotch drawing, and looks up at Oliveira, who still stands at the window.

From Diverse Sides. In the more unconventional, hopscotchlike reading of the novel, the “Table of Instructions” guides the reader through all but one of the fifty-six chapters of the first two sections and all of the chapters in the third section. In this reading, the “expendable” chapters are interspersed randomly within the chronological sequence of the first part of the book. The reader pieces together the collage of chapters, aided by the author’s introductory instructions and numbers at the end of each chapter. This second reading constructs a novel that ends in a perpetual open-ended deadlock, alternating between chapters 58 and 131. In this reading, it becomes clear that Oliveira is recuperating and being cared for by Gekrepten, Traveler, and Talita. Whether he is recovering from his madness, from a fall from the window, or from some other accident or illness is never made clear.

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