by Julio CortázarI can't figure out why this novel is practically BURIED. It's one of Julio Cortázar's major works - winner of the prestigious Prix Medicis and described by critics as a semi-sequel to his classic "Hopscotch." It's also one of the great political books of our time, wrestling with literature’s role alongside news about torture, government spying, and military coups. This was written in early 1970s, but times haven't changed much in terms of the urgency of the issues.
What has changed are the utopian aspirations that ripple through this novel. It’s not just the characters, the men and women who revolve around The Screwery, a political cell that pulls odd and seemingly benign pranks, such as smuggling illegal penguins into Paris.It’s also the style of the novel itself, which proposes there’s no disjunction between playfully inventive structures and serious social issues. This novel’s multiple narrators and continually shifting points of view might itself be seen as a political statement.
Cortázar insists literature dealing with politics doesn’t have be streamlined for the so-called masses, but rather it should have room for vibrant cultural details as well as daily routines. In this case: aleatory music, Joni Mitchell albums, babysitting, sex, and much more. Julio believes engaged literature should stretch us — in terms of our commitment to our fellow humans and our ability to creatively interact with art. "A Manual for Manuel" shows how these concerns are intertwined and how their ends tend to fray.
The story itself starts slowly, initially revolving around a single night, but it progressively gains momentum. The stakes for The Screwery and its cohorts keep rising until the book takes on elements of a white-knuckle thriller. On its own unexpected terms, of course.
It’s a marvelous high-wire act, showcasing all of Cortazar’s talents, blending stylistic experimentation and blunt emotional realities; an absurdist sense of humor with dire happenings literally ripped from the headlines; heady intellectual discussions with visceral physical encounters. In some ways, it’s the literary version of the political films I wish Godard had made in the 1970s.
The book is dedicated to the infant Manuel and structured as a sort of running scrapbook. The narrators hope he’ll grow up to be more enlightened than them and able to fully appreciate everything they’ve assembled. They see literature as building a bridge to the future, but sadly it seems that we've actually slipped further away from that future. This novel flaunts almost every current literary convention and probably demands more attention than most so-called cultured people are willing to extend.
It’s a bit heartbreaking how much faith Julio puts in his readers – and how lavishly he rewards their close attention. Hopefully some readers here will be turned on to this vibrant book and continue the circuit the author first charged so many decades ago. Progress may be a myth, but the pleasures of literature aren't.
|Title||A Manual for Manuel|
|eBook format||Hardcover, (torrent)|
|File size||2.1 Mb|
|Book rating||4.61 (360 votes)