‘Blow-Up’ by Julio Cortázar

Blow-Up by Julio Cortázar, 1963

The magic trick:

Exploring character through the way a man interprets and imagines a specific moment in his life

I knew this story from the great Antonioni Swinging London film of the same name. I knew a variation of this story from the great Coppola film The Conversation.

Or at least I thought I knew this story.

The text is different from those movies – very Cortázar and very good.

The first couple pages serve as a barrier to entry with its experiments in grammar and philosophical consideration of reality and storytelling. But if you can get beyond that (I know, many people would say it’s that stuff that is the best and most important part of the story), you’ll find a completely engrossing reading experience.

Michel has taken a photograph of a boy and woman. He has blown up the photo to poster size and hung it in his studio. He is obsessed with what may have happened after the moment he captures and especially what his role may have been in that eventuality.

Whereas the films take this story idea story as an opportunity to consider setting and popular culture, Cortázar is more interested in exploring the narrator’s mental state and how his interpretation of the photograph reflects on his character.

And that’s quite a trick on Cortázar’s part.

The selection:

What I’d thought was a couple seemed much more now a boy with his mother, although at the same time I realized that it was not a kid and his mother, and that it was a couple in the sense that we always allegate to couples when we see them leaning up against the parapets or embracing on the benches in the squares. As I had nothing else to do, I had more than enough time to wonder why that boy was so nervous, like a young colt or a hare, sticking his hands into his pockets, taking them out immediately, one after the other, running his fingers through his hair, changing his stance, and especially why was he afraid, well, you could guess that from every gesture, a fear suffocated by his shyness, an impulse to step backwards which he telegraphed, his body standing as if it were on the edge of flight, holding itself back in a final, pitiful decorum.

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