Review: Clarice Lispector’s “The Hour of the Star”

by writereaderly

Well, this is certainly a weighted read. Not only is it coming up for discussion in Bookclub next week (sorry, ladies & B, I’m sharing my opinion here first), but it’s also one of AKo’s two favourite books eva eva eva (and I unfortunately hated the other one — Hilary Mantel’s “Beyond Black”, FYI).

I first read Lispector in Spanish translation (from the Brazilian Portuguese) ten years ago, and I suspect that I’ve only ever read her short stories, and only one of them in English. I was dazzled by her carefully weighted sentences and delicate, powerful constructions, even handwrote a translation of one tale into English for a friend who I thought might appreciate her writing. This title, however, has particularly been on my Slow Rotation List since AKo recommended it in 2010, and when I found a second-hand copy earlier this year and waved it with great excitement at our incipient Bookclub they seemed convinced (aka overwhelmed) enough to add it to our list of titles. This is probably because it’s under 100pp long, and even the most child-challenged amongst us can probably squeeze it in.

This newer translation was the one our friendly library hustled for us, another career move on the part of the translator Giovanni Pontiero. But come now, come now, what do I think about it? The narrator is a self-obsessed drama queen writing about his need to write about Macabéa, the non-entity who forced herself upon him as a heroine. The text is a combinant of the narrator’s slightly hysterical journalling about the writing, and Macabéa’s tale as he creates it. There, the style is direct, blunt, darkly humorous (e.g., a clairvoyant announces that a blond named Hans will fall in love with her, and she’s promptly run over by a yellow Mercedes). Macabéa is a blank space trying to be a person, cut off long past any prime she may have experienced. And all along the narrator is writhing in the spume of his own mind. Both styles held together very well, Macabéa’s 0-ness so blatant a contrast with the egotism and brooding of the narrator, and somewhere in there is Lispector, commenting on the society which breeds Macabéas and narrators.

I still haven’t said what I thought. It was clever, and dark, and very different in style to the other pieces I had read and loved which were so carefully weighted (although that might be a translation matter, reading in Spanish as opposed to English). I think this novel was curious and interesting and worthwhile, and I would recommend it to dissecting reader friends who would appreciate the black, multivocal depths of it, but I didn’t love it. I’ll keep her on Slow Rotation, though, I’d love to read more of hers, and perhaps more that I’ve only read in Spanish translation.

Post-Bookclub-Post-Script: It was actually great to discuss this book. We all agreed that we only finished the book ‘cos it was Bookclub Homework, but we got quite a lot out of discussing the pretentious narrator, and the no one character trying to be someone, and whether it was really just a book about writing… And we found it intriguing, and interesting, and some of us want to read more of hers, so evidently Bookclub gave it a thumbs up.

Where it came from: Library via Bookclub
Time taken to read: Yesterday until I feel asleep in my late-afternoon nap, then last night when I woke up at midnight
Where it went to: Back to the library via Bookclub, with a copy sent to JH
Reminds me of:
Who I’d recommend it to: JH
Also reading: “The Heart of the Matter” by Graham Greene; “The Cloudspotter’s Guide” by Gavin Pretor-Pinney; “The Blind Eye” by Georgia Blain; “Cold Comfort Farm” by Stella Gibbons; “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” by James Joyce