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Clarice Lispector: The Hour Of The Star

Following on from a recent post by dovegreyreader, I spotted a copy of Clarice Lispector’s The Hour Of The Star (1977) in Waterstones, knew I recognised the name from somewhere, and picked it up. Of course, The Hour Of The Star isn’t its only name, indeed there are a further twelve suggested titles, including I Can Do Nothing, .As For The Future., and The Blame Is Mine. Take your pick.

In this novel, written in the year of her death, Lispector uses the guise of a male writer – Rodrigo – to tell a story that “could be written by another…but it would have to be a man for a woman would weep her heart out.” Said story involves the sad life of Macabéa, a character borne from a face spotted one day by the narrator. From this glimpse arises an interesting novel of contrasts and the need for Rodrigo to put down in writing the story of this imagined girl, a story so immediate he even declares, “I am writing at the same time as I’m being read.”

√From the off, Rodrigo addresses the reader of The Hour Of The Star with his concerns about writing. In a philosophical tone he discusses how his novel can never truly have a beginning, using a grander scale to illustrate his point:

Everything in the world began with a yes. One molecule said yes to another molecule and life was born. But before prehistory there was the prehistory of prehistory and there was the never and there was the yes. It was ever so. I do not know why, but I do know that the universe never began.

Things soon settle – in an unsettled way – as he agonises over the story to tell, supplementing concerns with apologies (“Even as I write this I feel ashamed at pouncing on you with a narrative that is so open and explicit.”), and all done in an engaging, urgent style.

Macabéa, the girl, is the main character in Rodrigo’s novel’s. Her introduction is repetitive, or at least his mentions of her, and the cyclical nature of this erratic mind – the opium-drunk narrator of Sadegh Hedayat’s The Blind Owl came to mind – tells us perhaps one time too many about Macabéa’s mental make-up. About how she lives in the here and now. About how she has little ambition beyond being, despite her frailty and ugliness, Marilyn Monroe. And about how, such is the emptiness of her existence, she doesn’t know what it is to be happy or sad:

As the author, I alone love her. I suffer on her account. And I alone may say to her: ‘What do you ask of me weeping, that I would not give you singing?’ The girl did not know that she existed, just as a dog does not know it’s a dog. Therefore she wasn’t aware of her own unhappiness.

But her life is not wholly without incident. She has a job as a typist (“she was so backward that when she typed she was obliged to copy out ever word slowly, letter by letter”) and acquires a bizarre butcher-loving boyfriend along the way. One by one the novel’s tiny cast flits in and out of her life, each experience leading on to an unexpected conclusion that proves to be more shocking to narrator than his creation.

The Hour Of The Star‘s joy is in reading the parallel threads as we learn of the narrator and watch him create his character with each page turned. Macabéa, our uneducated lead lead, blunders through life without a care having limited conversations and understanding. She can’t help being who she is, for it’s outwith her control. The blame can rest easily with both her upbringing and Rodrigo. On the other hand, our tortured narrator is educated and knows that he can intervene in Macabéa’s tale but, as the alternative titles allude, doesn’t. For this, he takes to defense:

As for the girl, she exists in an impersonal limbo, untouched by what is worst or best. She merely exists, inhaling and exhaling, inhaling and exhaling. Why should there be anything more? Her existence is sparse. Certainly. But why should I feel guilty? Why should I try to relieve myself of the burden of not having done anything concrete to help the girl?

Make no mistake, The Hour Of The Star, is a novella in which very little happens and while it may, at first, feel repetitive, hypnotic is more apt. A second sitting, with knowledge of later events, certainly rewards, and credit is certainly due to Giovanni Pontiero, for his vibrant translation. And such brilliance gives a taste of life in a Brazilian slum, only to remind us that tragedy is everywhere, especially ahead of us.

February 15, 2008

11 responses to Clarice Lispector: The Hour Of The Star

  1. jem said:

    This sounds like one of those books that walks a line between enthralling and annoying. I have to be in the right mood or I fall on the wrong side of the line.

    I find that cover really disturbing. Very creepy.

  2. Stewart said:

    The cover reminds me of the posters for A Clockwork Orange.

  3. Pingback: booklit » Blog Archive » Micheline Aharonian Marcom: The Mirror In The Well

  4. nico said:

    That novella is such a pretty and profound work of fiction. I would recommend also ‘The apple in the dark’. It’s not an easy read, but a sort of metaphysical manifesto, really something…

  5. Lis said:

    A mighty odd read. I have linked your review, thanks for writing it! I have decided to read a book a day for a year (I know, I blame beer), so I am searching for very short books so I don’t have to give up sleeping. This one fit the bill…

    Anyway – just wanted to let you know I have linked, and say thanks.

  6. Stewart said:

    A mighty odd read.

    It is, isn’t it? I have more a recollection of the concepts within it rather than the story itself, but it’s firmly placed in memory. I was reminded of Lispector in reading Micheline Aharonian Marcom’s The Mirror In The Well, although that was more explicit in its use of language.

    I have decided to read a book a day for a year

    Good luck with that, although I consider you completely bonkers for doing so. Interesting choice of a starter. I’ll be interested to see what others you manage to get through. I’m unable to push through as many books as I’d like to these days as I’m stuck with reading boring old university books in spare moments.

  7. Lis said:

    Nothing wrong with being completely bonkers. In fact oddly enough, I read an article today (http://www.patienthealthinternational.com/features/3118.aspx) that proves madness is often connected to genius (on reflection, it might totally disprove it). But either way logic and deductive reasoning leads me to the sudden understanding that I am a genius. I knew it!

    I have added The Mirror In the Well to my reading list, it certainly does sound explicit!

    Thank you for wishing me luck. I know the feeling about boring old university books – I am mostly writing at the moment, so manage to avoid too much pain, but I do remember having to read books on vegetation in Morte Darthur or significant pomegranites in symbolist lit (or something) at one point and being ready to impale myself on a stick.

    What are your boring books about? It looks like you are reading a lot of great lit to me, though!

    Thanks for the excellent reviews.

    End of ramble.

  8. Stewart said:

    What are your boring books about? It looks like you are reading a lot of great lit to me, though!

    Business, economics, etc. Boo!

  9. john hilden said:

    Lispector is challenging for sure. I like her but didn’t care for “The hour of the star.” Nico above cites “The Apple in the dark” which is much more rewarding but also difficult reading. For the first time reader, I would recommend the book of short stories that came out in the states under the title of “Family ties”. That one I can wholeheartedly endorse.

  10. Stewart said:

    I’d like to read more Lispector and if The Apple In The Dark is the recommendation, then I’m happy to see that Haus Publishing is reissuing it in the UK later this year.

  11. Pingback: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die | anything goes for the supermom

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11 responses to Clarice Lispector: The Hour Of The Star

  1. jem said:

    This sounds like one of those books that walks a line between enthralling and annoying. I have to be in the right mood or I fall on the wrong side of the line.

    I find that cover really disturbing. Very creepy.

  2. Stewart said:

    The cover reminds me of the posters for A Clockwork Orange.

  3. Pingback: booklit » Blog Archive » Micheline Aharonian Marcom: The Mirror In The Well

  4. nico said:

    That novella is such a pretty and profound work of fiction. I would recommend also ‘The apple in the dark’. It’s not an easy read, but a sort of metaphysical manifesto, really something…

  5. Lis said:

    A mighty odd read. I have linked your review, thanks for writing it! I have decided to read a book a day for a year (I know, I blame beer), so I am searching for very short books so I don’t have to give up sleeping. This one fit the bill…

    Anyway – just wanted to let you know I have linked, and say thanks.

  6. Stewart said:

    A mighty odd read.

    It is, isn’t it? I have more a recollection of the concepts within it rather than the story itself, but it’s firmly placed in memory. I was reminded of Lispector in reading Micheline Aharonian Marcom’s The Mirror In The Well, although that was more explicit in its use of language.

    I have decided to read a book a day for a year

    Good luck with that, although I consider you completely bonkers for doing so. Interesting choice of a starter. I’ll be interested to see what others you manage to get through. I’m unable to push through as many books as I’d like to these days as I’m stuck with reading boring old university books in spare moments.

  7. Lis said:

    Nothing wrong with being completely bonkers. In fact oddly enough, I read an article today (http://www.patienthealthinternational.com/features/3118.aspx) that proves madness is often connected to genius (on reflection, it might totally disprove it). But either way logic and deductive reasoning leads me to the sudden understanding that I am a genius. I knew it!

    I have added The Mirror In the Well to my reading list, it certainly does sound explicit!

    Thank you for wishing me luck. I know the feeling about boring old university books – I am mostly writing at the moment, so manage to avoid too much pain, but I do remember having to read books on vegetation in Morte Darthur or significant pomegranites in symbolist lit (or something) at one point and being ready to impale myself on a stick.

    What are your boring books about? It looks like you are reading a lot of great lit to me, though!

    Thanks for the excellent reviews.

    End of ramble.

  8. Stewart said:

    What are your boring books about? It looks like you are reading a lot of great lit to me, though!

    Business, economics, etc. Boo!

  9. john hilden said:

    Lispector is challenging for sure. I like her but didn’t care for “The hour of the star.” Nico above cites “The Apple in the dark” which is much more rewarding but also difficult reading. For the first time reader, I would recommend the book of short stories that came out in the states under the title of “Family ties”. That one I can wholeheartedly endorse.

  10. Stewart said:

    I’d like to read more Lispector and if The Apple In The Dark is the recommendation, then I’m happy to see that Haus Publishing is reissuing it in the UK later this year.

  11. Pingback: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die | anything goes for the supermom

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