Clarice Lispector is considered the most important Jewish writer since Franz Kafka and is possibly the most important Brazilian writer of all time. Her final work before her untimely death from ovarian cancer “The Hour of the Star” illustrates why Lispector is so important. It is also one of the best things I've ever read.
Lispector's critics call her over-indulgent, and she is, but in her commitment to her own vision and her obsessions with the void, death, nothingness, and meaninglessness Lispector pushes the narrative structure to scorching new heights.
The novella is narrated by a male writer who aims to tell the tale of Macabéa, a sweet but pathetic girl. The narrator knows everything about Macabéa to the point where he feels he may know her better than herself. He has no idea why he knows so much. The girl is sweet but pathetic to the point of being grotesque. My sympathy for this isolated and abused victim of society is intermixed by repulsion at her lack of agency and the nature of her disgusting life. Lispector brilliantly creates a character who is both abhorrent and the perfect tragic heroine.
The narrator is afraid to tell his story and takes his time, stalling and going on wild tangents (made even more amazing given that this book clocks in at under 80 pages). Lispector has a true way with words and is easily one of the most quotable authors I have ever read. Here are a few of my favorites:
Truth is always an interior and inexplicable contact
I shall live here the life of a molecule with all its possible bang of atoms
I want to try at least once the lack of taste they say is in the host.
Through this young person I scream my horror of life. Of this life I love so much.
This story has no technique, nor style, it lives from hand to mouth.
Each day is a day stolen from death.
Words are sounds transfused with unequal shadows that intersect, stalactites, lace, transfigured organ music.
Lispector is a true revolutionary. “The Hour of the Star” hits you in the gut. It is blistering, disgusting, and powerful. Sometimes a book comes along that makes you recalculate what it means to be a “great” writer and this is one of them.