“The Hour of the Star” by Clarice Lispector (1977) – 81 pages
“Who has not asked himself at some time or other: am I a monster or is this what it means to be a person?”
Clarice Lispector, “The Hour of the Star”
“The Hour of the Star” is probably the most philosophical novel I’ve read since Albert Camus’s “The Fall”. There is a similarity between the two novels in that they both have at their center an apparently defeated person. Both novels are also loaded with quotable lines.
One thing I must point out. When you read “The Hour of the Star”, slow your reading speed way down. Lispector’s prose is not the kind of writing you can breeze through without complete attention. Her sentences are short, and every word is loaded. She leaves out all the description that would make the story easier to appreciate and understand. There is a strangeness to the story which each reader must interpret alone. I had attempted to read Clarice Lispector a couple of times before without success. I knew she was an important literary figure, but just could not get into her writing. Only now with “The Hour of the Star”, have I been able to finally complete a novel by Clarice Lispector and actually regard it as a rewarding experience.
“The Hour of the Star” is the story of Macabea, a girl who is “incompetent for life”. She is about twenty years old and has moved from her rural village of Alagoas to the urban center of Rio de Janeiro. Nobody wants her, she has ‘hardly a body to sell’; she is underfed and ugly, sickly and unlovable. She works as a typist, but makes too many mistakes, she only has a third grade education. She lives with several other working girls but none of them is her friend. .Her hygiene is not very good. “She blew her nose on the hem of her underwear.” Clarice Lispector, through her fictional narrator Rodrigo S. M., tells Macabea’s story.
“What can you do with the truth that everyone’s a little sad and a little alone?”
In Brazil today, the writer Clarice Lispector who died 35 years ago is so popular that her picture appears on postage stamps. Say just the first name ‘Clarice’ in Brazil, and nearly everyone knows you are referring to Lispector. In Brazil Clarice Lispector is almost a mythical figure, the Sphinx of Rio de Janeiro. “There was an American poet who threatened to commit suicide, because I wasn’t interested.” I have a good educated guess who that poet would be, probably Robert Lowell.
“The year before her death a reporter who had come all the way from Argentina tried to draw her out. “They say you’re evasive, difficult, that you don’t talk. It doesn’t seem that way to me.’ Clarice answered, ‘Obviously they were right.” After extracting monosyllabic replies, the reporter filled the silence with a story about another writer.” – Benjamin Moser, “Why This World A biography of Clarice Lispector”
I encourage you to read this short, short novel and make of it what you will. “The Hour of the Star” is quite open-ended and each reader will come to their own interpretation.