lunes, 9 de mayo de 2011

The Hour of the Star

The Hour of the Star [A Hora da Estrela] (New Directions, 1992)
by Clarice Lispector [translated from the Portuguese by Giovanni Pontiero]
Brazil, 1977

Considering what a big deal Lispector is regarded as in non-lemming circles, I was bummed to find out that The Hour of the Star, her supposed masterpiece, is more annoying than interesting.  In fact, it was so unrewarding that I'm probably one and done with her.  A fake biography of a 19-year old poverty victim from northeastern Brazil named Macabéa, this 86-page novella is at its best offering up cryptic imagery ("it is the same soft drink that sponsored the recent earthquake in Guatemala" [23]) and the occasional lyrical moment ("May, the month of bridal veils floating in clouds of white" [42]) in between bouts of way self-conscious prose, hamfisted dialogue, and the like.  At its worst, it's reminiscent of Talking Heads: 77 in terms of its poseur pretentiousness, its labored "artfulness,"  and its lack of a non-dork mouthpiece.  Still, eleven stories less dildonic than The Dodecahedron, for whatever that's worth!  (

Clarice Lispector

10 comentarios:

  1. I haven't heard or read the author before so I can't comment or challenge this observation. Sometimes it depends on what we are looking for. Some prefer stylistics, the grandeur use of language; such things introduce self-consciousness into the prose. Others prefer things to move as natural as they could possibly be and to these individuals reading a novel and finding the consciousness of the author in it is boring and detracting.

  2. Hola, Richard:

    Aquí no coincidimos. Creo que La hora de la estrella es un gran libro y Lispector un escritora increíble, con una mirada singularísima. Es cierto que en este libro la prosa es "autoconsciente", pero el libro es sincero en esto: desde las primeras páginas te indica que el juego pasa por ahí (una autora que se hace pasar por autor para contar la historia de una mujer y verla siempre como personaje, razonando su propia historia a medida que la escribe... en definitiva, un mecanismo metaficcional).

    Me dan ganas de culpar a la traducción (en portugués la prosa es sonora y brillante), pero no estoy en condiciones de hacerlo. Mi recomendación: no dejes a Lispector en "one and done". Dale una chance más a sus cuentos de Lazos de familia. Y si ya esos relatos no te gustan, pues entonces sí, a olvidarse de Clarice for ever.


    PS. I like Nana's comment.

  3. I'm embarrassed to admit that until now I vaguely believed Clarice Lispector to be a fictional character...? Not sure where I got that idea.

    Well, the discrepancy between your post and Cristal's comment has me intrigued. At least at 86 pages I wouldn't be taking too much of a risk to find out on which side I come down.

  4. I read Family Ties (which I'm guessing, without reaching for my Spanish dictionary is Lazos de Familia), and had much the same impression. - Maybe it is the translation though: her writing style, her general tone seemed quite dull and uninteresting.

  5. Inclined to follow Emily's lead and take the small page number risk. Just to see. And aren't you due for a great read right about now? Or a reading break in which you just drink heavily and watch tv for a while? :) Things have been a little rough for you lately. To echo Nana's comment, what are you looking for, friend?

  6. I ve read another of hers and wasn't to shaken by her but will try again ,sometimes wonder if these writers raised on pedstals are as good as people think or if is some times to much style over content ,all the best stu

  7. I have the same impression with The Stream of Life, the self-consciousness getting the better of the narrative. In a way she's an extremist. Echoing Stu, the experimental style overwhelms the content.

  8. I just bought a book with her crônicas. I read a few short stories but nothing stayed in my mind. I thought that she was best known for her non-fiction but now that you mention a novella I seem to remember that she was called THE Brazilian female novelist. I'm still interested in the essays but might not rush to read her fiction right now.

  9. *Nana: As (Martín) Cristal points out in his comment right after yours, it might have been slightly unfair of me to have attacked Lispector for what I termed her "way self-conscious prose" given that reflections on writing in general and this book in particular are part of the narrator's stated goals. My problem was less this self-consciousness itself and more that I found Lispector's execution heavyhanded and not all that interesting. While you're absolutely right that our reading experience often depends on what we're looking for at any given moment, I found The Hour of the Star mostly--but not entirely--unentertaining and not particularly provocative in terms of craft or its emotional impact. So I guess you could say I must have been looking for something else different from what I found! P.S. Thanks for your comment--it seems to have elicited a lot of support from the others.

    *Martín: ¡Hola! y gracias por compartir tu defensa de Lispector tan elocuentemente. Como he dicho a Nana, mi problema con Lispector fue más relacionado con la ejecución de su estilo pesado (y un poco obvio a veces) y menos con la prosa autoconsciente en sí y/o los objetivos de la novelista. Desgraciadamente, es bien posible que, en parte al menos, no me gustó la lectura a causa de la traducción: no quiero putear al traductor, pero claro que no encontré una prosa "sonora y brillante" en inglés. De todos modos, le daré otra oportunidad a Lispector en el futuro debido a mi respecto por tus juicios literarios. Gracias por la sugerencia y el comentario. ¡Saludos!

    *Emily: That "CL, fictional character" idea of yours is a hoot, but before I tease you too much about it I should confess that the name Clarice Lispector almost always makes me think of Jodie Foster's Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs for some reason. Weird! In any event, Martín (Cristal) describes what I had hoped to get out of Lispector but didn't. I have a feeling you would enjoy her language play more than I did, though, so maybe the things I found obvious or somewhat annoying would be less bothersome to you.

    *Obooki: Interesting--if disappointing in a way--to hear that you, too, found Lispector so "dull and uninteresting" in English translation. I've told Martín that I'd give Lispector another shot with Lazos de familia/Family Ties at some point, but it'll probably be a while before I do it so the bad translation theory will have to wait for now.

  10. *Frances: Ha, what makes you quite so sure that I don't drink heavily and watch TV all the time regularly? You've just described my late 20s and early 30s, you know! Seriously, I think you, like Emily, might find Lispector more rewarding than I did--but I am a little more uncertain in your case. And luckily for me, the Murakami I read recently was so awesome and all-consuming that it more than made up for the back to back duds that kind of bookended it.

    *Stu: While it's not hard to find tons of people perfectly happy to place Lispector on that pedestal you mention (the NY Times writer on the blurb on the back calls her "the premier Latin American woman prose writer" of the 20th century, a claim I've seen others make elsewhere), it's interesting to see that others who have read her have walked away so clearly and almost viscerally unimpressed. I understand your reaction completely.

    *Rise: Not that the style of The Hour of the Star was all that compelling to me or anything, but I think it's a clear case of style over content in the way that you and Stu have both talked about regarding other works. Your "extremist" comment, paired with other questions about possible translation deficiencies above, makes me wonder about whether Lispector's language extremism (so to speak) might suffers in translation more than other writers. Hmm...

    *Caroline: Maybe I should read a crônica or two by Lispector in addition to a couple of her short stories to try and bridge the gap between Martín's experience with Lispector and my own. Ironically given how many people here are talking about having had lackluster reading experiences with Lispector, she is indeed hailed as one of the major Lat Am writers to be reckoned with. Clearly, this calls for more research!