Looked like Marlene Dietrich and wrote like Virginia Woolf
Thus is the twenty-four year old Jewish Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector described soon after writing her first novel Near to the Wild Heart published in 1944.
It's taken quite a while for The Hour of the Star to sink in, settle down and for any thoughts to rise to the surface. I think it was the comparisons to Kafka that delayed me.
I'd already confessed to knowing diddly squat about Kafka and somehow thought that the emphasis everywhere on this aspect of Clarice Lispector's writing and my inability to make Kafkaesque connections beyond existential goings-on and didn't a man wake up and think he was a cockroach or something, well, somehow it all seemed to prohibit comment.
Then by accident I was browsing a book of essays by John Fowles, Wormwood, and I came across his thoughts on Kafka and I felt a whole lot better. John Fowles had studied Kafka at Oxford twenty years previously but now couldn't recall a word of it. Interestingly and off at a tangent he also identifies other authors who have been given 'adjectival value', among them Trollope, Hardy, and James and usually in the context of intense focus on limited areas of human experience or feeling.
That somehow focused my thinking on Clarice Lispector and the scary word Kafka was banished.
Taking as her subject Macabea, a girl from the slums of Rio de Janeiro who moves to the city to work as typist, Clarice Lispector, from the perspective of a male narrator, proceeds to construct her character before the eyes of her reader.
'It is my intention, as I suggested earlier to write with ever greater simplicity. Besides the material at my disposal is all too sparse and mundane, I possess a few details about my characters and those details are not very revealing; details that stem from me only to return to me; the craft of carpentery.'
Constantly reminded of the process as it is happening makes for unusual reading and a strange suspense as you wonder quite what Macabea's character or life will be invested with next.Hovering with indecision is common as Clarice Lispector plays out authorial thoughts mediated through her narrator and all in front of her reader.
'I suspect that this lengthy preamble is intended to conceal the poverty of my story, for I am apprehensive. Before this typist entered my life, I was a reasonably contented chap despite my limited success as a writer. Things were somehow so good that they were in danger of becoming very bad because what is fully mature is very close to rotting.'
It's often almost impossible to unravel Clarice Lispector from her unnamed male protagonist or from Macabea and so as I read I was constantly asking myself questions and realised I was most certainly reading a book that stripped bare to the bones the art of fiction, a point neatly made by translator Giovanni Pontiero in his afterword,
'Her asides to the reader, as distractions, uncertainties and obstacles interrupt the creative process, underline the attendant problems as the writer struggles for direction and clarification.'
It's very strange. I just know I've read a really unusual and interesting book but beyond that I can't quite define it. There is more Clarice Lispector to read and and I'm onto it, others are reading her around the blogworld and so expect some good reviews to appear but all in all what a great reading discovery, last words to Clarice who somehow reduces this whole writing caper down to the lowest yet most important common denominator,
'Remember that, no matter what I write, my basic material is the word. So this story will consist of words that form phrases from which there emanates a secret meaning that exceeds both words and phrases.'
I think I've been Lispectored, which probably sounds better than being Trolloped.