Translated by Benjamin Moser

I’ve made a minor incursion into South America during Japanuary! I don’t really know where to start with this very short book, which was definitely interesting, if not madly enjoyable.

Published in 1977, the year of Clarice Lispector’s death, Hour of the Star is a sort of story within a story, as a self-consciously very present (male) narrator/author, writing in the first person, effortfully crafts a story about a young woman’s failed romance.

The protagonist of that tale, Macabea, is a secretary living in Rio. She is poor, neglected, deliberately unremarkable in character, unintelligent, nondescript – but definitely horny, and a bit romantic. The writing is self-referential, often surreal, and shot through with a sort of dark and desperate humour.

The text must have been horrible to translate from the original Potuguese, as Lispector wields language rather than writes it, layering on adjectives, going off at tangents, and constantly the writer (or Lispector in the guise of the anonymous male writer) forces their way roughly into the text.

I have to say that the girl isn’t aware of me, if she was she’d have someone to pray to and that would mean salvation. But I’m fully aware of her: through this young person I scream my horror of life. Of this life I love so much.

We have the sense that Macabea’s tale will not have a happy ending, and the ending is sudden, brutal and ironic.

Looking around to see what others have made of this book I was amused to see that Peter Boxall’s 1001 Books You Must Read Before you Die basically gives up in its very patchy attempt to discuss this novel, announcing that “Lispector must be read, not written about”. (A cop-out, no, in a book about books?!)

Overall, I have to say that I found this book to be weirdly brilliant – but definitely not a relaxing diversion. And despite being only 77 pages in length, it took me an awfully long time to read!

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