(A review by Sidharth Vardhan
of The Hour of the Star (1977)
by Clarice Lispector
(5 / 5))
“Every once in a while she wandered into the better neighborhoods and gazed at the shop windows glittering with jewels and satin clothes — just to mortify herself a bit. Because she needed to find herself and suffering a little is a way of finding.”
One of these days, I’m going to put out a list of 100 most iconic book characters I have read and Macabea of this little book is going to be one of them. She is beautiful, she is healthy, she is confident, she is clever, she is witty, she is wealthy, she is wise ….. Okay, she is very opposite of all these things. She was a typist who was a terrible dresser, lived on only hot dogs and love coca cola.That is kind of people I like. Her poverty falls short only of her stupidity. But it is because of this stupidity, that she is happy – she doesn’t understand how sad and miserable she is. In a world where people are defined those very qualities, she is lacking in, she is a non-entity but she doesn’t know it, and that is what keeps her from sadness:
“If she was dumb enough to ask herself “who am I?” she would fall flat on her face. Because “who am I?” creates a need. And how can you satisfy that need? Those who wonder are incomplete.”
A person so naive- but why? Why must she be so naive? I think some of us discover ourselves in solitude while others discover themselves among people. Macabea was, unfortunately, one of former group:
“She had a room all to herself. She could hardly believe that all this space was hers. And not a word was heard. So she danced in an act of absolute courage since her aunt couldn’t hear her. She danced and twirled because being alone made her: f-r-e-e!”
Unfortunately, because solitude is a luxury of rich, she lives in a slum in a room with women exactly like her. Solitude is a rare lottery, sadness is an unaffordable luxury:
“Sadness was the privilege of the rich, of those who could afford it, of those who had nothing better to do. Sadness was a luxury”
She even finds a boyfriend, a terrible person. The first time they meet it is raining. The second time they meet it is raining again.
“The third time they met — wouldn’t you know it was raining? — the guy, irritated and losing the light varnish of politeness that his stepfather had taught him with great effort, said:
— All you ever do is rain.”
The whole story of full of such beautiful moments, even more beautiful writing and funny movements told with dramatic effect of small and big explosions. Frankly, she becomes so adorable by the end that I wish I was a few years older and she a real person, so that I could adopt her. I mean consider this passage:
“Speaking of novelties, the girl one day saw in a corner bar a man so, so, so good-looking that — that she wanted to have him at home. It would be, like — like having a big emerald-emerald-emerald in an open jewel box. Untouchable. From the ring she saw he was married. How to marry-marry-marry a being who was only to-to-to be seen, she stammered in her thoughts. She’d die of embarrassment to eat in front of him because he was good looking beyond any person’s possible balance.”
I really don’t know how this book doesn’t make it to the lists of best books. Modernism, evocative, thought-provoking, beautiful prose, comic events, amazing character …. what else could you like?
But (explosion!) her story is not written by Lispector itself, it is written by another male character, an author:
“I am absolutely tired of literature; only muteness keeps me company. If I still write it’s because I have nothing better to do in the world while I wait for death.”
Who intends to write her story in the traditional manner which is ironic because he is himself a part of the modern novel – a novel with several titles, and a novel that is also about the act of writing – how a story writes itself, and not only itself but it writes the author too – changing him irrevocably. He begins by deciding that he will stay indifferent to his character but:
“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.”
Did CL too scream horrors of her life through Macabea? She does share Judaism and northeast childhood with her character and she too had worked as a typewriter while with the intermediary author she might have shared thoughts on literature and death (it was her last novel).
“she was happy but how it ached.”
“She sat there leaning her head on her shoulder the way a dove gets sad.”