This was Clarice’s last published work before her unfortunate death although there were some works published afterwords (A Breath of Life being one of them). It is recognisably a work of Clarice’s in many ways, the varied use in vocabulary and an analysis of the self and who or what we are. There are two main characters in this story. Rodrigo SM the narrator and his unfortunate creation Macabea. The narrator tells us of their joy of writing, that their writing gives them a certain degree of power, in this case Macabea. We would see a similar type of theme in a Breath of Life though the narrator in that would give their heroine more of a voice.
Rodrigo has not given Macabea an easy life, she is a from poor area of Rio de Janeiro, she has simple pleasures and despite everything she goes through is actually quite content and in no way a vicious or nasty person. It would be hard to describe to much of the plot without giving too much of it a way so I will keep it to a minimum. Compared to other characters we meet Macabea is a relative saint if albeit a little naïve, her boyfriend does not have much to praise him for. Macabea is above all the other characters she meets in a number of ways without realising it. She has her own dreams and desires but never selfish. As the story develops however, we are made aware of the fact that Macabea is not master of her own fate. The narrator does say towards the end that this story is about the the greatest of everyone, more so Macabea in this case. Rodrigo then concludes with a nonchalant shrug with the acknowledgement that nothing lasts forever.
The Hour of the Star like her first published work Near to the Wild Heart is a short but well contained story. It does not feel as over done as her works The Besieged City or The Apple in the Dark. You will recognise however, again without giving too much away that the fate of Macabea resembles that of Virginia in The Chandelier. For want of a better comparison, The Hour of the Star is a lot less foggy in my mind’s eye with respect to the world it creates than The Chandelier was.
I have read The Chandelier twice now and do consider that what Benjamin Moser has written about The Chandelier in Why This World (which I’ve also done a post on my blog here, shameless plug of myself there) more than likely has had an influence on how I have viewed the book. Where I was quite brief in my post on Near to the Wild Heart, I want to go into more detail in The Chandelier to do it any justice and to show how Clarice contrasted the writing of the book from Near to the Wild Heart.
The Chandelier is Clarice’s second book, it should have been called the Society of Shadows (as I’ll explain later) I saw that as more fitting. The Chandelier is much longer than Near to the Wild Heart but like Near to the Wild Heart. The syntax in The Chandelier has developed on from Near to the Wild Heart. We have a story about a young woman and we read her inner thoughts. We meet Virginia who is somewhat different to Joana in Near to the Wild Heart (especially in appearance) we see how she thinks and how she perceives the world.
The world itself only appears to be vague. Although we know about Virginia and her family growing up in their old mansion in an out of the way village and then in her later life with her lover in ‘the city’, the physical world is never wholly described. We only know character’s first names, the city itself is just called ‘the city’, we are though aware of the village of Upper Marsh which isn’t wholly detailed either. The detail itself is in how Virginia is thinking and sees the world. Her biggest influence on her early life is her elder brother Daniel who truth be told isn’t that likable and appears cruel but at the same time also has a sensitive side. Daniel is mean to his sister, in a way that brothers at a young age are. The siblings when at play create the Society of Shadows after witnessing a drowning, although created just to hang around the forest and spy on their sister they give the society the motto ‘Solitude and Truth’ and within the society Daniel says
‘Everything that frightens us because it leaves us alone is what we must seek.’
The main thing that frightens Virginia however is her brother himself, he’d be verbally abusive and squeeze her arm and pushes her. Daniel does however, say to Virginia that she only knows what she is taught and that she must meditate on what is her own and what she has been taught to think, which has a long lasting effect on Virginia . She never goes against her brother, Daniel notices that she comes out happier after she does what he tells her. He unintentionally becomes like a drill sergeant in a boot camp, bringing Virginia down to build her up if albeit in an odd way. Daniel tells her that the member of the Society must perfect themselves. With the Society of Shadows although we may see an elder brother being a bit of a pain, he actually has Virginia’s best intentions at heart.
Virginia’s acts (on behalf of the Society) have a long lasting affect on her elder sister we are also made aware of the dark thoughts Virginia has (which only remain as thoughts). Where as in other more traditional stories where we can only guess what a character is thinking through suggestion or conduct (like in a detective novel) with The Chandelier and Virginia in particular it’s the other way round. We know how she is thinking but we are not too sure with how it is perceived by others or what’s really going on. Her perceptions without thought take her somewhere but we don’t quite know where.
When Virginia is older she moves to the city but we still don’t know much about her other than what she is thinking . She is at a party and she does not feel comfortable there with the different types of people. She tries to distract herself with sense perception. She is not comfortable with the people she meets in the city and her thoughts go back to her brother who has also moved on, the one person who shaped how she understood life is no longer with her and she is surrounded by other people she cannot understand and she is questioning who she is. Virginia is identified with the chandelier in her house, the chandelier is on top of everything sometimes swinging with light reflecting through it, sometimes still and dark. I would say she is more the shadows separate from the light. By the light but not part of it. Hence why I think The Society of Shadows is more fitting.
Virginia dies towards the end. Clarice writes ‘Death has finished forever, anything that could be known about her.’ We also see how this affects another character Adriano but I will leave it there with respect to the story, this is a story where the ending is not as important as what is experienced within it.
This book is almost like reading somebody else’s dream, we are inside the head of Virginia but we are not her. We are seeing things through steamed glasses that we are constantly clearing. The Chandelier isn’t written in the first person but it could be to a point. In Near to The Wild Heart where we look at different parts of Joana’s life whereas in The Chandelier we see a merger of Virginia’s earlier and later life like through a cloud.
If you are to read this book which I strongly suggest you do then I would say read it at least twice. Don’t think too much on the words (Clarice has done that for you), just read it and take it in. Clarice Lispector was still a young when this was written and you can sense her development towards her future works.
The only issue I have with the book is that if you ever have anyone ever tell you that her short stories are better than her longer ones, this is probably what they are comparing it to (Song with The Besieged City).
The Chandelier is much longer than Near to The Wild and Heart and a number of her other works and is not as easy a read. Clarice is a little more daring and experimental with with her shorter stories and especially in her later works. Where as I said in Near to the Wild Heart that not a single word is wasted, this is a larger work where I suspect Clarice was trying to shape herself as a writer especially with trying to put thought into word. However, if you take my advice and just read the words and make Virginia’s inner thoughts just appear in your head then you will get a lot from this. Clarice always makes you contemplate thoughts and ideas that may otherwise be hard to put into words.
This is a good book, love Clarice and Benjamin Moser truly sold her art for writing to me. Clarice Lispector was someone who wrote in her own style and always tried to improve on it. We learn a lot about Clarice’s life. How she was married to a diplomat from Brazil that raised her, how she raised a family and going abroad until being away from Brazil finally got to her. We read about how Clarice adored her friends and sisters and we also read about her struggles looking after her sons an at times, how lonely she was.
My only criticism is that I thought Moser may have got in the way too much with his own opinions etc, but clearly a big fan himself and this isn’t anything on the level of an academic text but an introduction to English speakers to a truly a remarkable woman. This is a love letter from Moser to us about Clarice and definitely took it all in.
We also get to see what the literary and political life of Brazil was like during Clarice’s lifetime and the heartbreaking story of Clarice’s family from how they escaped the awful anti semitism in (what is now) Ukraine of which Clarice’s sister Elisa wrote about herself.
Clarice comes out really well in this. Intelligent and beautiful but Moser isn’t shy of showing the bad side of Clarice as well as the good which for me is fair and despite Clarice at her worse, she’s still someone we can connect with. She is. someone I personally would like to have met.