Agua Viva by Clarice Lispector (Translated by Stefan Tobler)

You will notice with this post that I write a lot about feeling and how I felt as for me it was the best way to describe what I was experiencing.

Agua Viva is a relatively short book, 88 pages long it can easily fit in your pocket. It however, one of the more peculiar of Clarice’s work and in no way a simple read. Unlike her other works which are almost entirely fiction with some semi autobiographical elements included, Agua Viva is a series of thoughts and meditations of Clarice. Agua Viva is definitely a lot more punchier and easier to digest then her works of fiction like the Besieged City or The Apple in the Dark but it is in no way lacking in thought and feeling. It feels like you are walking within Clairice’s mind, it’s like despite passing away in 1977 she somehow comes back to life as soon as you start reading it. It felt like I was going through a literal art exhibition like nothing you would experience before. There is no traditional order to the text. Clarice does meditate on the ‘I’. She also writes with respect to things such as life in general using flowers and cats as a form of metaphor.

I don’t feel like I could do it any justice by dissecting the text and putting my thought upon it (though I do recommend Reading With Clarice Lispector by Helene Cixous) but I can definitely tell you as I have above how I felt and what it made me feel whilst I was reading it. This is one of them texts where I think it would be much easier to pick it up from time to time. When I read it I felt like Clarice was writing to me personally, that the whole text was for me despite how impossible that is.

Again I must apologise as I am typing this being fully aware that I am not giving it the justice it deserves. Agua Viva is not just something to be read but something that is to be experienced. This is another that in the future I would like to do another post. To look at it in the way Helene Cixous or Benjamin Moser has. Despite it being a translation into English there is a feel with the language that it is playing with you, it is testing you in how you interpret it with respect to your own reality.

[In English: Penguin Classics edition published 2014.

In Portuguese: by arrangement with the heirs of Lispector and Agencia Literaria Carmen Balcells, Barcelona. Published in 1973]

The Apple in the Dark by Clarice Lispector (translated by Gregory Rabassa)

The Apple in the Dark is a peculiar existential novel that as Benjamin Moser states in the introduction is influenced by Clarice’s Jewish heritage. There is a plot that keeps the story going but as you would expect with anything by Clarice Lispector there is more to it than that. In the beginning of the story Moser mentions (in his introduction) that it is no coincidence that the main character written by a Jewish writer has a shadowy character in it called simply ‘The German’.

I managed to get a second hand copy of the book. I don’t think there has not been any recent releases of this one.

In Apple in the Dark we get to see the inner thoughts and feelings of three characters in particular. Our main hero Martin, Vitoria and Emerlinda who Martin meets on a rundown farm and starts becoming a bit of a handyman. We are made aware that Martin is running away from something, from civilisation and from his past. We are introduced to a world where Martin finds himself walking through the darkness, he can only guess where he is going, he accidentally kills a bird and talks to the stones, almost like he has been reinvented as something new, despite this he still cannot forget his past. When the light returns Martin finds the farm mentioned above. This is where meet Vitoria who at first appears distant and unfriendly, but the more we learn about her, the more we get an understanding of her her view on life, loving and being loved. We also meet Emerlinda who appears to follow her emotions more so than Vitoria and we learn is yearning for love. Although there are some other minor characters the focus is on these three. We go into their minds and see the relationships between the three. To put it briefly, this book is about loyalty, love and betrayal along with an acceptance and refusal to accept reality.

The plot evolves around the relationship between these three. Without giving too much away, in the end, civilisation reclaims Martin and Vitoria and Emerlinda see him go possibly to never see him again, at the end Martin comes across as a somewhat tragic character especially when you find out what he had done and is somebody to be pitied. As we read through Apple in the Dark we learn how Martin tries to get to grips for his sins by creating his own form of god but in the end as stated, it is civilisation that gets to him.

The Apple of the Dark is interesting for the way it portrays the characters within it. We would be guilty of creating our own prejudices of the characters but with respect to Martin and Vitoria in particular, for me at least my perceptions of them had changed towards the end.

Photograph of Clarice as seen in the book itself.

I imagine this book to be easier to read in Portuguese. Although easy to understand what Clarice was trying to present to us, I found this particular translation to be somewhat stilted. I do not see this to be the fault of the translator, learning Portuguese myself I know Portuguese is not the easiest language to make direct translations into English but I thought this book did not flow as well as the other Clarice Lispector books I’ve read. In fairness to the translator and anyone who does it I understand that to make a translation easy to read whilst keeping the essence of what the writer intended can be a complicated.

This is a book about characters and how they interact, develop and change along with a splash of philosophy. This is a book that you will have to keep your whole focus on with no distractions. This is a book that would need your undivided attention.

[First published in 1961(Originally in Portuguese)
Haus Publishing Edition 2009 in English]

The Passion According to GH by Clarice Lispector (translated by Idra Novey)

This is one of Clarice’s more famous works and a lot has been written about this book. For those of you who don’t know much about it, this post is for you. I could go on about all sorts of details about this book but I will try and be brief.

The Passion According to GH by Clarice Lispector.

My friends are aware of my Clarice fascination and to the ones that I have introduced her works to, they find this one to be somewhat puzzling, they find it for want of a better word, odd. What we do see is Clarice at her best when it comes to style, we know that this book ‘best corresponded to her demands as a writer’ (Clarice by Nadia Gotlib).

The Passion is not like many other books you will read and this is is the first Clarice book I’ve read (other than what is seen in her short stories at the least) that is written in the first person narrated by the character GH an artist specialising in sculpture, I was always amused by the fact that our initials are the same. There is another character in this story, an unfortunate cockroach.

I’ve heard people argue (my friends in particular) that GH comes across as a bit self indulgent and full of her self. GH is more complicated than that. When we first meet GH she has a comfortable life as an artist and is clearing out her former maid’s tidy room, she comes to the realisation that this maid did not like her, she finds that the maid (who she has little recollection of) had daubed pictures of a man, a woman and a dog on one of the walls. This realisation upsets GH which starts a shift in her mind, she has an anger attack, she sees the cockroach and attacks it, what remains affects the mind of GH and this is when GH tells us about how she is thinking and feeling. She questions her life, her relationship with God, her own existence in the world. We also read about the unfortunate cockroach and how GH’s existential experience affects it.

Within her meditations for example GH says,

‘Ah, at least I had already entered the Roach’s nature to the point that I no longer wanted to do anything for it. I was freeing myself from my morality and that was a catastrophe without crash and without tragedy.’

GH sees some of her former maid in the cockroach. I was reminded a little bit of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Gregor as the monstrous vermin is the cockroach, Greta is GH who after confronting the creature sees a change in her life. GH’s change comes originally from her fit of rage after associating the room and the cockroach with the maid who didn’t like her. Going on personal experience when you have a depressive fit of rage, how you thought a second before is gone and everything feels different so I could understand GH’s sudden shift in thinking if only to a certain degree.

A more seasoned picture of Clarice from what you see on the back of the English Penguin editions

This is seen as one of Clarice’s better works. It is definitely well contained and felt easier to read than The Chandelier and The Besieged City. I still think Near to the Wild Heart and her short stories is when we see Clarice at her best especially with character interaction. The Passion is a fascinating treatise on the mind of a human being. Although we read about GH’s passion, it is the cockroach that suffers more. From what I have seen in the world it’s those that are repulsed by others that seem to do the most suffering.

Before the story starts Clarice herself says that people with fully formed souls should only read this book. I definitely broke that rule I read it anyway. Read this book if you want something different from everything else you have ever read. Contemplate on what GH thinks. The only down side with a book is that you can’t debate with the characters. I would love to with GH.

The Besieged City by Clarice Lispector (Translated by Johnny Lorenz)

I was aware that many before me thought this was a complicated book, a tough one to get through. Although I can see why people would think this to be the case, I actually thought it was easier to read than The Chandelier. It’s definitely different. I found myself not analysing the words being written but more what they made me feel (if that makes any sense, like in a poem), and I loved the use of metaphor. In Chapter 5 for example when the lead protagonist Lucrecia wakes up from her dream its says;

‘She awoke with the military march of the scouts! Drums ruffling among the baskets of fish.

She awoke late, the horses already lining up to go. The large vegetal ears of sleep were shrinking quickly to small sensitive ears-the joy of São Geraldo was also condensed until becoming precise as painstaking bees.’

In the Besieged City we see Clarice produce colourful prose and syntax and put it to good use. As others may have mentioned already, in this book Clarice looks at the ‘mystery of the thing’ with respect to how Lucrecia looks at the world.

This is a book about how things change, how things shift. The Besieged City felt like I was imagining someone else’s dream and their knowledge of it and even more so as the story develops.

The Besieged City by Clarice Lispector here is  a marvelous edition by New Directions from New York.

There are two main characters in the Besieged City, Lucrecia and the city of São Geraldo itself. We see throughout the book how changes both affect both Lucrecia and Sao Geraldo.

In the beginning Lucrecia is young and appears care free if a little shallow, Sao Geraldo is a just a small rural township, there are wild horses nearby the town, as the story develops it becomes more industrialised and gets a viaduct no less whilst the horses slowly disappear.

The choices Lucrecia reflect to a certain degree the ambitions for the city. When deciding between the men who are after her affection she turns down the quiet local boy and the soldier with his expectations to be with Mathieu, the man from out of town. São Geraldo itself is a place where the citizens wants the progression that other places have, for better or for worse. We witness how Lucrecia develops when becoming married as a result from being just a shallow girl with superficial thoughts to striving a certain degree of improvement just like what the citizens of the city expect of São Geraldo.

The Besieged city for me is an improvement on The Chandelier, the world is more fleshed out in this book and we see Clarice’s style of writing improve with each book although as an actual story and piece of work Near to the Wild Heart is still the better of her earlier works, it is a purer, less dense book than the other two.

The Beseiged City however, has some good things going for it, after reading it from cover to cover I have found myself jumping back in reading random sections of the book which I did not expect I would do.

This book probably isn’t for everyone but for the more patient among you, I would definitely give it a chance. You will learn to appreciate the style of writing. Lucrecia may come across as shallow in this but Clarice with her style of writing definitely does not.

The Chandelier by Clarice Lispector (translated by Benjamin Moser and Magdalena Edwards)

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 by Clarice Lispector

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.

The Chandelier has a bigger by word count than her prevois work.

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.

Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector (translated by Alison Entrekin)

Near to the Wild Heart is one of them special books, something original that you remember much later after you read it. Written in Brazilian Portuguese originally, the modernist style made famous by the likes of Joyce and Woolf helped create a book with a unique style.

Disclaimer of sorts before I go any further, I am a big fan of this writer’s work, I’ve read almost everything she’s written (watch this space for more on Clarice) that’s been translated in English so I will try to be as balanced as I honestly can about this book. I have already done a post on Why This World the Clarice biography by Benjamin Moser which like everything else I try to do here I more of a recommendation than a review..

Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector

I love it of course I do. It was Clarice Lispector’s first released novel and was a success in Brazil when it first came out.

The book is influenced by some of the philosophical writings of Spinoza, mainly Spinoza’s thoughts on good and evil and people’s subjective understanding of it. As a result we get an interesting look at the protagonist Joana. Her views on the world and especially how other people perceive her probably says more about the people than they do about Joana. We also get to look and see Joana’s way of thinking.

I want you to read the book so I won’t give a lot of the plot of the book away. We meet Joana through her childhood and her life as a young woman. We see her interactions with others and who have been important people in her life also get to find out what thy think of Joana. Joana is compared to animals. A snake being one  of them.

Clarice Lispector

Despite being less than 200 pages long this book is very rewarding. I’ve read books over 600 pages long and haven’t read anything with as much expression and substance as this book. Clarice would later go on to experiment with different ways of storytelling from her short stories to her longer ones. Now I know this is a translation by Alison Entrekin (I will quote translators from now on, they deserve credit) so we naturally will not get an exact literal translation of Clarice’s intentions at least in the English language, not a single word is wasted however, there is no rambling or sections that aren’t needed.

Clarice was 23 when this book was first published and she showed a maturity which was wise beyond her years. If you’ve read about Clarice’s life and upbringing you would not be surprised by this at all. Whilst Clarice’s next two books, The Chandelier and The Besieged City have more detail in them in the way the characters look at the world, Near to the Wild Heart is probably my favourite of her first three. As much as I loved her subsequent books, this one has

Why This World : A Biography of Clarice Lispector by Benjamin Moser

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.