- Paperback: 128 pages
- Publisher: New Directions; 2 edition (November 9, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0811219496
- ISBN-13: 978-0811219495
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 61 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #36,648 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Hour of the Star (Second Edition) 2nd Edition
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Lispector's funniest work by far. —Rachel Kushner
“Lispector is the premier Latin American woman prose writer of this century.”
- The New York Times
“A genius of character and a literary magician.”
- Publishers Weekly
“An artist of vivid imagination. If her work is thoughtful and poetic, distinguished by touching insight and human sympathy, it is also full of irony and wild humor.”
- Saturday Review
“In less than one hundred pages, Clarice Lispector tells a brilliantly multi-faceted and searing story.”
- Jesse Larsen, 500 Great Books by Women
“If she does ― dare I say it? ― touch you, she touches you like nothing else you’ve ever read.”
- Benjamin Mosher, Vanity Fair
“I felt physically jolted by genius.”
- Katherine Boo
“This text investigates the knowledge of not knowing and the rich poverty of the inner void with stratagems of obfuscation, leaps of language, and suspensions of syntax and form that are perhaps best received by the gut.”
- The Faster Times
“The reader finds herself in the throes of a master, rendered speechless with awe and terror.”
- The Brooklyn Rail
“The only antidote to stupidity is an agitated intelligence constantly prowling for blank spots in one’s outward seeming. The Hour of the Star is a romance, then, between stupidity and its neurotic observer, a restless stretching away from form, tradition, and the stupefying rules they impose on writing.”
- The New Inquiry
“This is without a doubt one of the most audacious and affecting works of fiction I've ever read.”
- Barnes and Noble Review
“In this slim novella, Lispector uses an intricate narrative structure in order to represent a peculiar state of mind. Rodrigo, a well-off and cultured man, struggles to tell the story of the sad life of Macabéa, an unhygienic, sickly, unlovable, and an altogether "un-ideal" typist living in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. Although Rodrigo claims he's the only person who could love Macabéa―if only because she's the subject of his narrative―he really tells her story as a way to thwart his own isolation. Lispector employs odd sentence fragments and erratic grammatical choices to highlight the importance of imagination as a means for her characters to liberate themselves from their banal existences. Through Rodrigo's narrative, Lispector artfully ponders the fate of her characters, and their fears and desires, in a harsh and unforgiving cityscape. Startlingly original and profoundly sad, The Hour of the Star is a provocative work by a highly influential author who should be more widely read.”
- Jeff Brewer, Critical Mob
“A new translation of Clarice Lispector’s searing last novel, The Hour of the Star by Lispector biographer Benjamin Moser―with an introduction by Colm Tóibín―reveals the mesmerizing force of the revitalized modernist’s Rio-set tale of a young naif, who, along with the piquantly intrusive narrator, challenges the reader’s notions of identity, storytelling, and love.”
“The Hour of the Star trips up our concept of the novel. What a story is expected to do. How characters act. Why writers write. Why readers read. It’s an experience you won’t forget.”
- Charles Larson, Counter Punch
“A truly remarkable writer.”
- Jonathan Franzen
Top customer reviews
Prominent among Lispector’s challenges to readers are her deliberately alienating choices in style and form. It’s a book that’s very much about the nuts and bolts of crafting the story it is telling, along with the story itself – as Toibin puts it, Lispector brings us backstage during the performance of the play and lets us see the mechanics of the theater. It’s actually a very striking book about the difficulties of the writing process itself, in what I prefer to think without much evidence was Lispector giving us a glimpse of her own internal dialogue as she worked. I recommended this book to a number of my writer friends with the thought that they might recognize some of Rodrigo’s pinball-machine-worthy alternating sense of despair and inadequacy to his responsibility to the tale he is trying to weave and god-like power as he moves his little puppets across the stage – not to mention his palpable need to get it out: “I have to write about this northeastern girl or I’ll choke.” This, for instance, after pages of Rodrigo stalling, is such an apt metaphor for how it feels to begin writing a work of fiction: “The thing to do is to start just all of a sudden just as I jump all of a sudden into the icy water of the sea, a way of facing with suicidal courage the intense cold. I’m about to begin halfway saying that – that she was incompetent. Incompetent for life…” You get to experience the shock of the freezing water and leap into Macabea’s story right with Rodrigo.
But then, it’s not really Macabea’s story. It’s just Rodrigo writing about the her he has created – a rich man, a slumming son of a privilege who sees a poor Northeastern girl for a single moment on the street and decides he knows everything about her, well enough to qualify him to make her inner life and death his subject. It’s a spectacularly arrogant act from a man who is constantly questioning his own ability. I couldn’t help but think this is Lispector’s pointed commentary on the power dynamics of the famously and persistent unequal Brazil, that it’s a nation where even the intimate lives and narratives of the impoverished are subject to appropriation by the rich at will, where Macabea can be rendered little more than Rodrigo’s mental property and he can fetishize her as part of the noble, dignified poor. I also assumed, given Rodrigo (who is of course Lispector, a woman who is one of Brazil’s great writers) makes a point of talking about how a female author couldn’t tell Macabea’s story without making it “weepy and maudlin,” that she is very purposefully calling attention to the skewed gender power structure. A story that is deeply concerned with how little power Macabea has is, in its very telling, a perfect illustration of how powerless she is.
It’s interesting to think of the choice to have this be a story that the well-off Rodrigo is writing about his invented Alagoan Macabea in the context of Lispector’s biography. She herself lived in Alagoas and moved to Rio like Macabea and was an author like Rodrigo – she bridges the awesome gap between them. And yet, despite the fact that she would likely have a better perspective on Macabea’s life, she puts it in Rodrigo’s hands, makes him the narrator instead of an omniscient Clarice Lispector observing from above. This suggests to me that this is at least as much a commentary on Rodrigo’s reactions to his Macabea, his near jealousy and wonder at the contentment he imagines for her, as it is about Macabea herself. His implied wealth and his all-too-rare ability to focus on his art haven’t made him happy (note his eyeroll-worthy insistence that everyone is impoverished in something). He may be exploring the idea that happiness is thus almost counterintuitive. He fetishizes the noble, simple poor girl who doesn’t have the weighty concerns that he has, too focused on the basic staples of staying alive. Or to be kinder to Rodrigo, it’s a book about a man who turns to writing because he’s living in a world that provides him no answers for his central animating concerns, such that he feels the need to go looking for them in unlikely places. And more universally, it’s a thought that I at least think of as having crossed the mind at least once of anyone who questions the ways of the world that they might be more at peace if they, like Macabea, didn’t think to ask.
Macabea’s happiness, as Rodrigo makes clear, may be informed by the fact that she doesn’t know how miserable she should be, but it’s none the less very real. It did occur to me that her life experience relative to Rodrigo’s is a take on something akin to (if not exactly reflecting) Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, that Rodrigo is secure enough to be unhappy about the lack of meaning in his life whereas Macabea must struggle to obtain the basics of survival and is thus at peace just to have the little she has. As Macabea comments: “sadness was also something for rich people, for people who could afford it, for people who didn’t have anything better to do.”
But ultimately (and after reviewing a summary of Maslow, which I totally misremembered) I believe it can be read more as ironic commentary on life’s powerful absurdities. Isolated by her poverty and her lack of any social structure, there’s very little way for Macabea to know how miserable she ‘should be,’ and thus the very things that would make us think of her life as miserable in fact assure her happiness! Her few experiences with the slightly finer things deeply pain her, and her moment of the scales falling from her eyes and seeing her life’s inadequacies crushes her, and then does nothing to help her. She would have been much better off to finish her life and step off the stage without ever knowing the ‘truth.’ By contrast, Rodrigo’s knowledge and privilege nonetheless do not save him from misery – he is granted the opportunity to recognize that while her existence may be a fluke that will leave no shadow on the world when it’s over, he is as much of a fluke as her and his life is just as unimportant to the universe.
In this light, The Hour of the Star is a tragic comedy, or as at least as comic as a novella about the appropriated story of a girl who lives a miserable, impoverished life in which she makes no impact on the world and never knows love, whose greatest joy is getting to be in a room by herself, who despairs upon finally being shown how rough she has it and then is promptly run down in the street by a rich person and left to die like a dog while a crowd watches but does not help in an ironic echo of her secret dream of being a movie star (she’s finally the center of attention!) can be. (Which is to say, it may be a comedy but it’s not what you would call “ha-ha” funny.)
Lispector’s prose is difficult, but she manages some breath-taking turns of phrase and stunning insights: “Who hasn’t ever wondered: Am I a monster or is this what it means to be human?” “What can you do with the truth that everyone’s a little sad and a little alone.” “They had forgotten the bitterness of childhood because childhood, once it’s over, is always bittersweet and even makes you nostalgic.”
But the most chilling may be her final lines, in Rodrigo’s voice. “My god, I just remembered that we die. But – but me too?! Don’t forget that for now, it’s strawberry season.” Lispector wants to leave us with that oh-so-comforting thought – that we, like Macabea and Rodrigo, are all living the days before our death and we must face the awful truth that we are not going to live forever. The Hour of the Star is one of the two experiences everyone shares, and it is coming for us all. But then, we should recognize too each little life’s greatness, the awesome power of just being alive that even the ‘pointless’ Macabea had. And presumably to enjoy the strawberries while we’re still here to do so. It’s all the eerier knowing that Lispector was dying while writing The Hour of the Star, and from what I have read did not know it.
Truth be told, I don’t know that this book inspired me to read more of Lispector. But it’s literary greatness even if it’s not the most pleasant experience.
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If you have not read Clarice yet, you must!