Literary The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector
#1  sun surfer 08-13-2020, 01:44 PM
Narrated by the cosmopolitan Rodrigo S.M., this brief, strange, and haunting tale is the story of Macabéa, one of life's unfortunates. Living in the slums of Rio de Janeiro and eking out a poor living as a typist, Macabéa loves movies, Coca-Cola, and her rat of a boyfriend; she would like to be like Marylin Monroe, but she is ugly, underfed, sickly, and unloved. Rodrigo recoils from her wretchedness, and yet he cannot avoid realization that for all her outward misery, Macabéa is inwardly free. She doesn't seem to know how unhappy she should be. Lispector employs her pathetic heroine against her urbane, empty narrator--edge of despair to edge of despair--and, working them like a pair of scissors, she cuts away the reader's preconceived notions about poverty, identity, love, and the art of fiction. In her last novel she takes readers close to the true mystery of life, and leaves us deep in Lispector territory indeed.'


There are two phases of discussion. The first begins immediately and may contain conversations about anything pre-completion of the selection including reading progress, section thoughts, outside info, etc. The second begins on the 1st and also includes anything post-completion. These are recommended to help us discuss things in a similar timeframe but anyone can discuss any part or aspect at any time.

This is the MR Literary Club selection for August 2020. Everyone is welcome so feel free to start or join in the conversation at any time; the more the merrier!

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#2  sun surfer 08-17-2020, 03:03 PM
This is a rather incidental observation but gathering the book covers for the first post, I think this is the ugliest collective colour palette of covers I've seen, lol. Individually the covers look okay but altogether, not so much. This includes other covers I didn't use such as this and this and this.

#3  mirage 08-19-2020, 12:44 PM
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The more recent translation by Benjamin Moser may be worth noting. He wrote a biography of Lispector and retranslated a number of her books to some critical acclaim. This LA Times piece discusses some of that, though not the Moser's translation of The Hour of the Star.

#4  sun surfer 08-20-2020, 02:37 PM
Thanks, mirage! Have you read the book? What'd you think of it?

That's the version I bought to listen to, and just finished yesterday. It was a quick read. There's a translator's afterword discussing the translation that was really interesting. He said translators have an especially hard time with Lispector because she wrote in a very unique and peculiar style that's (purposely) difficult for native Portuguese speakers to understand because of upending expectations of grammar, language, structure and whatnot. Readers in translation often have an easier time because translators usually translate into a softer form. Moser took pains to translate more authentically and retain the 'prickliness' of the writing.

As noted on the cover, there's also a great introduction in this version by another lit club author, Colm Tóibín, but I fast-forwarded past it and listened to it last, and I'm glad I did since it contains spoilers.

#5  mirage 08-20-2020, 04:22 PM
I haven't read it, though I've had a copy for awhile now. I read Moser's translation of Agua Viva about two years ago. It was as your middle paragraph describes, mercurial, demanding of close attention. I found it interesting and worthwhile, though I can't say I recall that much specificity. I'd gotten it from the library, so I don't have it around for a refresher.

I'm intending to read The Hour of the Star once I finish my current read.

EDIT: I took a look and now see that Moser did not translate Agua Viva, it was Stefan Tobler. Moser wrote an introduction. And I think he was the driving force behind the series of new translations of Lispector's work.

#6  AnotherCat 09-02-2020, 12:34 AM
I finished this some time back now, I read the Moser translation that Mirage mentioned.

While I found it an intriguing book I am not sure how much I liked it so fortunately for me it is not very long. Was worth a read though for its structure so am glad I read it.

One of the multitude of things I cannot do is read Portuguese so I cannot compare with the original, but a "...very unique and peculiar style..." recounted by Sun Surfer came across in the translation in one way or another.

#7  mirage 09-02-2020, 01:18 AM
The rambling first part of the book in which the narrator agonizes over his forthcoming creation had some great moments for me, but I didn't really dig in until his biography of Macabéa began with the story of her meeting with Olímpico. Once I finished, I reread from the beginning up until that point in the book, which was very worthwhile as it put all the machinations of that section into much clearer view.

Lispector's improbable language and structures, her poetic sense, humor, the various themes paradoxically presented in the characterization of a protagonist who's described as sort of an empty vessel made this an appealing read for me. One could analyze Macabéa as, among other interpretations, as something of an enlightened practitioner of Buddhist meditation. This is even hinted at in multiple places. You could see her in other less flattering ways, too. But I think that the narrator's insulting, if affectionate descriptions of her belie a more compelling figure. Lispector plays a lot of games that way. Who knows what's going on and who doesn't? She's created a narrator who's created a protagonist. Does Lispector regard the narrator as he regards himself? Does Lispector regard Macabéa as the narrator regards her?

I find that it's most accessible if I read internally as if I were reading out loud and have the patience to reread the phrases and paragraphs that demand that to make sense of them. I never listen to audio books. For some reason I tend to lose focus. But I could see where this one benefits from a good listening. Lispector is like the avant garde jazz of the latter half of the last century. If you ride with her on her own terms, the journey can be rewarding. If you fight her looking for conventional narrative, it's going to be a frustrating experience.

#8  AnotherCat 09-05-2020, 07:48 PM
I also thought that a reread would add to the value of the book, but I have not made up my mind whether once is enough or not as far as the interest of the actual story. Maybe sometime in the future when it has rested a bit from just a few weeks ago.

Also wondered how it would go listening to an English language reading by a native Portuguese speaker who is familiar with the book in Portuguese and able to inflect that into the reading?

#9  sun surfer 09-14-2020, 11:14 AM
Quote AnotherCat
While I found it an intriguing book I am not sure how much I liked it so fortunately for me it is not very long. Was worth a read though for its structure so am glad I read it.
I actually thought at one point while reading, I wonder what AnotherCat will think of this book? LOL. I agree its structure was interesting and in many books including this one I ask myself how in the heck the author came up with it.

#10  Pajamaman 09-14-2020, 02:10 PM
The start of the book.

All the world began with a yes. One molecule said yes to another molecule and life was born. But before prehistory there was the prehistory of prehistory and there was the never and there was the yes. It was ever so. I don’t know why, but I do know that the universe never began.
Make no mistake, I only achieve simplicity with enormous effort.
"I only achieve simplicity with enormous effort."

No kidding, and judging by the first paragraph, the author fails at simplicity, pedantically.

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