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The Hour of the Star

The Hour of the Star

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This was a strange little book, of surprising complexity given its length. Lispector makes you feel a range of emotions for both the male narrator character and his subject Macabea, and the attention she gives to each raises many interesting questions. I wonder who Lispector saw more of herself in, the crushingly poor typist Macabea or the frustrated and almost nihilistic author who serves as the narrator? Both are fully realized, and it’s hard to say which is leading the sadder existence.

Macabea is such a sad character she’s almost a parody- a girl who has experienced so little of life that she’s never even cried before, and doesn’t know how to express her despair. She’s an orphan, physically and mentally abused, now relegated to the poorest substrata of society, and Lispector suggests she would have killed herself if only she were the type of person to think of that as a possibility. She’s unrealistically ignorant about life given her age and exposure to things like movies, a character who “never figured out how to figure things out,” but despite being so absurdly sad and ignorant Lispector somehow avoids making Macabea into a maudlin character, or of making this story a cheap tearjerker (despite her own title for the work). Even with the lack of agency arising from her helplessness I sympathized with Macabea, in contrast to other works where a lack of agency can make me indifferent or even irritated with the story being told (see Stoner by John Williams for an example of this).

The narrator is also a figure of central importance, indeed it is his mindset that dominates the first 15 pages or so of this story. In a move reminiscent of Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground Lispector establishes the thoughts and feelings of the narrator before ever touching upon the action of the story. The narrator is trapped telling a tragedy he doesn’t want to tell, writing just to kill time, and a nihilist about nearly everything except Macabea, his creation. He can’t help his character Macabea even though he wants to more than anything, as he’s just a mere character himself. The narrator in The Hour of the Star isn’t an absolutely unique creation, but Lispector does him exceptionally well.

In the above paragraphs I might sound very positive about this book, but I found it far more interesting in the abstract than I did enjoyable in practice. The characters manage to engage despite lacking realism or much depth, but this lack becomes readily apparent when the book is over. Additionally there is little action to the story (it can be summarized in a single sentence easily, as indeed Lispector was inspired to write this story by a one-sentence thought according to the introduction), and the setting that is interesting but not much explored. As such I expect the thing that will determine if this book rises in my estimation will be whether parts of it stick with me, like the scenes it paints, or the thoughts that the narrator gives voice to. I have little hope that I’ll recall much of this book in a year, since as the book says “[w]hat can you do with the truth that everyone’s a little sad and a little alone.” Not much, in my opinion, given that I don’t think that’s much of a truth at all.
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  BayardUS | Dec 10, 2014 |
I have no doubt that the reason I am giving this book four stars is because of the translation. The story and style seemed well done, with the exception of its slow beginning and some of the unnecessary asides. She might be more talented than Joyce or Woolf, but I can't tell at all, because the translator certainly isn't. ( )
  veranasi | Jan 17, 2014 |
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