It's a shaggy stop-motion masterpiece, plotless and argument-less and obsessed with the nature of thought. Virgínia, the protagonist, floats through the world like Emerson's transparent eyeball, taking everything in and trying desperately to put together an idea coherent enough to let back out ... the energy level of The Chandelier is so high it's close to unsustainable. Every page vibrates with feeling. It's not enough to say that Lispector bends language, or uses words in new ways. Plenty of modernists do that. No one else writes prose this rich ... Reading The Chandelier requires a high level of acceptance, in the way that poetry does. Acceptance, and also humility. You can't expect to understand it all, and Lispector warns you not to try.
No one sounds like Lispector — in English or Portuguese. No one thinks like her. Not only does she seem endowed with more senses than the allotted five, she bends syntax and punctuation to her will. She turns the dictionary upside down, shaking all the words loose from their definitions, sprinkling them back in as she desires (along with a few eyelashes, toast crumbs and dead flies) — and doesn’t the language look better for it? ... But The Chandelier is uniquely demanding — it’s baggy, claggy and contentedly glacial. We get interior monologues and barometric readings of the drifting mood of a young, unhappy woman named Virginia. Paragraph breaks are few; chapter breaks are nonexistent ... If the pages of The Chandelier are so thickly lacquered with description, streams of adjectives and looping repetition, it’s because Lispector is flexing, coming into her power. She’s playing, she’s practicing. These pages are full of finger exercises, arpeggios of thought and perception ... The Chandelier might best be understood as a bridge in Lispector’s work. But even so, it conveys a special charge, an undeniable quantity of genius.
The Chandelier rivals The Passion According to G.H. and Água Viva for sheer meditative intensity, but it differs from them in its narrative scope. More than any of these other works, The Chandelier unites Lispector’s narrative and anti-narrative impulses: It traces the path of Virgínia’s life, yet the seductive flow of its prose takes primacy over the articulation of a conventional story line ... The reader comes to feel as if the moments of narrative action are themselves interruptions of the real drama: the flow of the world’s hidden vital force ... What The Chandelier lacks in the narrative complexity and self-questioning that characterize Lispector’s later work, it makes up for in sincerity, ambition, and utter devotion to language’s possibilities.
The power of Lispector’s heavily textured sentences and Virginia’s unbridled introspections and contemplations of who she wants to be cannot offset the fact that this three-hundred-page book would have benefited from being as economically edited as her more acclaimed works. Virginia’s monotonous ruminations often blur together; her thoughts and struggles can be profound and beautiful, but so many pages of the same rolling waves of dreamy sentences can sap even the hardiest reader’s will to dig into the work. This novel is perfect for those who already revere Lispector and want a further understanding of where her thoughts and aesthetic went after Near to the Wild Heart ... despite its weaknesses, I think The Chandelier will reward those who enjoy challenging works about the power of the mind and about how we might grow up—without destroying who we have been, without fearing who we might come to be.
Pulsing descriptions of her inner struggles make up the bulk of the novel, driving it forward in an ever-recurring epiphanic rise and fall ... As children, Virginia and Daniel play in a clearing 'where everything that had to happen in somebody’s life hurried up and happened, and that’s a good hint at how the novel is structured, as a forested tangle of terrors and extremes where the usual elements of plot — domestic violence, secrets revealed, humiliations endured, arguments, unsatisfactory affairs, a hit-and-run — have to squeeze themselves into the clearings in between, a paragraph or two at a time. For my money, Lispector could have left even more out. The Chandelier doesn’t measure up to the likes of The Passion According to G. H.. That novel’s intensity is more ruthlessly controlled, and its reaches must confront race, class, shame, God, humanity, and nature while locked for the book’s span in a single mind, in a single room ... You could say that Lispector’s method involves neither showing nor telling but provoking. That may be as good an answer as any to the question of what a writer owes her public.
The Chandelier is written almost entirely in a stream of consciousness style that evokes Woolf or Faulkner at their most challenging. Clarice builds pages-long tableaus to capture singular moments, mining Virgínia’s subconscious for even the most inchoate pieces of language. This is a novel with a narrator who admits herself that 'she couldn’t complete her thoughts, she was loathe to trace them out so definitely that they’d appear bright in their poverty.' The Chandelier, accordingly, is the conduit for a current of incomplete thoughts. It trickles with such loveliness that a reader might not notice herself drowning. Only rarely does dialogue or description offer relief ... Memory — calm, sad, and very much alive in Clarice’s prose — is responsible for iterating the world of sensations ... the longer I read Clarice the more I accumulate unintelligible sentences that I can’t ignore.
The Chandelier fits a common pattern for second novels: It takes up the most remarkable attributes of its author’s first book and does all those same things, only more so. There is the Woolf-like fluidity of inner and outer worlds ... The writing is again relentless, exultant — what a later Lispector character called 'ecstasy without a peak' — but here it comes in longer stretches and with fewer breaks ... As her thoughts grow increasingly untethered from the physical space of her story, they lose momentum. So much swirling begins to feel, paradoxically, like stasis: less like “flowing” and more like being stuck ... in The Chandelier, it tends to smother whatever else she is up to ... Lispector is up to some extraordinary things. There is her weird genius for description ... There is her uncanny dialogue, and the ease with which she elevates even the most mundane reality.
...the energy and spiritual wonder of her descriptions make the cryptic writing all the more resonant and spiritually urgent for both her character and her reader ... In reading The Chandelier, one finds an odd, mystical sort of clairvoyance in its pages?—?after pages and pages of a spiraling, circuitous, and rambling thoughts, the narrative will come up for air with a remarkable suddenness. A line, a passage will rise to the surface and ring brutally true or poignantly absurd.
The Chandelier is an extraordinary book ... imperfect, uneven, and immensely difficult as The Chandelier may be, it contains pages and paragraphs of greater literary substance than you will find in entire libraries of other writers ... The Chandelier already contains the germs of the best Lispector, but its brilliance is frequently muddled by the unstable, indecisive compromise she tries to broker with the narrative tradition (as exemplified by the gothic novel and the bildungsroman) that she obviously loved but that was never the best vehicle for her writing.
...daring, dense, intricate, and difficult, and it is without a doubt Lispector’s most challenging book ... The Chandelier is not a book to be read at a fast pace, but rather one to be slowly sipped and savored, a few pages at a time — one that forces us to find other modes of reading, of approaching literature, committed to finding the pleasures of the text.
Readers already acquainted with The Hour of the Star will note a number of parallels. In some ways, this is a bigger, larger-hearted version, more intimate and more generous, though similarly dense. While she compellingly evokes the journey out of childhood, as well as loneliness, self-determination, and the magnetic pull of family, Lispector's signature brilliance lies in the minutely observed gradations of her characters' feelings and of their elusive, half-formed thoughts.
Told mainly through Virginia’s associative, stream-of-consciousness thoughts, which are occasionally interrupted by dialogue and plot developments, the novel clearly precedes Lispector’s artistic breakthrough with books like 1964’s The Passion According to G.H. This is a haunting family fable, and will fascinate those seeking a glimpse at Lispector’s genius in development.