Now, for the first time in English, are all the stories that made Clarice Lispector a Brazilian legend: from teenagers coming into awareness of their sexual and artistic powers to humdrum housewives whose lives are shattered by unexpected epiphanies to old people who don’t know what to do with themselves. Clarice’s stories take us through their lives―and ours.
There’s a whiff of madness in the fiction of Clarice Lispector. The Complete Stories of the great Brazilian writer, edited by Benjamin Moser and sensitively translated by Katrina Dodson, is a dangerous book to read quickly or casually because it’s so consistently delirious. Sentence by sentence, page by page, Lispector is exhilaratingly, arrestingly strange, but her perceptions come so fast, veer so wildly between the mundane and the metaphysical, that after a while you don’t know where you are, either in the book or in the world ... But it’s best to approach her with some caution. For the ordinary reader — that is to say, for most of us — immersion in the teeming mind of Clarice Lispector can be an exhausting, even a deranging, experience, not to be undertaken lightly ... Lispector’s madness is that of an artist who won’t allow herself to settle for what’s known, who has to see and feel everything for herself, even what can’t be seen ... Her Complete Stories is a remarkable book, proof that she was — in the company of Jorge Luis Borges, Juan Rulfo and her 19th-century countryman Machado de Assis — one of the true originals of Latin American literature ... Her stories are full of strange words, in strange combinations and, every now and then, the harmony of a new-minted morning.
The stories in this collection are ones you can live and wrestle with, like difficult scripture. From the punctuation to the use of repetition, every small detail powers the whole and makes an indelible mark ... These stylistic elements give each story a poetic quality that lingers in the mind like a chorus, or like a painting with multitudes of purposeful and compounding layers. It's a welcome occasion when literature can so elevate simple words that you question whether you might be under a spell. And here it happens, over and again, each piece serving as a separate visitation ... Many of her characters, wives and mothers themselves, yearn to experience a life beyond the mediocrity they find themselves in. Her fiction both sympathizes with their hunger and makes it artful ... Reading Lispector is like being handed a world on fire. Or rather, a number of blazing worlds that at any moment could explode and level everything around them. And yet they are worlds you choose to hold, because their melancholy holds a certain depth of meaning. Through these 85 stories, these mini invasions, it's apparent that yes, Clarice Lispector was indeed a singular artist. Decades after her death, she continues to champion the possibilities of language, and its ability to mesmerize.
The consistent theme is the circumscribed role of women in mid-century Brazil – her protagonists are often daughters, wives, or ageing widows, stifled by a conservative society. But these characters resist in myriad ways, dreaming of real love, or good sex, or intelligent conversation – just as Lispector’s remarkable prose breaks with literary convention ... What shines through is a clarity of thought and an intensity of feeling. In an early story, 'Another Couple of Drunks' the narrator encounters a man who 'kept mute… never getting excited about the chance to live.' For the protagonist, as for Clarice Lispector herself, that seems to have been the greatest crime of all.