Friday, 30 December 2011

The Hour of the Star

The Hour of the Star - Clarice Lispector

"In a street in Rio de Janeiro I caught a glimpse of perdition on the face of a girl from the North-east."

What makes fiction? How is it born? This book starts with a prolonged series of musings from the (fictional) author on the nature of the story he is writing, and how it came to him.

Bit by bit we start to find out things about the girl who is the subject of this novel but we are about one third of the way through before we find out her name.
"-If you don't mind me asking what's your name?
- Macabéa.
- Maca - what?
 - Bea, she was forced to repeat
 - Gosh, it sounds like the name of a disease ... a skin disease.
 - I agree but it's the name my mother gave me because of a vow she made to Our Lady of the Sorrows if I should survive. For the first year of my life, I wasn't called anything because I didn't have a name. I'd have preferred to go on being called nothing.."

So this is the story of someone who almost died before she was named, someone who's story was extrapolated from "a glimpse of perdition" on her face. How will we care for someone so ephemeral, so conditional?

It is these layers of distancing that allow us to spend so much time with Macabéa's story. We get a sense of a life with little joy, a life whose sadness is not even visible to the person living it. Any vitality she has is largely subsumed into her dreams.

Macabéa works as a typist, a job which is beyond her ability and which she has kept only because of her complete subservience. She lives in a shared room, but hardly knows her roommates. The only friend she has takes her 'boyfriend', who uses her as a sounding board for his own high opinion of himself.

At the end she goes to a fortune teller. Is she starting to believe that she has a future?

This is a book to which I shall return again. Both the fictional author and Macabéa are powerful creations. A meditation on the nature of fiction and life at the furthest reaches of anonymity, this is another discovery in what has been an exciting year of reading for me. And there's still one more day to go!


  1. I've never heard of this book but it sounds like metafiction which I love. This type of book using a fictional author sounds a lot like if on a winter's night a traveller. One of my favourite reads. :)

  2. I wouldn't have thought of connecting it to If on a Winter's Night.. Really the 'author' is the second most important character in the novel. (Or most important if you consider Maccabea as a figment of his imaginary imagination.)