The Passion According to GH by Clarice Lispector (translated by Idra Novey)

This is one of Clarice’s more famous works and a lot has been written about this book. For those of you who don’t know much about it, this post is for you. I could go on about all sorts of details about this book but I will try and be brief.

The Passion According to GH by Clarice Lispector.

My friends are aware of my Clarice fascination and to the ones that I have introduced her works to, they find this one to be somewhat puzzling, they find it for want of a better word, odd. What we do see is Clarice at her best when it comes to style, we know that this book ‘best corresponded to her demands as a writer’ (Clarice by Nadia Gotlib).

The Passion is not like many other books you will read and this is is the first Clarice book I’ve read (other than what is seen in her short stories at the least) that is written in the first person narrated by the character GH an artist specialising in sculpture, I was always amused by the fact that our initials are the same. There is another character in this story, an unfortunate cockroach.

I’ve heard people argue (my friends in particular) that GH comes across as a bit self indulgent and full of her self. GH is more complicated than that. When we first meet GH she has a comfortable life as an artist and is clearing out her former maid’s tidy room, she comes to the realisation that this maid did not like her, she finds that the maid (who she has little recollection of) had daubed pictures of a man, a woman and a dog on one of the walls. This realisation upsets GH which starts a shift in her mind, she has an anger attack, she sees the cockroach and attacks it, what remains affects the mind of GH and this is when GH tells us about how she is thinking and feeling. She questions her life, her relationship with God, her own existence in the world. We also read about the unfortunate cockroach and how GH’s existential experience affects it.

Within her meditations for example GH says,

‘Ah, at least I had already entered the Roach’s nature to the point that I no longer wanted to do anything for it. I was freeing myself from my morality and that was a catastrophe without crash and without tragedy.’

GH sees some of her former maid in the cockroach. I was reminded a little bit of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Gregor as the monstrous vermin is the cockroach, Greta is GH who after confronting the creature sees a change in her life. GH’s change comes originally from her fit of rage after associating the room and the cockroach with the maid who didn’t like her. Going on personal experience when you have a depressive fit of rage, how you thought a second before is gone and everything feels different so I could understand GH’s sudden shift in thinking if only to a certain degree.

A more seasoned picture of Clarice from what you see on the back of the English Penguin editions

This is seen as one of Clarice’s better works. It is definitely well contained and felt easier to read than The Chandelier and The Besieged City. I still think Near to the Wild Heart and her short stories is when we see Clarice at her best especially with character interaction. The Passion is a fascinating treatise on the mind of a human being. Although we read about GH’s passion, it is the cockroach that suffers more. From what I have seen in the world it’s those that are repulsed by others that seem to do the most suffering.

Before the story starts Clarice herself says that people with fully formed souls should only read this book. I definitely broke that rule I read it anyway. Read this book if you want something different from everything else you have ever read. Contemplate on what GH thinks. The only down side with a book is that you can’t debate with the characters. I would love to with GH.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

This is one of my favourite books and work of fiction in any language. A magical book. Master and Margarita works on so many levels, from farce to comedy, satire, comedy and tragedy.

The story has many layers to it. We see demons playing havoc in communist Russia and we also get to see the story of Pontius Pilot who meets a certain Yeshua Ha-Nozri or Jesus Christ as it may well be. One of the demons tells the tale of proving his existence to a couple of Moscow atheists, we get to see the ruthlessness and vanity of intellectuals, we see a fat talking demon cat. It shows the best and worst of people of which the demons take full advantage of. I could go on more about it, how sane men are seen as mad, how individuals suddenly show up thousands of miles of way, how there’s a party where the worst type of people in history are invited.

We also get to follow the story of the Master and Margarita themselves showing their love for one another and what they would do for each other,  we see much more than that. Even the demons themselves have their soft sides and you begin to like them as well. With the probable exception of the Master and maybe Homeless (who bares witness to the most change in the story) the demons take advantage of the sins of the people they come across.

I have happily read this book a dozen times, even going as far as reading different English versions of it from different translators. Which ever one you get to read you will not be dissapointed. I fell in love with it.

There is an audio book version of it on Audible narrated by Julian Rhind-Tutt which is a marvellous narration of the story. He talks with the right tone and nuance for each character.

If you haven’t done so already read this book. Beg for a copy, buy one, borrow one, listen to the audio book. I wouldn’t go as far as stealing the book. Even the demon Behemoth in the story would rather pay for his ride instead of not paying.