Complete Novels by Clarice Lispector (translated by Katrina Dixon)

I have looked at Clarice’s previous works most notably her novels and now I will be looking at her short stories. With Clarice’s novels, Clarice wants your undivided attention when you read them, she wants to suck you into the worlds she creates. In her short stories, we go straight to the point of the stories for want of a better word with her use of language and imagery. As mentioned by Benjamin Moser in his autobiography of Clarice people such as the poet Elizabeth Bishop preferred her short stories saying;

‘Her 2 or 3 novels I don’t think are so good but her short stories are almost like the stories I’ve always thought should be written about Brazil – Tcheckovian, slightly sinister and fantastic’

If you want to introduce people to the works of Clarice Lispector I would usually recommend Near to the Wild Heart but I would also introduce you ti her short stories as they can slowly break you in to Clarice’s style and what she is all about.

Penguin Edition of the Complete Stories

I will be using the Penguin edition of Complete Stories (2015) when looking at her short stories, the edition contains 85 of them. We will be looking at the stories written from her early years and the stories written throughout her life. Throughout these stories we will see Clarice playing with ideas and we will see stories that had an influence on her novels also. The majority of the stories look at the role of women in Brazil. These characters are just people you would meet in your own lives, housewives children, office workers for example.

As I like at the stories I will write in more detail at these stories individually and I would also like to look at if there is anything else we can learn or understand from each of them.

I will also be starting with the first short story in the Complete Stories edition with The Triumph.

Agua Viva by Clarice Lispector (Translated by Stefan Tobler)

You will notice with this post that I write a lot about feeling and how I felt as for me it was the best way to describe what I was experiencing.

Agua Viva is a relatively short book, 88 pages long it can easily fit in your pocket. It however, one of the more peculiar of Clarice’s work and in no way a simple read. Unlike her other works which are almost entirely fiction with some semi autobiographical elements included, Agua Viva is a series of thoughts and meditations of Clarice. Agua Viva is definitely a lot more punchier and easier to digest then her works of fiction like the Besieged City or The Apple in the Dark but it is in no way lacking in thought and feeling. It feels like you are walking within Clairice’s mind, it’s like despite passing away in 1977 she somehow comes back to life as soon as you start reading it. It felt like I was going through a literal art exhibition like nothing you would experience before. There is no traditional order to the text. Clarice does meditate on the ‘I’. She also writes with respect to things such as life in general using flowers and cats as a form of metaphor.

I don’t feel like I could do it any justice by dissecting the text and putting my thought upon it (though I do recommend Reading With Clarice Lispector by Helene Cixous) but I can definitely tell you as I have above how I felt and what it made me feel whilst I was reading it. This is one of them texts where I think it would be much easier to pick it up from time to time. When I read it I felt like Clarice was writing to me personally, that the whole text was for me despite how impossible that is.

Again I must apologise as I am typing this being fully aware that I am not giving it the justice it deserves. Agua Viva is not just something to be read but something that is to be experienced. This is another that in the future I would like to do another post. To look at it in the way Helene Cixous or Benjamin Moser has. Despite it being a translation into English there is a feel with the language that it is playing with you, it is testing you in how you interpret it with respect to your own reality.

[In English: Penguin Classics edition published 2014.

In Portuguese: by arrangement with the heirs of Lispector and Agencia Literaria Carmen Balcells, Barcelona. Published in 1973]

Nadja by Andre Breton (translated by Richard Howard)

[Below is a quick first impression of this book, I will come back to it and write about it in more detail but I’ve thought after just putting it down]

I have never really given much thought to surrealism other than the paintings. I know Breton was one of the founding fathers of the surrealism movement and it that it about a vision of life displayed from our own unconsciousness and dreams (I am aware that this is a simple definition). Which brings us on to Nadja.

Nadja by Andre Breton.

Nadja as you would expect is an interesting book which going on the introduction is somewhat semi-autobiographical. For the first fifty pages or so Andre Breton meditates on what he thinks and his life in general to a point. He starts with ‘Who am I?’ and continues to write about his contemporaries and discussing the theatre. As you would expect the narrative is not anything you would recognise as traditional but is in no way hard to follow. For example Breton writes:

‘Do not expect me to provide an exact account of what I have been permitted to experience in this domain.’

I could be guilty of filling this post with excerpts of the book so I will keep it to a minimum. This is an easily quotable book although I will say I was not too sure where it was going for the first segment of the book as it was not what I expected. I thought it would be about a man’s obsession with someone like with Lolita but it’s nothing like that. This is more of a fascination of thought

As soon as Breton meets Nadja, he his fascinated by the way she presents herself at first meeting her, as well as her responses and thoughts that Breton presents to her to ponder upon. When he asks who she is she responds by saying she is ‘a soul in limbo’ among other thoughts. Once Breton learns more about her however, as with many things Breton’s fascination decreases a little bit. Breton eventually leans that Nadja is mentally ill which may have had an affect on what she thought, he also contemplates Nadja’s way of being with respect to the society she is in. He contemplates on the effect she has had on his life if only for a brief time.

This book has given me a lot to think about and as I write I am already aware that I am not giving the justice it deserves and I have missed going into detail about some points such as how the fascination for Nadja envelopes and if it is love he is feeling or not, but I do like how Breton almost spills out his thoughts and only writes what he deems relevant to the story. I also liked the fact that he put pictures and photographs in the book. It helps when describing Nadja’s drawings Breton is shown.

I think this is another one for me that will need another read as well as learn about the Surrealism movement and how it has influenced our current age.

[First published in the French by Librairie Gallimard 1928, this Englsih translation by Penguin Books 1999]

The Apple in the Dark by Clarice Lispector (translated by Gregory Rabassa)

The Apple in the Dark is a peculiar existential novel that as Benjamin Moser states in the introduction is influenced by Clarice’s Jewish heritage. There is a plot that keeps the story going but as you would expect with anything by Clarice Lispector there is more to it than that. In the beginning of the story Moser mentions (in his introduction) that it is no coincidence that the main character written by a Jewish writer has a shadowy character in it called simply ‘The German’.

I managed to get a second hand copy of the book. I don’t think there has not been any recent releases of this one.

In Apple in the Dark we get to see the inner thoughts and feelings of three characters in particular. Our main hero Martin, Vitoria and Emerlinda who Martin meets on a rundown farm and starts becoming a bit of a handyman. We are made aware that Martin is running away from something, from civilisation and from his past. We are introduced to a world where Martin finds himself walking through the darkness, he can only guess where he is going, he accidentally kills a bird and talks to the stones, almost like he has been reinvented as something new, despite this he still cannot forget his past. When the light returns Martin finds the farm mentioned above. This is where meet Vitoria who at first appears distant and unfriendly, but the more we learn about her, the more we get an understanding of her her view on life, loving and being loved. We also meet Emerlinda who appears to follow her emotions more so than Vitoria and we learn is yearning for love. Although there are some other minor characters the focus is on these three. We go into their minds and see the relationships between the three. To put it briefly, this book is about loyalty, love and betrayal along with an acceptance and refusal to accept reality.

The plot evolves around the relationship between these three. Without giving too much away, in the end, civilisation reclaims Martin and Vitoria and Emerlinda see him go possibly to never see him again, at the end Martin comes across as a somewhat tragic character especially when you find out what he had done and is somebody to be pitied. As we read through Apple in the Dark we learn how Martin tries to get to grips for his sins by creating his own form of god but in the end as stated, it is civilisation that gets to him.

The Apple of the Dark is interesting for the way it portrays the characters within it. We would be guilty of creating our own prejudices of the characters but with respect to Martin and Vitoria in particular, for me at least my perceptions of them had changed towards the end.

Photograph of Clarice as seen in the book itself.

I imagine this book to be easier to read in Portuguese. Although easy to understand what Clarice was trying to present to us, I found this particular translation to be somewhat stilted. I do not see this to be the fault of the translator, learning Portuguese myself I know Portuguese is not the easiest language to make direct translations into English but I thought this book did not flow as well as the other Clarice Lispector books I’ve read. In fairness to the translator and anyone who does it I understand that to make a translation easy to read whilst keeping the essence of what the writer intended can be a complicated.

This is a book about characters and how they interact, develop and change along with a splash of philosophy. This is a book that you will have to keep your whole focus on with no distractions. This is a book that would need your undivided attention.

[First published in 1961(Originally in Portuguese)
Haus Publishing Edition 2009 in English]

Play by Samuel Beckett

Play is a one act play that I watched once in my teens and it has stuck in my head ever since.

In the Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters we come across a number of monologues of people who after death have something to say, have some inner turmoil they want to confess an inner secret, to declare something or just to simply boast, if you ever get a chance to read it, it is like coming across a row of headstones and with each one, one at a time, we get to hear from the characters underneath that headstone. Play reminds me of some of the Spoon River monologues only that Beckett has looked at it and shook it and come out with something a little different. I say this of course with the thought that Beckett probably never read Spoon River. Also it’s not as long.

In Play we hear the story of an affair, the main characters being the male and two females. Going on what is said the male has been having an affair with one of the females the other female being the unfortuny wife. I like to give the male the name Hiccup Pardon because he hiccups and pardons himself in the Play.

We hear the story from each of the characters, they don’t talk to each other, they talk to us when it is their turn to speak which is signified by a light shining on them. What’s even more peculiar is that the characters are represented as urns. To me it felt like the voices of the urns tell their story when we open each one at a time and the story from each character comes out. We know little about the characters other than what they say and they all talk at speed in a rapid tempo although it suggested that the love triangle are probably middle class and English. The story is not entire linear, it is repeated but not in the character order as before like we are listening to their story but opening each urn lid in a different order.

Why the voices are in urns we don’t know. I like to think that the characters have become nothing but memories. I have always observed play as more of an experience than a performance.

(Assuming they’re still there, I’ll post video links to the play in my little comment section. See what you think. How would you interpret what they are?)

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd

Something that appears to be as prescient and as a pressing issue to us today as it was in 1215 when the Magna Carta was created is the want of freedom and the fear of losing it. We have seen it in our history and it is has been covered by a significant of authors and thinkers, I don’t need to tell you this of course it has always been something that’s been part of our culture. We have had George Orwell and Aldous Huxley in the UK, Ray Bradbury in the US, Solzhenitsyn in Russia. When it comes to non fiction we have the biography of Nelson Mandela and stories from survivors in North Korea, there are many more out there and there will be many more to come. One such example I have been thinking about lately (if you’re reading this in 2020 put the news on, you’ll know what I’m going on about) is V for Vendetta.

V for Vendetta. Written by Alan Moore with David Lloyd doing the art.

The graphic novel V for Vendetta has had a significant cultural impact on our own world. V for Vendetta goes a bit further than other dystopian stories in respect to the fact that it’s not just about the horrors of a totalitarian government and the people who have to live under their rule, it’s also about how such governments come into power and how they are resisted by methods of which may not be desired if albeit appear effective.

The world of V for Vendetta is set in a late 20th Century Britain after the Cold War stops becoming cold and nuclear missiles are launched around the world. Britain however, survives the brunt of it after not wishing to take sides before the nuclear holocaust. The chaos and devastation does affect British life and out of the chaos for want of law and order, the fascist party Norsefire comes to power under the leadership of Adam Susan. Despite Norsefire ruling as they do we come across somebody who chooses to resist them who is the opposite to the fascists. An out and out anarchist. This character is V. V is clad in black and can be identified by his Guy Fawkes mask which has its own symbology (which would eventually stretch out into our own world).

I’ve been fortunate enough to meet David Lloyd, top guy.

In V for Vendetta we meet V in central London and learn about him along with a young (and at first naïve) girl called Evey. We learn about his reasons for being who he is along with his so called vendetta. V is everything the government isn’t. He lives among the banned works and forms of expression that the government does not like. He’s also intelligent, articulate and appears to be almost superhuman. V tells Evey that he thinks everybody is special, that everybody has a story which is the opposite to what the fascist state thinks. We witness V in his attempts to dismantle the leadership.

It is not just V and Evey we see in this world. There is also the leadership, mobsters and unfortunate souls who have to cross the path of these ruthless people who through some reason or another end up plotting against each other or at least seen as being undesirable in some way. They’re not all necessarily bad. The detective Eric Finch who has the job of trying to find V goes through his own journey and awakening.

Early on the government’s propaganda goes on about wanting to ‘make Britain great again’. Something that may sound familiar to some of you and the famous Guy Fawkes mask.

V reminds us how we put these people ruthless people into power, these ‘malicious incompetents who made your working life a shambles’ and in his own way tells us we can do something about it. Who V is under the mask is not important. We don’t even know his real name but that isn’t important. What he represents is.

The world of V for Vendetta is not that far away and we must remind ourselves, we can easily let the wrong type of people encroach on our own way of life to our own disadvantage and it is imperative that we check on such people.

The Besieged City by Clarice Lispector (Translated by Johnny Lorenz)

I was aware that many before me thought this was a complicated book, a tough one to get through. Although I can see why people would think this to be the case, I actually thought it was easier to read than The Chandelier. It’s definitely different. I found myself not analysing the words being written but more what they made me feel (if that makes any sense, like in a poem), and I loved the use of metaphor. In Chapter 5 for example when the lead protagonist Lucrecia wakes up from her dream its says;

‘She awoke with the military march of the scouts! Drums ruffling among the baskets of fish.

She awoke late, the horses already lining up to go. The large vegetal ears of sleep were shrinking quickly to small sensitive ears-the joy of São Geraldo was also condensed until becoming precise as painstaking bees.’

In the Besieged City we see Clarice produce colourful prose and syntax and put it to good use. As others may have mentioned already, in this book Clarice looks at the ‘mystery of the thing’ with respect to how Lucrecia looks at the world.

This is a book about how things change, how things shift. The Besieged City felt like I was imagining someone else’s dream and their knowledge of it and even more so as the story develops.

The Besieged City by Clarice Lispector here is  a marvelous edition by New Directions from New York.

There are two main characters in the Besieged City, Lucrecia and the city of São Geraldo itself. We see throughout the book how changes both affect both Lucrecia and Sao Geraldo.

In the beginning Lucrecia is young and appears care free if a little shallow, Sao Geraldo is a just a small rural township, there are wild horses nearby the town, as the story develops it becomes more industrialised and gets a viaduct no less whilst the horses slowly disappear.

The choices Lucrecia reflect to a certain degree the ambitions for the city. When deciding between the men who are after her affection she turns down the quiet local boy and the soldier with his expectations to be with Mathieu, the man from out of town. São Geraldo itself is a place where the citizens wants the progression that other places have, for better or for worse. We witness how Lucrecia develops when becoming married as a result from being just a shallow girl with superficial thoughts to striving a certain degree of improvement just like what the citizens of the city expect of São Geraldo.

The Besieged city for me is an improvement on The Chandelier, the world is more fleshed out in this book and we see Clarice’s style of writing improve with each book although as an actual story and piece of work Near to the Wild Heart is still the better of her earlier works, it is a purer, less dense book than the other two.

The Beseiged City however, has some good things going for it, after reading it from cover to cover I have found myself jumping back in reading random sections of the book which I did not expect I would do.

This book probably isn’t for everyone but for the more patient among you, I would definitely give it a chance. You will learn to appreciate the style of writing. Lucrecia may come across as shallow in this but Clarice with her style of writing definitely does not.