The Hour of the Star
Brazilian literary royalty, Lispector is probably best known to English readers for her wonderful final novel The Hour of the Star. Though that one is certainly the most quickly accessible novel, this one is my favorite. A slow-burning blend of Kafkan menace and non-Western mysticism, Lispector's depiction of a woman pushed to her psychological limits, and then what happens spiritually just beyond those limits, is profound in every way. Religiously and philosophically tinged fiction at its best. (Also, Idra Novey's new translation is a poetic joy.)
Narrated by the cosmopolitan Rodrigo S.M., this brief, strange, and haunting tale is the story of Macabea, one of life's unfortunates. Living in the slums of Rio and eking out a poor living as a typist, Macabea loves movies, Coca-Colas, and her rat of a boyfriend; she would like to be like Marilyn Monroe, but she is ugly, underfed, sickly and unloved. Rodrigo recoils from her wretchedness, and yet he cannot avoid the realization that for all her outward misery, Macabea is inwardly free/She doesn't seem to know how unhappy she should be. Lispector employs her pathetic heroine against her urbane, empty narrator edge of despair to edge of despair and, working them like a pair of scissors, she cuts away the reader's preconceived notions about poverty, identity, love and the art of fiction. In her last book she takes readers close to the true mystery of life and leave us deep in Lispector territory indeed."