25 Reasons to Read Lispector's Complete Stories [BTBA 2016]
Today’s Best Translated Book Award post is by Mark Haber of Brazos Bookstore. For more information on the BTBA, “like” our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. And check back here each week for a new post by one of the judges.
Before encountering the massive, indispensable Complete Stories of Clarice Lispector, I was already a fan. I enjoyed The Hour of the Star and was jolted by the existential brilliance of The Passion of G.H. However, enjoying something and writing about it can often be mutually exclusive. You see, I’m in over my head. Lispector looms large in my mind, a giant, and to attempt writing about her work in any critical way will only expose my shortcomings. More than anything, I’m an enthusiast. I love books and authors not because I always understand them but often because I don’t. The beauty and strangeness of the language, the veil of mystery that hovers above the text—this is what I love most about literature. Did I fully understand Bolaño’s 2666? Or Adler’s Speedboat? Or Paul Metcalf’s Genoa? Of course not. Yet my love for them is powerful and authentic. My favorite books are the ones that demand to be revisited, that contain the ineffable, that bring a sense of wonder, even a blissful confusion. And so, being in waters too deep, I’ll simply list the reasons why you should (and you really should) read the Complete Stories of Clarice Lispector
1. She’s utterly, and without exception, a singular writer.
2. She doesn’t indulge the reader or suffer fools.
3. She writes sentences like: “The sun caught in the blinds quivered on the wall like a Portuguese guitar.”
4. The mythology which surrounds her is deserved.
5. Read as a whole, the Complete Stories is the entire breadth of a literary genius’ artistic life expressed in stories.
6. Like many New Directions books, it’s also an object of art. As such it’s something for guests to envy and/or covet. In this spirit, three copies should be acquired: one for the coffee table, one for the shelf with the other Latin American greats and one, of course, to read.
7. She mixes the domestic and the mythical seamlessly.
8. In her stories there exists no “known,” only the act of grasping and searching for the known.
9. She’s perhaps more enigmatic than even Franz Kafka or Fernando Pessoa.
10. There’s often a humdrum, domestic setting softly rearranged by a kind of ecstatic madness (of language, of character, or both).
11. The translation by Katrina Dodson is lucid and a feat of translated literature.
12. Her stories are dense with the mystery of being alive.
13. The story “One Hundred Years of Forgiveness” opens with: “If you’ve never stolen anything you won’t understand me. And if you’ve never stolen roses, then you can never understand me. I, when I was little, used to steal roses.”
14. Epiphanies aren’t cheap and her stories are replete with them.
15. She’s silly, obtuse, complex, irreverent, satirical and mournful often inside a single paragraph.
16. She will undoubtedly lead you to other Latin American greats like Machado de Assis or Silvina Ocampo or Liliana Heker. Trust me, there’s tons.
17. When she smacks against the confines of language, the reader witnesses her frustration and is all the richer for it.
18. She has more registers in a single story than many 500 page novels.
19. The interior world and the exterior world are given equal attention, often at the same time.
20. The story “Brasilia” is worth the price of admission.
21. Her writing is religious or mystical without trying to be; it simply is.
22. Lispector had no regard for the “rules” of writing and this disregard grants a freedom and vigor evident throughout the book.
23. She’s indulgent and pragmatic: she will digress on a whim and then smack the reader with the point that she’s making.
24. A morning of solitude, a cup of coffee or tea and her stories will bring unequivocal bliss.
25. She contains multitudes.