Book Review: The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector


The Quality of Human Experience; Simplicity in a Complex World

The Hour of the Star

by Clarice Lispector

The quality of human experience, as it is to Macabéa, is the curiosity, appreciation, and love for the simplicity in life. Our lives are strained by complexity that burrows deep within us, whether it be financial, mental, emotional, spiritual or physical inquisitions and adversity. Though even through the difficulties that arise, Macabéa sees the light of simplicity that shines through the complexity of life, and for that, she is an ignition of light; a beautiful addition to the world.

The quality of human existence: you can string together insurmountable questions to try and make sense of it, but in the end, you are often left with an unanswered slew of words lined up next to the question. When questioned of human existence, Lispector’s narrator ponders, “who hasn’t ever wondered: am I a monster or is this what it means to be a person?” (pg. 7).

The questionability of existence: Asking ourselves, who am I? What am I? What is this huge external organ called my skin? What is it made of? Tissues and veins, flesh and blood? Why does it shelter me like it does? Why does it hurt inside when it’s pinched, or scraped, or bruised? Macabéa experiences these daily questions, but doesn’t ask them, because as the narrator simply states, “I want to declare that this girl doesn’t know herself except from living aimlessly. If she was dumb enough to ask herself ‘who am I?’ she would fall flat on her face. Because ‘who am I?’ creates a need. And how can you satisfy that need? Those who wonder are incomplete.” (pg. 7). Therefore, the answer of existence to her was clearly that it is, just because it is.

The questionability of human interaction, including the culmination of sex, is riddled with insecurities. Lispector writes, “Yes, my strength is in solitude. I’m not afraid of pouring rains or great gusts of wind, for I too am the darkness of the night. Darkness? I recall a girlfriend: she was experienced and what darkness inside her body. I never forgot her: you never forget the person you slept with. The event remains tattooed with a fiery mark on living flesh and all who glimpse the stigma flee in horror“ (pg. 10). Truly, you never forget the person you slept with. Every detail, whether it be good, bad, exceptional or horrifying, stays with you. But it’s not always a “fiery mark” tattooed on your skin for all the world to shame. There are instances of ultimate human interaction where one doesn’t feel as a means to an end. One can feel like a human being, a single entity within oneself, sharing a spiritual experience with another single entity with fingers interlaced, intertwined, interlocked; a sensuality uncovering all of the darkness from within and bringing it to light with the movements of two entities that briefly become one.

Although a virgin to sex, Macabéa tries to connect on a conversational level with the people closest to her in proximity. It’s foreign to her. She has minimal previous knowledge to sprout off of, she has an undefined thought process that never meets an end to answer a question that arises in her life. She is a transparent, static character living a plain life in poverty with little distress, because to her the simple feeling of contentment is happiness. “Besides she increasingly couldn’t explain herself. She transformed herself into organic simplicity. And she’d figured out how to find in simple and honest things the grace of a sin. She liked to feel time passing. Although she didn’t have a watch, or perhaps for that very reason, she savored the greatness of time. She was supersonic in life. Nobody noticed that with her existence she was breaking the sounds barrier. For other people she didn’t exist. Her only advantage over others was knowing how to swallow pills without any water, dry” (pg. 54). The “explosions” written across the novel are the instances when Macabéa begins to evolve. She begins to feel, and create an idea about herself, when before, she only knew that her name was Macabéa, but unknowing to what was inside the meaning of her name, something that every human tries to define. Identifying oneself is knowing oneself. But perhaps the sentiment of Macabéa is that all that she is, is all that she has been.

Human beings grow from affliction. We deal with afflicting matters on a daily to weekly to monthly basis and learn to adapt, cope, and overcome. It’s part of our makeup. There are some instances in life that are so jolting that it takes the moment after to realize the significance. For Macabéa, she felt like her life was beginning when it was in truth ending. “She lay helpless on the side of the street, perhaps taking a break from all these emotions, and saw among the stones lining the gutter the wisps of grass green as the most tender human hope. Today, she thought, today is the first day of my life: I was born” (pg. 71). But there was beauty in her death. She was a simple being that lived her life one step at a time, enjoying the nuances along the way, like a sugary cup of coffee with extra milk. Never having the courage to hope, Macabéa sought nourishment. She attempted daydreaming on her way to work, but with little inhibition. She attempted conversation but felt defeated after not being able to explain her ideas or thought processes, so resorted to the monotony of daily conversation and cultural quirks. It wasn’t until she began moving outside of her daily routine that she started to feel something. She felt urges within herself to strive for something a little bit more. She was growing introspectively. Learning how to move forward in life, you must take the deprivation of yourself and then move forward. You’re forced to adapt. You evolve, just as all humankind does. It’s the beginning of growth.

“Death is an encounter with oneself” (pg. 76). Macabéa knew little of herself until the pinnacle moment of her life, so close to her death, when she began to feel, to dream, to question, to love, to hope. As she becomes morose with the endless sight of hope, she realizes that “without the possibility of pain, there can be no joy; no real love” (IMDb, Bones, “The Skull in the Sculpture”, Quotes, 2008). “Was the ending as grandiloquent as you required? Dying she became air. Energetic air? I don’t know. She died in an instant. The instant is that blink of time in which the tire of the speeding car touches the ground and then touches it no longer and then touches it again. Etc., etc., etc. In the end she was no more than a music box that was slightly out of tune.

I ask you:

–What is the weight of light?” (pg. 77). The weight of light is the breath of life. A lightbulb turns on and there is illumination, preconceived by the human eye based on the electrical signals the brain interprets, but the sun rises and there is growth, thus the definition of existence is vast. In death, the light from your eyes is gone, but the memory of you still exists and lives on, meaning that “once you’re dead, you’re dead” (pg. 44) is simply just a physical state.

Our perception is important in our lives, it’s prevalent in the very existence of human beings. As a collective, all we want is to be unbound. We want independence from the things that we can’t necessarily control. We want to own our time and be able to live each minute excited for the next. Ultimately, we want a glass of water to quench our thirst for existence. Temperament is where you start out. You don’t want to say, “I am a little human with little inhibitions.” You want to be able to acknowledge where you are in the present, but also declare the future. Everything happens for a reason, whether it’s in your control or not, but why not do everything in your power to mold the world around you to the place you want to be. Overall in the state of any inspiration, we are all on a scavenger hunt, searching for our own definition of humanity and allowing the influences of the world take its toll on our inner beings.

“And now— now all I can do is light a cigarette and go home. My God, I just remembered that we die. But— but me too?!

Don’t forget that for now it’s strawberry season.

Yes” (pg. 77).

The simple pleasures of life, indeed.