Waxing Press

Book Review: Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector

book reviewsIan WissmanComment

Clarice Lispector’s seminal first novel Near to the Wild Heart is a beautifully crafted exploration of the interior, of betrayal, of feminine agency. Joana, a precocious—and surprisingly fatalistic—existential adolescent, grows up to be a distant if not "cold" lover to her husband Otavio, who goes on to philander with a former lover. But the plot is truly secondary, if not tertiary to what you read Near to the Wild Heart for. The book, written in a smoky stream-of-consciousness, spans the life of Joana from childhood into her adult life learning of her husband’s betrayal. Upon its release, Listpector was an instant hit in her adopted land of Brazil.

Lispector's prose and style is wondrous and mesmeric, intellectually demanding as it enfolds the reader to move effortlessly across the topology of spontaneous, emotionally-wrought internal monologue. Throughout the novel, thoughts are teased out and toyed with, self-censored, conflicted and fraught, expressing the deep self-doubt inside our own cogitation. Our truest conscious mind—the side we don’t express, and couldn’t even if we tried:

What was rising in her was not courage, she was substance alone, less than human, how could she be a hero and want to defeat things? . . . Throngs of warm thoughts sprouted and spread through her frightened body and what mattered about them was that they concealed a vital impulse, what mattered about them was that at the very instant of their birth there was the blind, true substance creating itself, rising up, straining at the water’s surface like an air bubble, almost breaking it . . .

Alison Entrekin does such a beautiful job translating from the original Portuguese, fully embracing an elevated, poetic manner that slips effortlessly into a stream-of-consciousness style that does as much work expressing Joana's interior as the actual thoughts and interactions she had. To that end, Joana is a vividly alive and beautifully realized character.

The final passages of the novel, as Joana reflects on who she is and how she has come to this ultimate point in her life, it's almost elegiac but also celebratory, a rejuvenation of her spirit and identity. A revelry of her soul. The prose crashes in in waves and ebbing flows. It's cleansing. Purifying.

Upon the novel’s release, Lispector won the nickname "Hurricane Clarice"; it's clear to see in her style the roots of this storm-y sobriquet. Can't wait to dive into more of her work.