Waxing Press

Book Review: The Chandelier by Clarice Lispector

book reviewsIan WissmanComment

Clarice Lispector’s writing is the baroque epitome of modernist styling. The prose is poesy, and essentially resistant to interpretive work. It’s an arpeggiation of language where Lispector bends words to her will, with the image and feeling of the syntax as the most important factor in choice and placement rather than sparkling clarity. This makes for a heady, vivid, difficult read. And The Chandelier, Lispector’s second novel, translated into English for the first time since 1946, levels up the heady pulchritude from her debut.

Whereas Near to the Wild Heart has vague trappings of a plot—or at least, Joana has a beginning, middle, and end to her story, The Chandelier is much looser with its convictions to narrative. Opting instead to dive deeper into the mind of her protagonist, Lispector’s fluid language is in a lot of ways as impenetrable as it is evocative and precise. Perhaps only Joseph McElroy has come as close to expressing the interiority of human consciousness in its truest form—ie. what lives on the page is a person’s chaotic, spontaneous thoughts, often unfiltered through the organizing functions of consciousness.

These maps of the interior are the most striking when the cut into meta-level reading of Lispector’s piercing intellect, and the loneliness that comes with it and the self-doubt about life’s purpose:

The impression that she was alone in the world was so serious that she was afraid to go beyond her own understanding, to rush into what. It would be easy, with no one beside her and without a model of life and thought by which to guide herself. She discovered that she didn’t have good sense, that she wasn’t armed with any past and with any event that she could use as a beginning, she who had never been practical and had always lived improvising without a goal.

Is protagonist/narrator Virginia lost in love with no model for how she feels about the “loves” of her life, or is Lispector reflecting on the serendipity of her spontaneous and wonderful mind? A mind that paints vivid images that are at once chaotic, swirling and dense, but also illuminating and visceral?

I will admit to “enjoying” Near to the Wild Heart more than this, however, The Chandelier is inarguably the more significant and important piece of literature. It’s just wonderful to see Benjamin Moser and the publishers at New Directions working together to shine a much-deserved bright-beaming light on this woman’s oeuvre, and bringing new translations of her work to the world.