Monday, August 7, 2017

WITMonth Day 7 | The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector

Sharp-eyed readers of this blog and my Twitter feed will perhaps raise an eyebrow. "Weren't you reading this over a year ago?" you may ask. The answer is, of course: yes, yes I was. And indeed I am still reading Clarice Lispector's The Complete Stories, a giant tome that could probably last a lifetime. Translated by Katrina Dodson and edited by Benjamin Moser, The Complete Stories is that unique sort of publication that deserves every ounce of praise and recognition that it has received. It's a tremendous collection of varied and brilliant short stories, a remarkable indicator of Lispector's talents as a writer, and just a great read.

Here's what's amazing about The Complete Stories: it can work both ways. Want to read it straight through? Might be a little difficult, but you can certainly read story after story after story. Lispector's writing is sharp and always delightfully descriptive, nailing little emotions and scenes with high precision. Even when it changes style - because you cannot expect 700+ pages of short stories to have the exact same angle, style or perspective - the overall effect remains one of remarkably clean prose. You can also just pick it up in pieces. I read the first third of the book in one sitting, rushing through the stories, and have since been sampling the remainder with a story or two per week, never quite leaving Lispector's world behind, but also avoiding that full immersion I had at first.

Lispector is known for darker and dryer styles, all of which are on display in The Complete Stories. Some of these stories are light, gentle, sweet affairs, but others are creepy or downright terrifying. Lispector often uses a sort of slyly disconcerting style, in which a clearly drawn narrator will suddenly be unsettled, and the reader along with them. Even the stories which I liked less - often ones that were deliberately vague or seemingly scattered - avoid outright discomfort, opting instead for a more subtle sort of reader awareness. Lispector has this way of reminding you that you are reading - her use of language is remarkable in being an inherent character within the stories. It makes me wonder how difficult translating these sorts of works must be.

The Complete Stories also highlights a lot of what I didn't like about the first book by Lispector that I read: The Hour of the Star. I read Lispector's last (short) novel during the first-ever WITMonth, and was fairly disappointed, finding the writing technically interesting but the story almost uncomfortably emotionally dull. My conclusion was, at the time, that perhaps the brevity of The Hour of the Star was the source of the problem. I concluded that it would be best if I read one of Lispector's meatier novels next. Instead, I have found myself exceedingly satisfied by the opposite. In her short stories, Lispector's vagueness can often carry the story in its entirety. Technical exercises (in my experience) work far better as short stories than as novellas or novels. Furthermore, the wide variety between her stories keeps both individual stories and the collection at large from growing too dull.

This review is effectively superfluous. If you are a reader who can tolerate short stories (and I know that there are some readers who loathe the form...), you should read The Complete Stories. It's that simple. This is a truly wonderful collection by a brilliant writer. Go forth and read.

1 comment:

  1. I fell under the spell of Clarice almost on first encounter, I read her short stories straight through then I went back and began to read selected works individually, posting upon them as I went. The complete short stories is a great,translation project. I also highly recommend Benjamin Moser's biography.

    ReplyDelete

Anonymous comments have been disabled due to an increase in spam.