Whenever we encounter a book for the first time, our initial perception can so easily be colored, even distorted, by conscious or unconscious prejudices. In some moments though, we do find ourselves delving into a text with an almost open mind; with hardly the slightest inkling of what to expect.
This specialness is most rewarding when we find ourselves surprised beyond measure; we disbelief, we exclaim, we are carried away, we are moved. I first read “The hour of the Star” in such a manner, completely bereft of expectation, and so indelible has its effect been that I’ve since invariably owned a copy.
Lispector’s power over us, for me at least, lies in the characterization of the narrator and the motivation that informs the almost obsessive relationship that he has with his subject: Macabea. Because of her seemingly self-willed refusal to know, Macabea leads Rodrigo, along with us, to invaluable insights.
Rodrigo is urbane and cosmopolitan. He is a sensitive character, one who is aware of the fundamental concerns of the present day though not overly engrossed in them. He seems to have a balanced, plausible, if not reliable, conceptualization of reality.
He leads something of a contented life though unhappy with the lack of success in his writing career. But he is jolted by the coming of Macabea into his life and he is suddenly preoccupied with her obvious otherness, and because of her, the meaning of being, the existence of God and the prospects of death.
Rodrigo is primarily driven to study and write about Macabea by her seeming the very antithesis of who he is. At first, it is the look of damnation on her face that got him interested in her. As he gets to know her, he is irked, irritated, by her apparent nonchalance towards reality. This is so much so that he can only refer to her as ‘the girl from the Northeast’ at the beginning of the novella.
Macabea, on the other hand, is not a retard but she seems to suffer from a thoroughly inhibited intellectual capacity. This is however not what interests Rodrigo.
It is rather that this incapacity to engage reality in any meaningful manner seems almost self-willed. She has no ambition. She is painfully naïve. She is happy to not know. But she still manages to seem unaware of the presence happiness and consequently, its absence in her own life.
Rodrigo’s eventual fascination with Macabea is not merely as a result of her being different from him but rather because he finds himself utterly incapable of comprehending her. It is part of our nature: to be obsessed with the arcane and mysterious. In giving Macabea a voice, Rodrigo becomes so engrossed that he begins to have softer feelings for her.
He has to understand her and in doing so, he is forced to explore himself, his feelings and his beliefs. He ends up becoming so immersed in his subject that he even begins to doubt himself, whether it is actually him doing the writing or if there is possibility of the existence of another agent in him. By the end of the book, ‘the girl from the Northeast’ has become ‘Maca’ to Rodrigo (Lispector 92).
Lispector is so good at conjuring this awe for Macabea that we find ourselves getting carried away, genuinely needing to know who Macabea exactly is. But she dies and all one is eventually left with, like Rodrigo, is just self reflection.
Lispector, Claris. The hour of the star. New York: New direction publishers. 1986. Print.