The Hour of the Star, Clarice Lispector's consummate final novel, may well be her masterpiece. Narrated by the cosmopolitan Rodrigo S.M., this brief, strange, and haunting tale is the story of Macabéa, one of life's unfortunates. Living in the slums of Rio de Janeiro and eking out a poor living as a typist, Macabéa loves movies, Coca-Cola, and her rat of a boyfriend; she would like to be like Marylin Monroe, but she is ugly, underfed, sickly, and unloved. Rodrigo recoils from her wretchedness, and yet he cannot avoid realization that for all her outward misery, Macabéa is inwardly free. She doesn't seem to know how unhappy she should be. Lispector employs her pathetic heroine against her urbane, empty narrator--edge of despair to edge of despair--and, working them like a pair of scissors, she cuts away the reader's preconceived notions about poverty, identity, love, and the art of fiction. In her last novel she takes readers close to the true mystery of life, and leaves us deep in Lispector territory indeed.
The narrative material of this short, almost weightless tale by the late Brazilian writer (19251977) is reminiscent of old-fashioned naturalism, but the intention is far from that. Macabea, a young woman from the backwoods, arrives in bewildering Rio. Homely, ignorant, without skills or experience, she lodges in a shabby tenement in a squalid red-light district. Her transient boyfriend, a strutting lout and sham, soon abandons her. After a time, Macabea is struck down by a Mercedes and killed: an obscure life, a banal death. The author's presence is continuously feltthe narrator-of-record is a mere front for itand it is here that the work goes awry. The nagging voice attempts to elevate Macabea's little life to nobility and religious significancebut to no avail. And the modish commentary on novelistic method amounts to little more than affectation.