Near to the Wild Heart, published in Rio de Janeiro in 1943, introduced Brazil to what one writer called "Hurricane Clarice": a twenty-three-year-old girl who wrote her first book in a tiny rented room and then baptized it with a title taken from Joyce: "He was alone, unheeded, near to the wild heart of life." The book was an unprecedented sensation -- the discovery of a genius. Narrative epiphanies and interior monologue frame the life of Joana, from her middle-class childhood through her unhappy marriage and its dissolution to transcendence, when she proclaims: "I shall arise as strong and comely as a young colt."
I’m terrible at fiction. I always feel so damned constricted when trying to form the rules of the game, my writing comes out halting and unsure. I’ve got brilliant ideas for stories, I see the stories in my head as they are played out but getting them onto paper? No. The ease of my language sounds immature and protracted. Sure, you could argue if I practice more it would mature and grow and there is some truth into that. But I think because I’ve been reading tightly bound prose for so long, I’m near drunk on Lispector’s stream of consciousness and realising that yes, this is how you do it. This is how you give birth to a story and how it will end.
Feral. Unstructured and messy, like life.
I wish now that I had read this first prior to my actual introduction to her work in "The Complete Stories" where a lifespan of work in close to 80 stories covered many of the same themes of rebelliousness and yearning that were first captured in this early novel. It is still a revelation now though, especially knowing that she had not yet even read the stream of consciousness style works of Virginia Woolf and james Joyce (a quote from whose work "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" was suggested as the title to Lispector by her friend Lúcio Cardoso. The translation by Alison Entrekin flows smoothly and the narration by Rebecca Morris was excellent.
I don't know what I was worried about. I was in love with the fierce and wild Joana from the very beginning. On the second page she announces to her father that she's made up a poem called "The Sun and I." "The hens in the yard have eaten the worms but I didn't see them." The surety in herself, the disappointment that her dad doesn't get it -- I adored her. As she grows, the richness of her introspective interiority only grows, as does her determination to not sway from whatever she feels to be right for herself. No matter what others might think is good or evil, normal or strange. How can you not root for a character like that, especially since everyone else seems simple, weak, conventional by comparison.
The book wanders a bit toward the end and I started to wonder where it was going, but it ended with the same fierce resolution it began with. A wonderful book, and I am glad to finally know what all the fuss over Lispector is about.