In her third novel, acclaimed Brazilian luminary Lispector (The Chandelier, 2018, etc.) merges the personal with the mythopoetic in the story of a town transforming into a city and a girl observing it.
Lucrécia Neves lives with her widowed mother in São Geraldo, a place "already mingling some progress with the smell of the stable." Like the female protagonists in other Lispector novels, she is unremarkable, neither intelligent nor imaginative. "Her modest function...was: to look." On long walks through town and into the surrounding countryside she sees things "as a horse sees them," and her observation is linked to the reality of the thing itself. "Reality was needing the girl in order to have a shape...what was seen became her vague story." Seeing, she creates the city. The dense, vivid prose, frequent use of passive voice, close interiority, and dazzling observation already familiar to fans of Lispector's distinctive style are coupled here with a dreamlike surreality. Lucrécia is described at different points as having hooves and wings ("With monotonous and regular flapping she was flying in the darkness above the city"). Over the course of the novel she takes flirtatious walks, carries on insipid conversations, fights with her mother, marries a wealthy older man, moves to a big city, falls in love with someone unavailable. There are insights into relationships familial and matrimonial and unexpected flashes of humor ("Something without interest to anyone was happening, surely 'real life.' ") But what matters most is Lucrécia's way of seeing, which she continues even in sleep, "rubbing, forging, polishing, lathing, sculpting, the demented master-carpenter—preparing palely every night the material of the city." Her visionary function is essential and timeless. "When all the cities were erected with their names, they would destroy themselves anew....Upon the rubble horses would reappear announcing the rebirth of the old reality, their backs without riders. Because thus it had always been. Until a few men would tie them to wagons, once again erecting a city that they wouldn't understand, once again building, with innocent skill, the things. And then once more they'd need a pointing finger to give them their old names." Underpinning the novel are questions about gendered power, about time and the permanent and ephemeral. "And Lucrécia's, was that the true, surrendered life? the one that gets lost, the waves that rise furiously over the rocks, the mortal fragrance of flowers?"
Dreamlike, dense, original, this challenging novel has a cumulative power. Highly recommended.