Brazilian literary titan Lispector (Complete Stories, 2015, etc.) expands on themes familiar to fans of her dense, rich, inimitable style in this, her second novel, originally published in 1946 and now translated into English for the first time.
Told almost entirely in a third-person stream-of-consciousness style, the story follows Virginia, the youngest of three siblings growing up on Quiet Farm in Upper Marsh in a sparsely furnished family mansion with velvet-lined floors. She is slavishly attached to her brooding brother, Daniel. "She didn't even know what she was thinking, all she had was ardor, nothing more, not even a point. And he—all he had was fury." Sometimes she molds little sculptures from river clay, "a task that would never end, that was the most beautiful and careful thing she had ever known." Secretive, philosophical, intense, the siblings create the Society of Shadows, the two of them its only members: "They had foreseen the charmed and dangerous beginning of the unknown, the momentum that came from fear." As elsewhere in her work, Lispector is fascinated by moments, often fleeting and barely articulated, of dawning self-awareness. "Yes, yes, little by little, softly, from her ignorance the idea was being born that she possessed a life." Virginia and Daniel eventually leave Upper Marsh for the city. Virginia sees the sea, rents her own apartment, takes a lover. The novel follows her from moment to closely noted moment, as for example, taking a walk before a dreaded dinner party: "What she was feeling was without depth....Quick thick circles were moving away from her heart—the sound of a bell unheard but heavily felt in the body in waves—the white circles were blocking her throat in a big hard bubble of air—there was not even so much as a smile, her heart was withering, withering, moving off through the distance hesitating intangible, already lost in an empty and clean body whose contours were widening, moving away, moving away and all that existed was the air, thus all that existed was the air, the air without knowing that it existed and in silence, in silence high as the air." Passages like this comprise the bulk of the book. Of Virginia later, dozing on the train: "her lucidity was the raw brightness of the moonlight itself; but she didn't know what she was thinking; she was thinking...like a bird that just flies." Readers already acquainted with The Hour of the Star will note a number of parallels. In some ways, this is a bigger, larger-hearted version, more intimate and more generous, though similarly dense.
While she compellingly evokes the journey out of childhood, as well as loneliness, self-determination, and the magnetic pull of family, Lispector's signature brilliance lies in the minutely observed gradations of her characters' feelings and of their elusive, half-formed thoughts.