Passion Of G.H.-Lispector   Leave a comment

This is a book i chose to read from the 1001 books to read before you die. I had no idea what to expect when i started this novel, although I had read a book by this author before, but not enjoyed it very much.

The book was written in 1964 by Brazilian author, Clarice Lispector. It was translated into English first, in 1988, at the same time as it became recognised as a canonical work from Latin America. Lispector was initially born in Ukraine to Jewish parents and moved to Brazil as a baby. She has been described as the most important Jewish author since Kafka. Not an opinion I share.

The book is a monologue by the main character, set in an apartment in a high rise Penthouse in Rio de Janeiro. G.H. Decides to clean out the maids room after she has left her employ. G.H. expects the room to be in chaos, but is surprised by the emptiness and cleanness. She finds a charcoal drawing behind the door and then on opening the wardrobe sees a cockroach, an insect she has a phobia of. She leaps to slam the wardrobe closed and crushes the cockroach in the door.

This leads to a total breakdown of personality, and ends with her famously taking some of the goo oozing from the cockroach and placing it in her mouth.

I read this novel straight, unaware what to expect. Each section is marked by a repetition of the last sentence, which I thought an interesting device. However after the scenario is unroled, I found the novel very difficult to understand and follow. I understood the initial reaction to the cockroach, as i have a phobia of them myself. But as the author spirals almost into madness after this point, i was completely bemused.

Lispector, herself, has implied that G.H.’s perspective can be seen as a representative of the human species and its breakdown. Lispector also said that the main character’s radical ecstasy in the novel rejects Mary’s transcendence in the early part of the Gospels. This explains the significance of the biblical allusion in the title. As a Christian, I find this difficult to agree with, although the discussion of how Mary has been treated and elevated in the last 2,000 years is fascinating and fallatious, and i can only presume Lispector wished to engage in this discussion to some degree.

I found one review which considered the novel a type of horror story. I was certainly terrorised whilst reading it. Sadly, i see myself as not naturally lead to understand deep philosophical novels, which is where i have mentally placed this novel, so admit my appreciation is challenged. Ultimately, this is not a book to read if you enjoy a narrative.



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