Categories: Literary Fiction, Classic Fiction, Translated into English
I decided to pick up Near to the Wild Heart in English because I was curious as to how Clarice Lispector’s work would be translated, her writing being so unique and at times impenetrable, plus the fact that I’d heard not very positive things about the translations.
This book tells the story of Joana, from childhood until adulthood, this girl who is different from everyone else, who is wild and full of desire and rage, instead of being quietly demure as would be proper.
Clarice Lispector’s writing, and Joana’s thoughts, are vague, poetic, beautiful and don’t always make much sense. I found it most times exasperating to read, and at other times meditative and interesting. It got particularly better (or easier to follow) in the second half of the book, where some semblance of plot occurs and characters interact more with each other instead of us just living inside Joana’s mind. I especially liked the interaction between Lídia and Joana, two character very unlike each other.
Joana is a wild soul, she speaks whatever is on her mind, even if it sounds nonsensical or mad, even if it’s a lie, and she doesn’t quite connect with people, she stays at a distance emotionally. Everyone seems entranced by her, and repulsed by her, as exasperated with her as I was, I suppose, and they all turn cruel to her at some point. I think the wilderness in Joana brings in the people she meets a wistfulness, a wish to be their wild selves too, and then anger and frustration because that is not how they are suppose to behave in society. Not the things you’re supposed to say or do. And the fact that she doesn’t seem quite capable of love (or of being loved) makes her unlikable, unknowable to the others.
She romanticizes everything, quite literally everything, and it’s difficult not to feel, as a reader, a disconnect to her. As an example, at some point she takes a lover, but he is clearly a stalker and a normal person would run far, far away. But she finds his “persistence” charming and romantic.
I didn’t like the treatment they gave Joana, calling her evil and a viper, and her placid passiveness in taking it all. I guess I hoped for confrontation and throwing on people’s faces how they are awful themselves. Frankly, Otávio sucks and deserves to die alone without ever finishing his damned book.
The translation was alright but not perfect – it didn’t do the book much favor, and the edition I got (the Kindle one) had a few typing mistakes. A little of the beauty of Lispector’s work is lost this way, although the her style is still discernible. It reminded me at times of Virginia Woolf’s stream of consciousness books, but it would be unfair to compare them (and Clarice herself quite disliked the comparison). Don’t read this expecting the same writing style, at all, just a bit of resemblance.
I’ve seen her work been described as synesthetic and I think that is a very fitting description – you have a feeling about the book, the plot, the people, Joana’s thoughts, instead of a precise idea of what they are. I recommend this book for readers who think a fragmented story, more felt than understood, a bit vague but beautifully poetic, is something they would like.