Clarice Lispector – the soul of sensibility

claricelispectorOne of the joys of learning to speak Portuguese was to be able to read the wonderful books written by Clarice Lispector, Brazil’s greatest novelist. Her writing displays a hyper-sensibility akin to that of Franz Kafka: she notices every detail, she feels everything, but she does not judge her characters and she never slips into sentimentality. She is her own person and for all the tribulations and trials she writes about, she is affirmative. She would concur with a character in one of the novels by the Colombian, Gabriel García Márquez, “Life is the best thing that’s been invented.”

Born in the Ukraine in 1920, Clarice was taken to live in Brazil at the age of two months and ultimately became a Brazilian citizen. She studied law and worked as a journalist in Rio de Janeiro where she began to write fiction. She was also a very popular newspaper columnist and it is in these columns that many of her observations first appeared. She died in 1977.


♦ In another life I once had, aged fifteen, I entered a bookstore, which seemed the world where I would like to live. Suddenly, one of the books I opened contained sentences that were so different that I just stood there, captivated, reading away. Thrilled, I thought, but this book is me! Only after did I discover that the author was considered to be one of the finest writers of her generation: Katherine Mansfield.

♦ I only write when I want, I’m an amateur and I want to remain amateur. A professional is someone who has an obligation to himself or to another to write. But me, I make a point of not being a professional, to preserve my freedom.

♦ To eradicate your own defects can be dangerous. You never know which is the defect holding up the whole building.

♦ There are times in life when we miss someone so much that what we most want is to drag that person out of our dreams and hug them.

♦ Surrender, as I have surrendered. Dive into what you don’t know just as I have done. Don’t try to understand. Living surpasses all understanding.

♦ But there’s life, which is to be lived intensely, there’s love. Love which should be lived to the very last drop. Fearlessly. It won’t kill you.


The Passion According to G.H., is perhaps Clarice Lispector’s most widely read novel. It is a highly rewarding if not a particularly easy read.

The summary on Amazon reads thus: G.H., a well-to-do Rio sculptress, enters the room of her maid, which is as clear and white ‘as in an insane asylum from which dangerous objects have been removed’. There she sees a cockroach – black, dusty, prehistoric – crawling out of the wardrobe and, panicking, slams the door on it. Her irresistible fascination with the dying insect provokes a spiritual crisis, in which she questions her place in the universe and her very identity, propelling her towards an act of shocking transgression. Clarice Lispector’s spare, deeply disturbing yet luminous novel.


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