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Plot seems secondary to the latest Lispector title to appear in English. Nevertheless, the novel she apparently called her “best one” begins with a man, Martim, running away from a hotel and—more importantly—a crime he may or may not have committed. He trudges along for about a night and a day before reaching a ranch run by two women. Ermelinda quickly decides to fall in love with Martim; the more imposing Vitória finds task after task for Martim to complete, as well as great pleasure in her own growing power. Yet none of these details hint at the complexity— and occasional impenetrability—of this book. Lispector appears to be vastly more interested in questions of metaphysics than more earthly concerns such as character development or plot. She describes Martim, for example, in this way: “[B]esides trying to clean himself up as a simple matter of decency, the man didn’t seem to have the slightest intention of doing anything with the fact of existing. What he was doing was sitting on the stone. Neither did he plan to have the slightest thought about the sun.” Taken in small doses, these passages can be seductive, even captivating, but because there is so little to fall back on—a comprehensible story line, or dialogue that goes anywhere—there are many more moments when the novel simply feels as if it has ground to a halt. In addition to exploring the idea of what makes a man a man, Lispector appears to be toying with what makes a story a story—and how much can be taken away. She might have got the balance wrong.


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