THE CHANDELIER, BY CLARICE LISPECTOR, TRANSLATED BY BENJAMIN MOSER AND MAGDALENA EDWARDS
“She’d be flowing all her life. But what had dominated her edges and attracted them toward a center, what had illuminated her against the world and given her intimate power was the secret.” From its opening lines, The Chandelier is a daunting and deeply consuming experience. Clarice Lispector’s second novel, what we might think of as a coming-of-age story, has been effortlessly rendered into English by Benjamin Moser and Magdalena Edwards. The translation feels effortless in the sense that it retains Lispector’s elegant and inventive language. Effortless because it reads not as a translation but as a profound character study of a woman who is as much of our time, our consciousness, as she was when this novel was first available to Brazilian readers in 1946.
The Chandelier presents a certain re-prioritization by Lispector. Plot, for one, is second to her poetics and structurally, the novel avoids pause or interruption—there are no chapters and few section breaks. It is easy for readers to get lost in these sentences, in the rhythm spurred by repetition, in Lispector’s use of ethereal language. Virginia’s existential fears and desires are described at length: “Atop each day she’d balance on the tips of her toes, reads one passage, atop each fragile day that from one instant to the next could snap and fall into darkness.” The dialogue, both external and internal, is often as inscrutable as Virginia herself. There is, however, a loose chronology tracking Virginia’s childhood at The Farm and stretching into adulthood where we find her in an unnamed city, attending dinner parties, and taking a lover. Virginia’s family looms as a constant presence in her life, despite the distance she puts between them. Long after her submission to them as a girl—to her brother Daniel, in particular—she finds herself in the delicate position of growing into herself and away from their influence, a tension that persists until giving way altogether.
—Review by Anna Vilner