Alex Estes has written a really wonderful review of Hilst’s novel for Full Stop, one in which he views this first publication of her work in English as “the literary miracle of 2012.”Estes’s positioning of Hilst’s work in the context of Hélène Cixous’s notion of l’écriture féminine is spot-on. In Hilst’s prose, reality is blurred with madness; the pious is conflated with the impious; and love, grief, and mourning are emotional states that cause profound meditations on individuality—as well as how one can subsume one’s identity beneath another’s without wholly realizing it.It makes sense that Hilst was friends with, as well as greatly admired by, Clarice Lispector. Both women share similar themes and, again in line with Estes’s review of Madame D, their writing can be said to embody a frenetic, nonlinear l’écriture féminine which allows for these liminal, transient states to be explored in more depth and with more freedom. With that said, Hilst’s work is definitely more scatological than Lispector’s, and there is a great emphasis on the body and its functions in Madame D, almost reminiscent of Julia Kristeva and Luce Irigaray’s work. (In fact, throughout, I wondered if Hilst and her circle had been reading Lacan’s work which would make a lot of sense given her use of the Other, her narrator calling herself “Oedipus-woman,” and the stress on self-analysis as a kind of descent into a pre-linguistic realm ungoverned by laws of syntax, meaning, and representation.)
This is a fine book, and one that should be read in one sitting in order to enter into the mind of—or, rather, the chorus that is the mind of—a woman who poses the major philosophical and metaphysical questions of our time and all times. As this is the first Hilst to be translated into English this year, I look forward to reading more by this unclassifiable Brazilian author who manages to cover every human experience, dream, fantasy, despair, nightmare, and desire (both sacred and profound) in a mere fifty pages.