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Clarice Lispector: A maçã no escuro (The Apple in the Dark)

The book starts with Martim fleeing. Initially, we are not sure what he is fleeing from but it soon becomes clear that he has committed a crime and we discover that he believes that he has killed his wife. He seemly wanders without direction and purpose till he comes to an isolated farm run by Vitória, with her cousin Ermelinda. Vitória agrees to employ Martim. Ermelinda is a delicate woman, afraid of death, and she thinks she is in love with Martim because he is a man and because he is there. Vitória, however, is a strong woman and keeps a firm distance between herself and Martim.

Not a great deal happens in this book once Martim is at the farm (till the inevitable denouement) but what makes it so worthwhile is the contrast between Martim, a twentieth-century anti-hero, unsure of what he is, where is going and struggling, usually in vain, to become something or someone, and the two women who were, till Martim’s arrival, if not happy in their lives, at least accepting, and now having this tranquil acceptance called into question. Martim is not the European-style anti-hero of, say, Albert Camus, who commits his gratuitous act and then carries on as if nothing has happened but nor does he have the guilt for the crime that a pre-twentieth-century would have had. Rather, he is, as the title makes clear, struggling to make sense of the knowledge he has and acquire the knowledge he does not have and, yet, his struggle is at best self-defeating.

Publishing history

First published 1961 by Livraria F. Alves
First published in English 1967 by Knopf