‘The Fifth Story’ by Clarice Lispector

The Fifth Story by Clarice Lispector, 1964

The magic trick:

The narrator’s referencing of the storytelling mechanism in place

It’s Clarice Lispector Week at the magic tricks site. She is a fascinating writer, often warping your perception of what a story can be. “The Fifth Story,” today’s feature, is an excellent example of that mind-bending power she wields. The narrator talks directly to the reader directly referencing the nature of the story. “So I will tell at least three stories, all true because they don’t contradict each other,” we’re told in the first paragraph.

Each story begins, false starts, resets and pushes the plot slightly further each time. The meta quality is really cool The self-referencing is really funny. The content is good, too. Each retelling elevates the narrator’s war against cockroaches higher and higher until the reader is questioning life on an existential level. And that’s quite a trick on Lispector’s part. It’s gonna be a fun week.

The selection:

The first story, “How To Kill Cockroaches,” begins like this: I was complaining about the cockroaches. A woman heard me complain. She gave me a recipe for killing them. I was to mix together equal quantities of sugar, flour and gypsum. The flour and sugar would attract the cockroaches, the gypsum would dry up their insides. I followed her advice. The cockroaches died.


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