‘A Capital’ (‘To the Capital’) by Eça de Queirós

My rating: 3 stars

Symbolic characters are an integral part of the novels written by Eça de Queirós. In A Capital, To the Capital in the English translation, the Portuguese author used them to criticise the high society of Lisbon from the 19th century. Although the book features a couple of great moments of irony and social commentary, I was never fully enthralled by the ordeals of the main character, Artur Corvelo, which were to an extent self-inflicted.

At the beginning of the novel, 23-year-old Artur is at the train station in Ovar, the town where he grew up, looking for his grandfather, who was supposed to be on its way to Lisbon. He didn’t find him, though. Then the narrator goes back in time, and we learn what happened in Artur’s life up until that moment. His parents had sent him to Coimbra to attend university. While there he spent most of his time engaged in philosophical and literary discussions. After the death of his parents, he lacked the financial means to continue his studies.

He left Coimbra and moved to the house of his aunts in Oliveira de Azeméis. But he quickly grew bored. He missed the conversations that he had with his friends and lacked the inspiration to write poems as he used to do. Life there was tedious. While his desire was to become a poet, he ended up accepting a job at a pharmacy in order to earn some money. He didn’t give up on his dream, though. He showed some of his work to Rabecaz, whom had lived in Lisbon. He believed that Artur should go live in the capital, since he would certainly achieve notoriety there. Continue reading

Books Enhanced by Their Structures

The way in which authors decide to structure their books may have a huge impact on the final result. I’m unsure if structure is the correct term. But I mean the choices that writers make in terms of the order and the manner in which the narrative is presented to the readers, or the form used to tell a specific story.

There are three books, which I read in the latest years, whose structures were one of the highlights of my reading experience. I’m certain I wouldn’t have liked them as much as I did if the story had been told in a different way.

 

Jerusalém by Gonçalo M. Tavares

In this novel, the Portuguese writer Gonçalo M. Tavares delves into insanity and horror. The story is told from the perspectives of various characters – Ernst, Mylia, Theodor, Hanna and Hinnerk – and doesn’t follow a strict chronological order. The actions of the characters are not revealed in sequence but when they are useful for the narration. Each chapter reveals more information about either the past or the present, which helps the reader understand how the characters are connected with one another. This enhanced the story, because it kept me curious and guessing. Continue reading

Monthly Favourites – July 2019

The July instalment of my monthly favourites may be a bit later than usual, but I do have a few sources of joy to share with you. These include two books (they are both worthy of a mention), two specific episodes of two very different TV series, a documentary and music from a band that I hadn’t listened to in ages.

Last month, for the first time in probably two decades, I finished rereading a book. O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis (The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis in the English translation) is one of the books that I wanted to reread, since I remembered it as an old favourite. And I’m so glad that I loved it as much as the first time! It is a fantastic example of intertextuality, as Ricardo Reis, one of Fernando Pessoa’s heteronyms, is turned into a real person. After 16 years living in Brazil, he returns to Portugal at the end of 1935. In Lisbon, he interacts mainly with three people: Lídia, a chambermaid at the hotel he is staying in; Marcenda, a young woman whose left hand is paralysed; and his deceased friend Fernando Pessoa. Although not much happens in terms of plot, this is still an engrossing and mesmerising work of literature, which also delves into the fascist regime in Portugal.

Another book that I also highly enjoyed reading in July was Circe by Madeline Miller, a retelling of an Ancient Greek myth. Circe is the daughter of Helios, god of sun, and the nymph Perse. She was sentenced to exile on a deserted island for using witchcraft against her own kind. Her emotions throughout the novel, which reads much like a fictional memoir, are palpable. It focuses on what she learnt during her life and explores the meaning of love and the fear of losing someone. The prose is almost always gripping. Continue reading

‘Circe’ by Madeline Miller

My rating: 4 stars

In Circe, a retelling of an Ancient Greek myth that resembles a fictional memoir, Madeline Miller skilfully evaluates human emotions. This novel is most of all a tale about what Circe, the main character and narrator, learnt throughout her life and how that shaped her personality and fate. She came to understand love and how to deal with the fear of losing someone dear to her.

Circe is the daughter of Helios, a Titan and god of sun, and the nymph Perse, one of Oceanos’ children. When she was born, her father informed her mother that she would marry a prince. Perse was appalled at the prospect of her daughter wedding a mortal. Circe had two siblings who bullied and tormented her, because they thought she was stupid. She felt like an outcast, as no one cared or paid much attention to her. Her parents also considered that she was inapt.

When Prometheus, Circe’s uncle, was sentenced to be punished for defying Zeus, an old conflict between Titans and Olympians was close to be renewed. However, Helios was against starting a war, since Prometheus was going to be chastised for his love for mortals and not to teach a lesson to Titans in general. He was not the only one who had a soft spot for mortals, though. After Prometheus’ chastisement, as he was bleeding, Circe asked him about them and offered him nectar. She then borrowed a dagger from the treasury and cut her palm to see what her blood looked like. It was red, instead of golden, and without her uncle’s power. Continue reading

José Saramago: The Gifted and Uncompromising Portuguese Nobel

The Portuguese author José Saramago was a man of strong convictions. He didn’t shy away from bluntly expressing his views, often causing controversy. But his work and talent shined brighter than any outcry, ideological difference or political disagreement. He published his first novel, Terra do Pecado, in 1947, and until 1966 it remained his only book. Born on 16 November 1922 in the village of Azinhaga, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1998, being the only Portuguese writer to have had that honour so far.

When he wasn’t yet two years old, his parents moved to Lisbon, where he grew up. For economic reasons, he had to do a vocational course at a secondary technical school, and his first job was as a car mechanic. It was in a public library that he continued to learn and to cultivate his love for reading. Later, he also worked as a translator and a journalist. He died on 18 June 2010 on the island of Lanzarote (Spain), and his ashes were laid to rest beneath an olive tree near the river Tagus in Lisbon.

He wrote novels, non-fiction, short stories, poetry and plays. His novels challenge genre boundaries, as they mix elements from magical realism, historical and literary fiction. Many are allegories about the human condition and delve into a variety of social and moral issues through stimulating and funny considerations. His characters and narrators lose themselves in their thoughts. Their asides replicate, in a way, how we communicate orally. Continue reading

Book Haul – July 2019

As it was my birthday a couple of days ago, I obviously had to buy some books this month! But I managed to control myself and only acquired four. Some I’ve been meaning to read for ages, while others caught my attention more recently.

 

Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

Fitz is the protagonist of the first book in the Farseer Trilogy. He is a royal bastard with a magical link with animals, which is an old art known as the Wit. This power is frowned upon by the nobility, so when he is accepted into the royal household, he has to give it up. Secretly, he starts training as a royal assassin. I’m eager to finally start my journey into Robin Hobb’s work.

 

Circe by Madeline Miller

I’m also yet to read a book by Madeline Miller. In this myth retelling, Circe is banished by Zeus to the remote island of Aiaia. There she learns to harness her witchcraft skills and needs to decide whether her place is among the deities or the mortals. I have high hopes for this novel! Continue reading

‘Northern Lights’ by Philip Pullman

My rating: 3 stars

The universe of Northern Lights by Philip Pullman is similar to our own but with additional magical elements. Although the first book in His Dark Materials trilogy is set in an intriguing world where humans have daemons, I didn’t fall in love with the storytelling and the characters. It deals with complex topics, such as class issues, desire and the original sin from the Bible. Nonetheless, the writing is sometimes too simplistic and superficial. I would have probably enjoyed it far more had I read it for the first time as a child.

The protagonist of the story is Lyra, a fierce child with an adventurous spirit. She had been told that her parents were Count and Countess Belacqua and that they had both died in an aeronautical accident in the North. For that reason, she was living at Jordan College in Oxford. It was the richest college in the city and was dedicated to experimental theology. Lyra had no idea what that meant. She thought it had something to do with magic and the movements of the stars and planets.

Despite knowing that she wasn’t allowed in the Retiring Room of the college, Lyra and her daemon, Pantalaimon, went there to see what it looked like. As she heard the Master coming, she hid inside a wardrobe. She heard him speaking with the Butler about the imminent arrival of Lord Asriel, her uncle. She believed that they were trying to poison him. Lord Asriel and the Master were both members of the Cabinet Council, an advisory body of the prime minister. Continue reading

Books I Won’t Read After All

There are books which, at first, I’m certain that I want to read but that over time I end up losing interest in for a variety of reasons. Most of them I’ve never mentioned on this blog. Some I have, however, and it feels strange when I choose not to read them afterwards. For that reason, I decided to write a post about the books that I said that I was going to read a while back but that I won’t after all.

 

Murder on Christmas Eve: Classic Mysteries for the Festive Season

This book features ten classic murder mysteries by various authors. I mentioned it on a post I wrote more than a year and a half ago titled ‘Christmassy Books on My Wish List’. Since then I’ve read a couple of reviews that fully waned my desire to read it.

 

Sleeping Giants by Slyvain Neuvel

The main focus of this novel, the first in a series, is on the mystery surrounding a bizarre artefact. The physicist Rose Franklin is leading a team to secretly understand the code of a giant metal hand. The story is told through interviews, journal entries, transcripts and news articles. At first, I considered this type of storytelling fascinating. But I’m not that interested in it anymore. I said that I wanted to read it on a post about the book series that I had on my wish list. Continue reading

‘O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis’ (‘The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis’) by José Saramago

My rating: 5 stars

A mesmerising and compelling book doesn’t always have to be action-packed. In O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis (The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis in the English translation), José Saramago turned one of Fernando Pessoa’s heteronyms into a real person to create a gloriously ingenious novel that doesn’t require a thrilling plot to shine. I read this book for the first time around 12 years ago, and it was a pleasure to rediscover it recently. It mixes magical realism with existentialism, literary and historical fiction, while paying homage to great names of Portuguese literature.

Ricardo Reis arrives in Lisbon at the end of 1935, on a rainy day, after spending the last 16 years in Brazil. He is a 48-year-old doctor who writes poetry and was born in Porto. He decided to return to Portugal after receiving a telegram from Álvaro de Campos informing him that their friend Fernando Pessoa had died. Around the same time there was also a (failed) rebellion in Brazil. After a journey on board of the Highland Brigade, he takes a taxi at the port, and the driver suggests that he stays at the Bragança Hotel. Its manager, Salvador, is eager to discover everything he can about his clients. But Ricardo Reis isn’t sure about how long he will stay at the hotel. He could either rent a house and practise medicine in Lisbon or return to Brazil.

During his stay at the hotel, Ricardo Reis becomes interested in a young woman whom he sees at the dining room. Her left arm is paralysed. He learns from Salvador that her name is Marcenda and that she and her father have been staying at the hotel three days every month for the last three years. They are from Coimbra and apparently go to Lisbon to see a doctor because of her condition. Continue reading

Monthly Favourites – June 2019

June has come and gone, so it’s time to share with you my monthly favourites! This instalment features a book, a TV miniseries, a film and a song, and I promise to be much more concise than in previous months.

I haven’t read many books in June, but they were all enjoyable. The one that stood out the most was In the Labyrinth of Drakes by Marie Brennan. It’s the fourth book in The Memoirs of Lady Trent series and focuses on how Isabella became a dragon naturalist at the Scirlind army. Her work took her to Akhia to try to breed dragons. The entire series mixes anthropological, scientific and social components. Although it’s fantasy, it is written as a memoir, and the most intimate moments between the characters are marvellous.

I started a few TV shows this month, but I stopped watching the majority of them after just a couple of episodes. The most gripping one, which I completed in a few days, was Chernobyl. It’s a miniseries about the nuclear disaster that happened in Ukraine in 1986. The first episode is terrifying! I wish I hadn’t watched it before going to bed. I later discovered that the writers took some liberties with the scientific aspects of what happened, but it was still a good TV drama. Continue reading