So Different and So Similar Pairs of Books

Two books can have significant elements in common and still tell different stories. Characters may face similar situations, but their individual choices take the plots in completely different directions. The themes of two novels may be similar, but the action, the characters and the writing style ensure that they are ultimately distinctive and readers are still experiencing a fresh story.

I’ve read (at least) four pairs of books that are both different and similar for various reasons.

 

História do Cerco de Lisboa (The History of the Siege of Lisbon) by José Saramago + The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier

These two novels have in common being my least favourites, so far, by José Saramago and Daphne du Maurier, two authors I adore. This is not the reason why I chose them to be part of this post. Both of them are also set in two different time periods, which are connected by a man. The tribulations that the characters face, however, are completely different. Continue reading

‘The Blood Miracles’ by Lisa McInerney

My rating: 3 stars

Lisa McInerney’s first novel, The Glorious Heresies, is told from the perspectives of five characters. One of them, Ryan Cusack, is the sole protagonist of The Blood Miracles. This isn’t the only difference between the two novels, though. Her latest isn’t, unfortunately, as enthralling as I hoped, since the plot focuses almost merely on drug dealing and the characters are not as fleshed out as they could have been.

Ryan’s life is in turmoil. Although he was born and grew up in Cork, he is fluent in Italian, thanks to his dual heritage. His boss, Dan, wants to make use of his language skills in a new drug route from Italy to Ireland. At the same time, Colm expects Ryan to be his partner at a music venue he is planning to open. But, now that they are in their early twenties, his girlfriend, Karine, wants him to change his ways and leave the world of drugs behind. Amid all of this, he meets Natalie, who brings additional trouble, and reunites with Maureen, who helped him before, despite him not remembering the details.

Sadly, the book focuses too much on the issues concerning drug dealing and night clubs to the point that it gets tiresome. That is a problem particularly because some of the characters who are part of Ryan’s life, such as Natalie and Dan, are too cardboard, and even Ryan is not as fleshed out and complex as in The Glorious Heresies. He is on a self-destructive path, but there isn’t enough exploration of it. The writing style has, overall, a very fast and turbulent rhythm, as if to mimic the torrent of events surrounding Ryan. His feelings, though, are only occasionally explored. Continue reading

TV Adaptations I Watched Before Reading the Books

I don’t always attempt to read the books before watching their adaptations. That is true for films and TV series alike. TV adaptations have, in fact, introduced me not only to books that I loved and cherished, but also to ones that I hope to enjoy in the future. Occasionally, I watch adaptations that don’t arouse my interest in reading the books for a variety of reasons (Outlander, Poldark and Normal People are some examples). This post is, however, about the TV adaptations of books that I’ve now already read or that I still want to read!

 

The Luminaries

I’ve watched The Luminaries this summer. Although I didn’t love it, since it has too few episodes to become familiar with the characters, it left me eager to read the book by Eleanor Catton, which I’m hoping to enjoy much more. It is set in New Zealand in the 19th century and focuses on Anna Wetherell and Emery Staines.

 

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

Before reading Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, I watched the BBC adaptation in 2015. A year later, I decided to pick up the book, since the story had fascinated me. Set in the 19th century, it’s an alternate history and fantasy novel about the restoration of English magic. Two practical magicians, who have very distinctive personalities, are commissioned to help win the war against Napoleon. Continue reading

Monthly Favourites – August 2020

Another month has come to an end (since April it seems that time is flying by exceedingly fast). So, today I’m sharing with you my favourites from August! They include a book, a TV show, a music album and a blog post.

After a long while, I finally rated a book with five stars again. The Vegetarian by Han Kang is a disconcerting, affecting and extraordinary exploration of abuse, mental health issues, rebellion against social conventions and desire. Yeong-hye had always been a dutiful wife until the day that she decided to become a vegetarian after having a disturbing dream. We never read her version of events, though. The story is told from three other perspectives – her husband, her brother-in-law and her sister. It is through their angles that we become aware of what she had to endure throughout her life and what influenced her actions.

On a much lighter note, I enjoyed watching the TV series The Great on HBO Portugal (I don’t know where you can watch it in other countries). Staring Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult, it’s a gripping comedy-drama based on the rise of Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia. Don’t expect it to be historically accurate! From the very beginning, it lets viewers know that that is not the aim at all. In fact, it’s occasionally obviously outlandish. Continue reading

‘The Vegetarian’ by Han Kang

My rating: 5 stars

Human beings can cause each other unimaginable suffering, not only physically, but also psychologically. Despite its title, The Vegetarian by Han Kang is not a book about vegetarianism. It delves into the consequences of abuse, mental health problems, rebellion against social conventions and desire, achieving an unsettling, affecting and remarkable tale, which encapsulates a myriad of believable emotions and tribulations.

Yeong-hye had always been a dutiful wife. She cooked dinner, washed her husband’s clothes, prepared everything he needed in the mornings. One day, after having a strange and disquieting dream, she threw away all of the meat that they had in the fridge and became a vegetarian. Why did that dream affect her so much? The book is not told from Yeong-hye’s point of view. So, in order to understand her decision, readers have to piece together the perspectives of three other characters, and an answer can only be inferred after her sister’s memories are presented.

Han Kang split the narrative into three parts. The first one is narrated by Yeong-hye’s husband, a patently despicable man. The way in which he speaks about his wife is revolting, and his actions even more so. He was concerned that she had stopped sleeping and had started to progressively lose weight for what were only selfish reasons. He recalls her parents being also appalled at her becoming a vegetarian and having ceased to cook meat for him, as that was completely out of the norm. His contempt for Yeong-hye is obvious from the very beginning. Continue reading

A Photographic Bookshelf Tour

Bookshelf tours are some of my favourite videos to watch on YouTube, since I like knowing how other readers organise their shelves and what books they keep on them. Until recently, I thought that this type of content wasn’t really appropriate for a blog. Last month, however, I discovered Meg’s blog, The Bookish Linguist, and on it I found a post where she shared photos of her bookshelves. I immediately decided to do something similar!

My shelves are not meticulously organised. I do have two basic rules that I always stick to, though. Not only do I keep unread books apart from the ones that I’ve already read, but I also always place read books by the same author next to each other. Moreover, I try to keep books from the same collection together, whenever this doesn’t go against my main rules. I also decided not to keep all the books that I’ve read. I always keep books that I’ve rated with either five or four stars. Occasionally, I also find a place for some three-star reads, especially when they are part of a collection or feature a specific noteworthy element.

I’ve already read almost all of the books that I own, as since last year I’ve been trying to only buy books as I read them. It helps me to never stop being interested in reading the books that I own. Continue reading

‘Ghost Wall’ by Sarah Moss

My rating: 4 stars

Fiction books that focus on relevant social issues can sometimes feel merely like a lecture. That is, fortunately, not the case with Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss. It is an atmospheric and convincing character study that denounces extremism, xenophobia, violence against women and misogyny. These themes are perfectly incorporated into the plot and clearly combined with the personalities of the characters.

It was summer. Silvie, who is the narrator of the story, and her parents joined an encampment in rural Northumberland organised by the archaeology professor Jim Slade, whose aim was to recreate life during the Iron Age. Her father, a bus driver, was obsessed with discovering more about the way of life in Ancient Britain. He also seemed to give excessive importance to English purity. In the past, he hadn’t let Silvie eat traditional food from other countries. Her mother subjugated herself to all of his needs and whims.

As Silvie intersperses the recalling of the events at the camping site with other memories from her life, her personality becomes fully understandable. She didn’t know what she wanted to do in the future, but she aspired to some sort of freedom, in order to escape from her domineering and aggressive father. That is probably the reason why she listened with interest as the professor’s students spoke about travelling around Europe and seeing the recently fallen Berlin Wall. Continue reading

‘História de Quem Vai e de Quem Fica’ (‘Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay’) by Elena Ferrante

My rating: 4 stars

Elena and Lila’s friendship is at the forefront of the first two books in the Neapolitan Novels, My Brilliant Friend and The Story of a New Name (about which there will be spoilers), despite both also featuring various social considerations. In História de Quem Vai e de Quem Fica (Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay in the English translation), on the other hand, Elena Ferrante chose to focus mainly on Elena’s personal tribulations and on various political issues. Nevertheless, for the most part, it is still as engaging as the previous novels.

The book starts with Elena remembering the last time that she saw Lila before her disappearance. She hopes that Lila will somehow discover that she is writing their story and will reappear, since she has forbidden Elena to ever write about her. She then turns her attention to the last event from the previous book, more than 40 years beforehand. After encountering Nino Sarratore at the presentation of her book, they went out for dinner with other two companions. She started doubting her capabilities again. She didn’t know enough about the topics that they were discussing – the political situation in Greece, the prominence of the students’ movement throughout Europe – which led her to feel inadequate.

Although she was not particularly attached to Naples anymore, she returned there for a while to stay with her family. She spent her time gathering information about what was happening around the world, while dealing with both the positive and the negative reviews of her book. People from the neighbourhood were only interested in asking her about the spicy parts, which vexed her. Continue reading

Huge Books on My Wish List

Since I’ve started setting myself a minimum number of books to read in each given year, I feel like I’ve been (unconsciously) avoiding picking up huge books. I only read around an hour per day on average, so it takes me several weeks to read a book longer than 800 pages. There are four massive books that I want to read soon, though! And by soon, I mean probably next year, since I will have to either maybe lower the number of books on my usual reading challenge or not to have one at all.

 

The Crimson Petal and The White by Michel Faber

Set in Victorian London, it has as main character Sugar, a young woman trying to achieve a better life in any way she can. It is around 860 pages long. As the majority of the reviews that I read are quite positive, it has inexcusably been on my wish list for far too long.

 

Assassin’s Quest by Robin Hobb

I’ve enjoyed the first two books in the fantasy series The Farseer Trilogy (the first one more than the second to be honest), whose main character and narrator is the royal bastard Fitz. Thus, I’m curious to read the third instalment, Assassin’s Quest. At the same time, however, I’m fearful, as I found Royal Assassin unnecessarily lengthy and its follow-up is even longer. Will it justify being around 840 pages long? Continue reading

Monthly Favourites – July 2020

August is already underway, but I still have to share with you my favourites from last month. I haven’t forgotten! They include a book, a film, a blog post and a music album.

My favourite book from the four that I finished in July is The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. It is an engrossing retelling of the Iliad that, despite being told mainly from the point of view of Briseis, who became a bed-slave during the Trojan war, also presents the perspectives of Achilles and Patroclus at some occasions. As the story is told from different viewpoints, it successfully sets a contrast between how women who became slaves had to grieve quietly, while men were free to do so openly. It features believable, intricate characters and evocative descriptions.

Throughout last month, I mainly watched TV series, but none blew me away. I enjoyed How to Train Your Dragon 2, the only film that I watched, far more. Taking place a few years after the first film, this computer-animated fantasy film is both sad and comforting. Vikings and dragons live in harmony until their lives are disturbed by Drago. I also cherished learning more about Hiccup’s family. Continue reading