‘Autumn’ by Ali Smith

My rating: 3 stars

Autumn, the first book in a seasonal quartet by Ali Smith, is not easy to describe. I would say it is a compilation of fragments about how 101-year-old Daniel influenced Elisabeth’s life mixed with references to current events. But for the majority of the book, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, it feels like there is no real plot being developed via the flow of the characters’ thoughts and reminiscences on life occurrences.

Daniel Gluck lives in a care home and currently spends most of his time sleeping. Some chapters are reproductions of dreams he is having. He is visited by Elisabeth Demand who pretends to be his granddaughter when in fact they used to be neighbours. She is 32 years old and a contract junior lecturer at a university in London. They first met because, when she was younger, she had to do a homework about a neighbour.

After that they started spending a lot of time together, and she even called him her unofficial babysitter. They used to speak about art, poetry, books and photography. Those conversations influenced her future life, as she went to study history of art and do her thesis on Pauline Boty, a forgotten female artist from the Pop Art movement, who Daniel had met and adored. Continue reading

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‘The Tropic of Serpents’ by Marie Brennan

My rating: 4 stars

In the second instalment of The Memoirs of Lady Trent series, titled The Tropic of Serpents, Marie Brennan reveals the story of the journey of the future prominent dragon naturalist Isabella to Eriga. As in the first book, A Natural History of Dragons, an adventure is embroidered with scientific, anthropological and social strands. But it mostly stands out when the focus is on the characters’ feelings and their personal ordeals.

Although it takes place three years after the events reported in the first book (which I will not spoil in this review), it’s connected with it by mentioning how Isabella dealt with the personal consequences of her first trip to Vystrana and how the investigation following her discoveries about dragon bones was disrupted by a robbery.

Isabella’s second adventure, which is detailed in this book, took her to Eriga, but first she had to face a challenge as difficult as her expedition: her family, more precisely her mother and her concerns. Many of the criticisms she faced were related to the existence of different expectations regarding women’s and men’s duties towards family. I have to admit that even I was ready to criticise her (as I would also censure a man in the same circumstances) before she explained how she was remembered of previous suffering by fulfilling her expected family duties. Continue reading

‘Homens Imprudentemente Poéticos’ by Valter Hugo Mãe

My rating: 2 stars

Homens Imprudentemente Poéticos by the Portuguese writer Valter Hugo Mãe tells the tale of two neighbours, Itaro and Saburo, who are in open conflict, and exposes how suffering can significantly change a man who believed in love above all. This story, full of mystic elements, takes place in ancient Japan in a small town near a mountain, where people used to go to commit suicide. But it wasn’t the dark undertones that made me dislike the book. The reason was it feeling quite pretentious.

Itaro was an artisan who could see the future by killing an animal. After stabbing a beetle, he saw that a wise man was to arrive. But that is not the vision who sparks the animosity with his neighbour Saburo, who was a potter. Once he told him that his wife, Fuyu, was going to be killed by an animal which would come down from the mountain nearby.

Since he had already started taking care of the flowers at the bottom of that mountain, Saburo decided to turn the forest into a garden, hoping to tame the animals and so avoid his wife being killed. His plan was not successful, though, and his wife died anyway. Afterwards he continued planting flowers, as he believed that if the garden became bigger, the gods would be able to see it and would love him to the point of sending his dear wife back to him. Continue reading

‘My Cousin Rachel’ by Daphne du Maurier

My rating: 4 stars

Daphne du Maurier cleverly plays with our perceptions of some of the characters featured in My Cousin Rachel by making us constantly doubt their intentions. This is the story of two men, Philip and Ambrose, plagued by suspicion. They both fell in love with Rachel even though beforehand they refused the company of women, whom they characterised negatively.

Philip’s parents died when he was only eighteen months. He was taken care of by his older cousin Ambrose, who always loved him and chose him as his heir. When Philip finished his studies at Oxford, Ambrose started to spend the winters in the south of Europe for health reasons. One year he decided to go to Florence where he fell in love and married cousin Rachel.

After receiving the news, Philip started to harbour feelings of jealousy and became concerned about having to leave the house he always lived in, because he was remembered of the possibility of Ambrose having his own son. More than a year passed and Ambrose didn’t return home. Philip started to become worried about his cousin’s long absence. His apprehensions only increased when Ambrose sent him suspicious letters. He then decided to go to Italy looking for him, but when he arrived in Florence he was already dead and cousin Rachel had left the city. Continue reading

‘Mansfield Park’ by Jane Austen

My rating: 4 stars

Mansfield Park feels different to the other Jane Austen novels that I previously read, and I believe the main reason for that is it starting when the timid heroine, Fanny Price, is still quite young. Nevertheless, it shares various characteristics with her other works, including marriage being seen by many of the characters as a means to achieve economic security, in contrast with marrying for love.

In fact, marriage is a central theme throughout the novel. We are introduced to the parents of the young main characters with a comparison between the fortune of three sisters regarding marriage. Miss Maria married Sir Thomas Bertram and became a Lady at Mansfield Park. Miss Ward married the reverend Mr Norris, a friend of Sir Thomas who gave him the opportunity to be the clergyman at Mansfield’s parsonage. But Miss Frances, despite her sisters’ opposition, married a Lieutenant of Marines who had neither education nor fortune.

After much time without corresponding with her sisters, the now Mrs Price wrote them asking for advice about her children’s future and they re-established relations. At Mrs Norris suggestion, they decided that one of Mrs Price’s daughters should go live at Mansfield Park. However, they could never let her forget that she wasn’t an equal to her cousins. Continue reading

‘Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was’ by Sjón

My rating: 4 stars

Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was by the Icelandic author Sjón is a short but powerful book. More than a tale about the young man Máni Steinn, it’s a beautifully written novella which combines fiction and reality, with one inspiring the other in more than one way.

Máni is a sixteen-year-old boy who lives in Reykjavik with his great-grandmother’s sister, since his mother died when he was really young. He is passionate about cinema, loves watching films and venerates Sóla, a girl whom he believes to be identical to an actress from a film he has seen. The book opens with Máni accompanied by one of his “gentlemen”. His encounters with them are mentioned throughout the book, and his sexual identity is not without implications.

The majority of the story takes place in 1918 and there are many mentions to historical events, such as the eruption of the Katla volcano (which is visually described through the use of colours), the referendum to independence, the First World War Armistice and the Spanish flu. Although they help the reader to place the story in a specific time, some of the references feel a bit disjointed from the rest of the plot. Continue reading

‘Diving Belles’ by Lucy Wood

My rating: 4 stars

The short stories included in the collection Diving Belles by Lucy Wood are characterised both by an interesting mix of reality with magical or mystical elements, and an insightful presence of time, achieved by a thoughtful distinction between past and present actions and feelings. The passing of time is particularly perceptible on the relationships between family members and loved ones.

The opening story, ‘Diving Belles’, is a fantastic and touching example of how the feelings of the past mingle with those of the present. Iris, the main character, goes under the sea in a diving belle to see her husband, who has been away for many years. Although at first I wasn’t really understanding what was happening, all becomes clear throughout the story. This is a really atmospheric tale, being quite easy to picture the scenes. Every word seems to have been carefully chosen.

Another of my favourite stories in this collection is ‘Of Monsters and Little People’. We are told the story of a woman who is visiting her mother. But as the narrator uses the pronoun ‘you’ throughout the story, it feels like the reader is the main character. The fact that the feelings conveyed are quite relatable also helps to attain that sensation. Despite the presence of magical elements, the story is strangely believable, which is also the case throughout the majority of this collection. Continue reading

‘A Túlipa Negra’ (‘The Black Tulip’) by Alexandre Dumas

My rating: 3 stars

A Túlipa Negra (The Black Tulip), written by Alexandre Dumas and translated to Portuguese by Mateus Valadier, is a nineteenth century historical romantic comedy featuring a man who has to pay attention to both a woman and a tulip, while his neighbour conspires against him in the background. I purchased this book a few years ago, when I was trying to read more French novels, and I must have paid no attention to the blurb, since this is not the type of story that would have caught my interest straightway.

The novel starts with the real historical conflict between the two brothers De Witt and the population of The Hague, in the Netherlands, in 1672. They were both accused of treason and ended up being lynched by the people while trying to escape to exile. I was really confused about this part of the story, because it feels like the narrator expects the reader to have previous knowledge about this event.

Before dying Corneille De Witt, sent a message to his godson, Cornelius Van Baerle, requesting him to destroy a package he had formerly left with him for safekeeping. At the time, he had asked him never to open it, since it contained dangerous information. This is when the fictional part of the novel starts to develop. Continue reading

‘A Natural History of Dragons’ by Marie Brennan

My rating: 4 stars

A Natural History of Dragons, the first book in The Memoirs of Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan, is a fantasy and adventure story with prominent scientific and anthropological strands. Throughout the novel many remarks are made about how difficult it was for a woman to be truly accepted by the scientific community. Even though the story takes place in a fictional world, it highly resembles our own some centuries ago, just with dragons flying in the skies.

Lady Trent tells in the first person the story of how she became a famous and respected dragon naturalist. Isabella was the only daughter in a set of six children and wasn’t known for her ladylike ways. She first became obsessed with all animals with wings. Her special interest in dragons began while reading the book ‘A Natural History of Dragons’ by Sir Richard Edgeworth.

Her first reckless adventure took place still in Scirland, where she was born and grew up, when she was 14 years old. Dressed as a boy, she managed to take part on the hunt for a wolf-drake, because she wanted to see it alive and not already dead. From the beginning of the story, we realise that she has always been adventurous, curious, intelligent, a little reckless, but kind-hearted. Continue reading

‘The Encyclopedia of Early Earth’ by Isabel Greenberg

My rating: 4 stars

I’m fairly sure that in the future I’ll remember The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg as the book that put me on the path to read more graphic novels. This is a beautifully published book about love, storytelling, Gods, myths and how traditional tales are passed on from generation to generation in various parts of Early Earth (the fictional planet that was at the inception of our own).

One day a Nord man and a South Pole woman meet and promptly decide to marry, as they believe to be soulmates. However, they soon realise that they can’t come within two-foot radius of each other because of a peculiar magnetic repulsion. That surprises even the wise man of the South Pole, since according to the laws of physics they should attract each other, being from opposing poles. They end up marrying nevertheless and spend part of their days telling stories to each other.

Throughout the graphic novel, we are told how the Nord man managed to get to the South Pole and why he decided to embark on that journey, as well as discover some of the people who inhabit Early Earth and their traditional tales. It all started when the three sisters of Summer Island found a baby boy on the bank of a river and some magic was added to the mix. Continue reading