‘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 was always 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

‘Treasure Island’ by Robert Louis Stevenson

My rating: 2 stars

When I decided to read Treasure Island, I was expecting a story full of electrifying adventures, remarkable pirates and a compelling plot. Unfortunately, none of these things awaited me in the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson. I felt bored while reading and had to force myself to finish it, hoping for a pinch of a thrilling sensation that never came. This is a story about how far men can go in search of a treasure but with no excitement whatsoever.

We are introduced to the story by Jim Hawkins, whose father is the owner of an inn. One of their clients is a sea captain, later revealed to be Flint, who has an unhealthy passion for rum. One day, after receiving the visit of a mysterious blind beggar, he collapses and dies. This is the second death in a short period of time, since Jim’s father, who was ill, had died some days before.

Afterwards, Jim and his mother open the captain’s truck and take some money by way of payment for his stay at the inn, and an oilskin packet. As they hear a group of people approaching, they leave the inn in fear. The uninvited visitors are searching for something that was in the captain’s possession: the oilskin packet which conceals the location of a treasure. Jim then goes looking for Dr Livesey and they decide to sail and fetch Captain Flint’s hidden treasure. They manage to acquire a ship and gather a crew. But on board is John Silver, working as a cook, accompanied by other pirates. Continue reading

‘The Power’ by Naomi Alderman

My rating: 3 stars

The premise of The Power by Naomi Alderman is truly thought-provoking: what would happen if women discovered they had supreme power? From the epigraph, it makes the reader aware of how too much power can corrupt, leading us to think if it wouldn’t be better to live in a society characterised by equality instead. However, it lacks character development and some of the events are mentioned in a too fast succession without enough background, what I missed in order to better understand the actions and feelings of the characters.

This is a work of speculative fiction that presents to the reader the manuscript of an historical novel written by Neil Armon, who is asking fellow author Naomi for her insight. It’s through his writings that the reader is introduced to the story of how girls started to electrocute people with their hands all over the world. The way in which the effects of the electric shocks are described are quite visual and detailed.

The story is told from four main points of view at first (more are added afterwards), and features drawings and documents, giving the impression of an historical report. Roxy, a 14-year-old girl at the beginning of the story, is one of the first women to use the power, the lightening shock expelled through the hands, when some men invade her house and kill her mother. Soon other girls start doing the same around the globe. It’s the young women who then awake the power in the older ones. This fact raises the question if it is in the hands of young women to do something that will lead to the empowerment of all women. Continue reading

‘Contos Exemplares’ by Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen

My rating: 4 stars

The collection of short stories Contos Exemplares (Exemplary Tales in the English translation) was published for the first time in the 60’s and that is quite noticeable in various of the seven tales. Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, a renowned Portuguese poet, wrote these stories mainly focusing on poverty, suffering, and what would need to be changed in order to achieve a fairer society.

In the first short story in this collection, ‘O Jantar do Bispo’, we are introduced to the owner of a great property. He wants to get rid of the new priest of the parish, who speaks about the misery of the poor, as they work all day for meagre wages. In order to achieve his purpose, he is counting on the bishop to support him. Through a compelling prose, this story touches on the issues of poverty, worker’s rights, freedom, democracy and the hypocrisy of some members of the Catholic Church.

Poverty and suffering are, in fact, recurring themes in this collection. They are clearly present in ‘O Homem’ but also in ‘Os Três Reis do Oriente’, a story about the Three Wise Men taking place before the birth of Jesus. They are trying to seek the truth and looking for a better God, who would not only protect the rich but the oppressed. There are also mentions to poetry, what is fitting since some sentences have quite a lyrical sound. Continue reading

‘Orlando’ by Virginia Woolf

My rating: 3 stars

Orlando by Virginia Woolf is one of those books that I can understand why it’s so celebrated but that I didn’t particularly enjoyed reading. The messages conveyed are quite relevant and thought-provoking. However, I didn’t really feel a strong connection with any of the characters nor was I gripped by the story being told.

The book is a fictional biography about Orlando, who at the beginning of the tale is a sixteen-year-old noble boy from the 16th century. He loved being alone, was shy and wrote poetry. For a period of time he went to live at Queen Elizabeth’s court and she was very fond of him. He got engaged to Lady Margaret when King James was the one sitting on the throne, but one day he meets the muscovite Sasha, who becomes the only one he wants to pay attention to. He stops being clumsy and is full of grace. However, their story doesn’t have a happy ending.

Afterwards Orlando chooses to live in solitude, wants to avoid falling in love and is eager to spend his time only in the company of books. In fact, he loves reading and aspires to be a poet, what was uncommon at the time. Continue reading