‘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

‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier

My rating: 5 stars

In Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier exceled at creating what I would call a compelling character study elegantly wrapped up in a looming mystery. Throughout the book, we see the unnamed narrator slowly evolving from a timid and insecure young woman, living under Rebecca’s shadow, into a more assured person. To discover the motivations of the other characters is a helpful impetus to the narrator’s growing process.

From a later period in time, the narrator remembers Manderley and what led her there. She met Maxim de Winter at Monte Carlo, where she was working as a companion for Mrs Van Hopper, who is inconvenient, intrusive and far from discreet. She managed to forcefully get acquainted with Mr de Winter, a moment the narrator, who accompanied her, recalls as embarrassing. During that first encounter, Maxim de Winter is remembered by the narrator as fascinating, although slightly sardonic. His remarks really made me laugh.

Once, Mrs Van Hopper fell ill and the narrator had lunch alone with de Winter by chance. A familiarity developed between them and the hardness she had previously perceived in him disappeared. But any mention of Manderley, his house, and his face clouded over. After lunch, they spent the afternoon together and drove to the summit of a mountain where Maxim had been before. For a moment, he was in kind of a trance, like he wasn’t really there. Continue reading

‘Fahrenheit 451’ by Ray Bradbury

My rating: 4 stars

What would happen if people became content with living with no real knowledge? Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is a mix of science fiction and dystopian novel which introduces the reader to the awakening journey of a man and the outcome of his new understating of the type of society he belongs to.

Guy Montag is a fireman, but his job isn’t to stop the flames from destroying buildings or the natural world. He is part of a team whose purpose is to burn books, which are forbidden, counting for that with the assistance of a mechanical hound. Although, at first, he doesn’t question why they do it and takes pleasure in seeing the books burn, a new acquaintance unleashes uncertainty.

Once when going back home, Guy encounters a new neighbour, seventeen-year-old Clarisse McClellan, who is thoughtful, quite peculiar and asks questions he answers in a rush. After a conversation with her, he starts questioning if there is real happiness in his life and if society has always been the way he knows it. Their subsequent encounters enlighten the reader regarding the type of society they live in: violence among people is normal, people don’t raise questions in schools, and everyone has the same superficial conversations at cafés. But one day Clarisse disappears. Continue reading

‘Uma Casa na Escuridão’ by José Luís Peixoto

My rating: 3 stars

I have a complicated reading relationship with the Portuguese author José Luís Peixoto. I loved the first book I read by him – Livro – and mildly enjoyed the second one – Cemitério de Pianos (The Piano Cemetery in the English translation). And what about Uma Casa na Escuridão? This is one of the most absurd books I’ve ever read. The story being told isn’t plausible and doesn’t aim to be. The plot is a tool to express feelings: love, jealousy, fear, suffering and solitude. Being this a strange and complicated book, I struggled to finish it. Nevertheless, it had an impact on me.

The story is narrated in the first person by a nameless writer. He lives with his mother, who is quite debilitated, in a house full of cats. During a sleepless night, he imagines a woman who inspires him to write a book. She becomes so real that he falls in love with her. The more he writes about her and his feelings the more he loves her. He even feels jealousy when his editor, who is imprisoned, reads the first pages of the book he is working on.

When the editor dies in prison and the narrator goes to the funeral, accompanied with a childhood friend named as ‘príncipe de calicatri’, he sees on one of the many gravestones the picture of a woman who looks exactly the same as the one he has imagined, what deeply unsettles him. The story starts getting darker and stranger. Disturbing events take place, and various forms of love develop into pain. Continue reading

‘Gooseberries’ by Anton Chekhov

My rating: 4 stars

Continuing on my quest to read more short stories, I picked up a collection by Anton Chekhov. Gooseberries is a Penguin Black Classics edition featuring three short stories whose prose is not particularly startling but that is effective on getting the reader gripped and on aiding to visualise the characters’ actions.

‘The Kiss’ is filled with great social commentary while conveying the tale of a group of officers who are invited to pay a visit to Von Rabbeck at this house, since they are stationed nearby. During the visit, one of the officers, Ryabovich, is mistakenly kissed by a woman he doesn’t know. That occurrence makes him see life in a different light and changes his perception of himself.

Sophia Lvovna, the main character in ‘The Two Volodyas’, also muses on her actions and her life. She has married Colonel Yagich, who is older than her, for money not love. Once, while drunk, she contemplates if she could try to love him, but when she begins to sober up she knows that to be impossible, as she loves another, Little Volodya. Although she doesn’t seem to truly believe in God and her actions lead her onto another path, she wonders about what she can do to save her soul. Continue reading

‘The Butcher’s Hook’ by Janet Ellis

My rating: 3 stars

The Butcher’s Hook, Janet Ellis’s debut novel, left me with mixed feelings. Although it has some funny undertones, this is quite a dark and twisted tale that I was promptly interested in and eager to know the outcome of. However, the writing style and the pacing were not very consistent, and I was somewhat disappointed with the ending.

Anne Jaccob, the narrator of the story, is quite a curious young woman, whose parents have just had another daughter. But this is not the story about a joyful household. Her mother had several miscarriages beforehand, and a baby boy died some years earlier. Not having a son is for Anne’s father a great disappointment, and one day she hears him voicing it to her mother in unfriendly terms.

Along the novel, which takes place during the 18th century, we realise how Anne resents her family, mainly her father, and still mourns for the baby boy who died, since she had become quite close to him. But she doesn’t intend to feel any love for her new-born sister, showing bitterness about having to share her mother with her. Continue reading

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 4 stars

The Handmaid’s Tale can be described as a dystopian novel or as a work of speculative fiction, but at the same time it is far more than that. Margaret Atwood created a classic full of enlightening remarks about equality, freedom (or the lack of it), love, feminism and women’s agency, which serves as a warning that even the most fundamental rights can be lost.

The novel takes place in the Republic of Gilead, a totalitarian and repressive state that has established a puritanical society in the USA, where there seems to exist a problem of infertility. People are set apart according to functions, each group having a specific name and rules to obey.

Handmaids are fertile women whose single purpose is to be used by the Commanders, men who are part of the elite, to breed, since their own Wives can’t conceive. The Handmaids have had children, but they were not married, remarried after getting a divorce, or married someone who had been married before. As every second marriage was deemed illegal, their children were taken away from them. They are prepared for the role of Handmaids by the Aunts. If any baby is born, the mother will be the Commander’s Wife, however. Continue reading

‘Contos Escolhidos’ by Fernando Pessoa

My rating: 4 stars

Fernando Pessoa, a modernist Portuguese writer, is better-known as a poet and for being the author of The Book of Disquiet, but he also wrote various short stories throughout his life. I have recently finished the anthology Contos Escolhidos, comprising ten of his short stories. They are mainly characterised by being quite philosophical and sometimes even featuring esoteric elements. Some of the stories are appealing because of the writing style, while others are more plot-focused.

The first short story featured in this anthology, ‘A Very Original Dinner’, was written in English by the author and is signed by the heteronym Alexander Search. The narrator is a member of the Gastronomical Society of Berlin who spends the first part of the story analysing the personality of Herr Prosit, the president of the association. During one of their meetings, after a discussion about lack of originality, Prosit invites the other members to attend a very special dinner and afterwards challenges them to discover the reason why it was so original. I was definitely not expecting the story to unfold in the way it did. This is a very dark and twisted tale, what surprised me greatly.

All the other stories were written in Portuguese and had more philosophical elements. ‘A Estrada do Esquecimento’ is a beautifully written account of a man’s thoughts while he rides a horse together with his companions and chief. He muses on his loneliness and existence, while his fears keep on growing. ‘A Hora do Diabo’ is also quite philosophical, being a conversation with the devil about religion, humans and gods. In ‘O Adiador’ the topic explored is how delaying things that must eventually be done is different from failing. And in ‘A Caçada’ we read about a group of people who is on a hunt and, at the beginning, wonder whether they are hunting a person or an animal. This is a good, although quite short, reflexion on how humans can feel disconnected from another human being who they believe to be a criminal. Continue reading