Monthly Favourites – October 2020

Favourites were scarce in October, which is unsurprising this year. I have watched a couple of TV series, but they didn’t blow me away, and the new adaptation of Rebecca was extremely infuriating. This post is about my favourites, though. This edition features a book, a documentary and a blog post.

Although I only finished two books last month, one of them was amazing. It was a pleasure to rediscover Atonement by Ian McEwan more than a decade after first reading it in translation. When Briony saw her sister Cecilia and Robbie near the fountain at their house’s garden, her imagination was propelled. Her misunderstanding of their relationship had devastating consequences. This is a highly compelling novel. The structure perfectly fits the plot and a great variety of emotions are outstandingly conveyed.

As someone who often uses social media, I am interested in how it affects society. The Social Dilemma, a documentary with drama elements available on Netflix, explores how social media platforms are deliberately causing users to become addicted, in order to increase revenue from ads, how they have serious effects on mental health, and how they are increasing polarisation in politics, creating an “us vs them” mentality. The interviews with people from within the industry are enlightening, and the fictional story presented verges on the horror. Continue reading

‘Atonement’ by Ian McEwan

My rating: 5 stars

It is novels such as Atonement by Ian McEwan that attest to the magic of the written word. I first read this fully immersive book in Portuguese more than a decade ago and have now (re)read it in the original. This story about how the imagination of a clueless girl has devastating consequences on the lives of others is a literary feast, which is written in an engaging prose and is full of unforgettable moments between the characters.

Briony had been writing stories since she was very young. On a day in the summer of 1935, at the age of thirteen, she decided to write and stage a play, ‘The Trials of Arabella’, to welcome home her brother Leon. Her decision to embrace a new format was inspired by the presence of her cousins, whose parents were getting divorced. The twins Jackson and Pierrot were nine years old, and Lola, who liked to act as a grown-up, was fifteen. Although her cousins were not too excited to act in the play at first, they ended up assenting to.

Cecilia, Briony’s older sister, had also recently returned home from Cambridge. After picking some wild flowers to put in the room where a friend of Leon’s, the chocolate magnate Paul Marshall, was going to stay, she decided to arrange them in an expensive vase. Nearby was Robbie Turner who tried to help her fill the vase with water on the fountain in the garden. The lip of the vase broke, though, and two pieces fell in the water. Cecilia stripped off her clothes and plunged into the fountain to get them back. Continue reading

Films I Watched Before Reading the Books

Many people favour reading the books before watching the film adaptations. I don’t have a strong preference. While sometimes I make sure to read the book beforehand, other times I just watch the film and then read (or not) the book afterwards. In fact, I discovered a couple of my favourite books thanks to their adaptations. There are at least four films that I watched before picking up the books.

 

Atonement

Directed by Joe Wright and released in 2007, Atonement was the film that introduced me to the work of Ian McEwan. I read the book (more precisely the Portuguese translation) shortly after watching the film at the cinema. Set in different time periods, the story starts in 1935, when Briony is rehearsing a play. She misunderstands the relationship between her older sister Cecilia and Robbie, leading her to want to atone for her actions.

 

Pride and Prejudice

I also watched the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen before reading the book. I know that not everyone is a fan of this film, directed by Joe Wright, but I love it and have watched it many times, since a friend recommended it to me more than a decade ago. The plot is well known. Mrs Bennet is eager to marry her five daughters. Elizabeth, the second eldest, is intelligent, playful, witty and believes that she is a great reader of characters, although she sometimes judges people without knowing all the facts. One of them is Mr Darcy, who struggles to overcome his pride. Continue reading

Read in Translation, Want to Read the Original

As those of you who have been following my blog for a while probably already know, my first language is Portuguese. The first fiction book that I read in its entirety in English was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling, because I didn’t want to wait for the translation. It was only after 2010, however, that I started reading the original versions of English books more recurrently. Nowadays, I don’t read the translations of books originally written in English anymore. Not only is it a great way to practise my English reading skills, but ordering books from the UK is also cheaper than to buy them in Portugal.

There are three books by English authors that I read the translation into Portuguese, but that I’m eager to read the original version of.

 

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I read the Portuguese translation of Pride and Prejudice, titled Orgulho e Preconceito, more or less 13 years ago. The heroine of the novel is Elizabeth Bennet. Her mother is eager to marry all of her five daughters. Elizabeth is playful, intelligent and witty, but she also makes quick judgements about people. One of them is Mr Darcy. The misunderstandings between the two of them are also a consequence of his prideful nature and of the importance he gives to social status. The believable characters are accompanied by great moments of satire. Continue reading

Favourite Books with a Historical Backdrop

Whenever I’m book shopping, one of the many things that catches my attention is the time period in which a story is set in. I tend to like books which either the entirety or only part of the action takes place at the time of an important historical event. These are books whose fictional characters and events end up being embroiled in a real historical episode in one way or another, and that can be labelled as historical fiction or not.

I categorise as historical fiction the books that not only are set in the past, but which were written by authors who were born after the time period in which their novel unfolds. In these cases, authors don’t have a first-hand experience of the period they depicted in their novels. Books with a historical backdrop, on the other hand, can be written by authors who lived during the time period the story is set in or not. But, and more importantly for this distinction, besides depicting the manners and other details about a particular time period, these books feature an important real historical event. So, for me, a novel with a historical backdrop is not necessarily historical fiction.

After explaining how I describe books with a historical backdrop, I can now reveal which ones are my favourites. Continue reading

On Adaptations: Are the Books Always Better?

Whenever a new film or TV adaptation is announced, it isn’t difficult to find someone saying that the books are always better. That is a statement that I’ve never agreed with. The vast majority of the adaptations that I’ve watched, I enjoyed as much as the books. Some I even liked more than the books. Although it’s true that I believe that some adaptations may not do a book justice, this is far from the rule for me.

I really struggle to claim that a book is better than its adaptation, or vice versa, mainly because I would be comparing two completely different forms of entertainment, which require different ways of storytelling. What works fantastically on page may not work on screen. I tend to compare the enjoyment I had when reading the book or watching the film or TV adaptation instead of saying one is better than the other. The fact that I liked reading about a story more than watching it on screen doesn’t automatically make the adaptation a bad one.

However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t bad adaptations. If the adaptation completely misrepresents the feelings, the tone or the entire plot of the story to the point that it stops making sense, then it is not only a bad adaptation but also a bad film or TV show. I don’t expect all the plot points to be presented on screen in the exactly same way in which they were written. I don’t mind changes on adaptations at all, as long as they make sense in the context of the story being told, or they result in a more compelling story on screen. Continue reading

Favourite Book-To-Film Adaptations: Atonement

Atonement, first released in 2007, is one of those films that I could watch many times over the years without ever getting tired of it. Based on the novel of the same name by Ian McEwan, it is one of my favourite book-to-film adaptations, managing to accurately translate onto the screen both the characters’ feelings and misinterpretations that are part of the plot of the book.

The story starts in 1935. Briony Tallis, a 13-year-old girl from a wealthy English family, has just finished writing a play and is trying to stage it with the help of her three visiting cousins – a teenage girl, Lola, and the youngest twin brothers. Since they get bored and decide to go swimming instead, Briony finds herself alone in the room and witnesses a moment of sexual tension between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a long-time servant. However, she misunderstands what she observes, leading to a gloomy outcome, which she passes the rest of her life trying to atone for.

Directed by Joe Wright, the film achieves to exceptionally convey important actions and details that make the story move forward. The difference between what really happened between Cecilia and Robbie near the house’s fountain and Briony’s erroneous interpretation is translated onto the screen through the shutting of a window. There is also the bee on the room, the wrong letter and the hair adornment falling on the floor close to the library. Continue reading

Ian McEwan: A Problem of Unpredictability

Whenever I think about buying a book by Ian McEwan, I ponder very carefully before finally making a decision, because I’m never quite sure if I’m going to enjoy it or not. I have read a total of seven books by the English author, who was born in 1948. While some I genuinely liked, others I really regretted buying and ended up giving them away.

Ian McEwan has won several awards since he became an author. The first one was the Somerset Maugham Award for the collection of short stories First Love, Last Rites, published in 1975. He also won the Man Booker Prize in 1998 with Amsterdam.

My four favourite books written by Ian McEwan have one thing in common: an important historical or more current event is used as the background for the main plot. This is the case with The Innocent, Atonement, Saturday and Sweet Tooth. Continue reading

Favourite Female Characters

Tomorrow, the 8th of March, we celebrate the International Women’s Day, not only to honour the women who fought for equal rights and celebrate women’s economic, political and social achievements, but also to highlight the importance of continuing the path to gender parity. Unfortunately, I haven’t read enough books about female rights to give book recommendations focusing on the topic. So, instead I decided to choose my favourite female characters.

The characters I’ve selected as my favourites are not necessarily women that fought for equality of the sexes or that advocated for any kind of change. They are solely characters that stood out to me for their characteristics or actions throughout the books they are part of.

In no special order, these are some of my favourite female characters: Continue reading

Favourite Love Stories

To celebrate Valentine’s day, I decided to reveal some of my favourite love stories featured in novels. I usually don’t read books that focus solely on a love story with nothing more happening throughout the plot besides the couple trying to get together or solve any problems they may have. I enjoy books featuring loves stories, but they have to be accompanied by a compelling plot, witticism, an interesting historical background, an epic adventure, or an array of complex characters.

I will try not to reveal many significant plot points about the books I am about to mention, but in order to convey my thoughts on some of the relationships I can’t completely avoid spoilers. So, if you haven’t read the following books and really don’t want to know too many things about them, it’s better not to read the short texts under my choices.

In no special order, these are some of my favourite love stories featured in books: Continue reading