Exploration of Motherhood in Books

Depicting mothers has always been a challenge that authors were willing to accept throughout history, particularly in adult fiction. They can be portrayed as the “ideal” mums, the ones that get everything right and do no wrong, but more often than not the most interesting mothers are those who are struggling in some way, that have conflicting feelings towards motherhood, that are afraid of failing, or that try incredibly hard to protect their offspring, occasionally to no avail.

In the latest years, I read some books that made me ponder on the importance that motherhood plays in stories. The mothers in Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, Circe by Madeline Miller, The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante, The Muse and The Confession by Jessie Burton are all dissimilar. Nevertheless, they have a huge relevance in the plot of the novels they are a part of, even when they are not the main characters.

If you have not read the novels I mentioned previously, I warn you that I’ll allude to some occurrences that may be considered spoilers. Continue reading

How the Seasonal Quartet by Ali Smith Ultimately Disappointed Me

My first foray into Ali Smith’s work was with Autumn, the first published novel in the Scottish author’s Seasonal Quartet. After finishing reading it, I was not eager to pick up any other of her books, but many positive reviews of Winter convinced me to continue to read this collection of novels. It ended up being the correct decision, seeing that I subsequently enjoyed both Winter and Spring. Sadly, I cannot say the same about Summer, which I’ve recently DNFed.

One of the aims of the Seasonal Quartet is to record the times we live in. For that reason, there’s an obvious immediacy to all of the books, current affairs playing an essential role in them. As much as I enjoy books that deal with politics and social issues, they only work for me when at least the characters are attention-grabbing. And that, unfortunately, was not being the case of Summer.

 

Four novels for four seasons

I was left with mixed feelings after finishing reading Autumn. It is essentially a collection of fragments focusing on how 101-year-old Daniel influenced the life of the much younger Elisabeth, plus various references to current events, including the Brexit referendum, the situation of refugees, the lack of job security, and the difficulty in finding an affordable house. There’s no real plot being developed. The book mainly only comprises the characters’ thoughts and reminiscences about their lives. Reading it both bored me to death and left me in awe of how well Ali Smith can craft sentences. Continue reading

‘Hamnet’ by Maggie O’Farrell

My rating: 5 stars

A story about grief, parenthood, love and family life, Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell is a convincing, albeit fictional, tale about the events surrounding the death of the son of a famous playwright, William Shakespeare, who is never mentioned by his name. The feelings of the characters are so palpable and intense that we can almost experience them ourselves. Although this is the story of an entire family, it is mostly Agnes who is in the spotlight. Her suffering is profoundly portrayed.

The book starts with a historical note to let readers know that this is the story of a couple who lived in Stratford in the 1580s. They had three children – Susanna, plus the twins Hamnet and Judith. We know from the outset that this is to be a sad tale. Hamnet died in 1596, when he was eleven years old. Some years later, his father wrote a play called Hamlet.

Sometime before his death, Hamnet is desperately looking for his mother, grandmother or any other member of the household, as his sister Judith is feeling unwell. He can’t find anyone. Agnes is at a garden where she grows medicinal herbs. She was called there because something was wrong with the bees. His older sister and his grandmother are in town, and his father is in London. Eventually, he finds someone in the house. Unfortunately, it is his grandfather, a disgraced glover, who is drunk and ends up throwing a cup at his face. Continue reading

Do I Want to Read My Goodreads Recommendations?

After watching Sophie’s video “If Goodreads was a dating App” on her YouTube channel, Portal in the Pages, I decided to take a look at my Goodreads recommendations. Did any of the books there appeal to me? Did I discover new books to add to my wish list? From the 40 books (I’m not going to list them all) that Goodreads thinks that, for some reason, I would like, I’m certain that I want to read merely four. I’m ambivalent about other two. These books were either already on my wish list, or I had at some point considered adding them to it. I sadly didn’t discover any new books that I may want to read in the future. Exploring my Goodreads recommendations ended up not being particularly useful.

Nevertheless, I still want to share with you the four books that I plan to read from that list, plus the two that I’m uncertain whether I want to read or not!

 

O Retorno (The Return) by Dulce Maria Cardoso

I’ve recently mentioned this book on a post about the contemporary Portuguese authors I want to read books by. It is set in 1975 after the independence of Angola. The main character, Rui, is a young boy who has recently arrived in Portugal. His family had to flee Angola and he is having a hard time settling in. Continue reading

Quarterly Favourites – April to June 2021

Three months have passed since I last wrote about my favourites from what essentially are the things that I enjoy doing in my spare time. Nevertheless, I didn’t struggle too much to select just a few of them. I could have mentioned one or two more books, as I enjoyed almost all of the ones that I read from April to June, but I slightly cherished one of them more than the others.

Set in Northern Iceland in 1829, Burial Rites by Hannah Kent is touching and poignant. Its ambience undoubtfully suits the story. Agnes, who is believably portrayed as someone who is misunderstood, was sentenced to death after being accused of killing two men, Nathan, who was her lover, and Pétur. She has to wait for the date of her execution at the house of one of the officers in the district. There she receives the visit of Assistant Reverend Thorvardur.

The TV series that I enjoyed the most during the second quarter of the year was, without a doubt, Mare of Easttown. This crime drama shines mostly thanks to the personal tribulations of the main character and her family. Kate Winslet does a fantastic job playing Mare, a detective that is investigating the murder of a young woman. Continue reading

‘Salt Slow’ by Julia Armfield

My rating: 4 stars

The majority of the short stories in the collection Salt Slow by Julia Armfield have the appearance of being true-to-life, but as we keep on reading, mystical and supernatural elements take over. Those features are used to highlight various human experiences. Several of the stories are metaphors that explore the characters’ feelings, tribulations and distress without resorting to sentimentality.

‘Mantis’, the first story in the collection, sets the mood for what is to come. What seems like a tale about an ordinary teenage girl with a skin condition turns into something much different, more unsettling. When the story comes to an end, much is left to the imagination, which doesn’t diminish its impact.

Women take centre stage in this collection, being often the main characters. In ‘The Collectables’, three friends, who are working on their theses, consider men to be a disappointment. One of them has a solution to the problem. ‘Stop Your Women’s Ears with Wax’ is less disturbing, but it also features many supernatural and mystical elements, which are mixed with the everyday life. Mona joins the crew of a girl-band to film videos for their website. Everyone in the crew is a woman, as are all the fans. Continue reading

2021 Mid-year Resolutions’ Evaluation

Can you believe that we are almost mid-way through the year? Time seems to be flying by. At the beginning of the year, I set myself some goals / resolutions regarding my reading and the content that I create for the blog. Am I bound to fulfil them? I think that I’ve been making good progress in order to be successful at the end of the year, at least concerning the majority of the resolutions.

In 2021, I set the goal of reading at least 25 books. This is a lower number than in previous years, because I’m planning to read a couple of huge books (longer than 800 pages). I’ve read twelve books so far and am mid-way through another one! Goodreads tells me that I’m one book ahead of schedule, so achieving this goal seems more than plausible. Of the massive books that I was hoping to read this year, I’ve already DNFed two of them for different reasons and at different points. I gave up on War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy after reading just a couple of chapters, while I read almost half of The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber before abandoning it.

Other of my resolutions for this year is to read at least eight books by Lusophone authors. I’ve read four so far, which means that I still have plenty of time to achieve my goal. I just may not read precisely the ones that I was thinking about when I wrote the post on my resolutions some months ago. Continue reading

‘Burial Rites’ by Hannah Kent

My rating: 4 stars

The picture that people paint of a person may not be entirely accurate. At first, Agnes, the protagonist of Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, instils fear in many of the other characters in this historical fiction novel. She has been considered a criminal after all. But, as time passes, they start to see another side of her, she stops being just a stranger that committed a crime. The same happens to the reader. Throughout the book, set in Northern Iceland in 1829, we learn more about her previous predicaments, making it easy to empathise with her and feel her pain.

Agnes Magnúsdóttir is one of the three people charged with the murder of two men, Nathan, who was her lover, and Pétur. She is sentenced to death. At the orders of the District Commissioner, she is to wait for the date of her execution at the house of one of the officers in the district, Jón. His wife, Margrét, isn’t happy about it, and neither are their daughters, Lauga and Steina.

While staying there, Agnes receives the visit of Assistant Reverend Thorvardur, whom she requested as her spiritual advisor and the priest responsible for her absolution. Their paths had crossed in the past, but he doesn’t remember her at first. He is not confident of his abilities to carry this task, as he doesn’t have much practice as a reverend yet. Continue reading

Most Owned and Read Authors – Second Update

There’s something special about reading a book by an author whose work we are becoming increasingly familiar with. It doesn’t matter how many books we have read by some authors, we still want to continue to explore their work, compare and contrast, discover similarities or disparities between books. For that reason, there are some authors that are more prevalent than others on our shelves.

I wrote my first ‘Most Owned and Read Authors’ post in 2017. Back then, I still had on my shelves many of the books that I had read as a child and a teenager. I since then gave almost all of them away, as I didn’t plan to read them ever again and had lost that somewhat inexplicable sentimental connection with them. I also started to only keep on my shelves the books that I either loved or enjoyed, plus some that I only found passable but that have some special characteristic to them. Still, as there weren’t many changes on the authors featured on the first update of my most owned and read authors a year later, I decided to stop writing this kind of posts annually.

I have now realised that two authors (Daphne du Maurier and José Saramago) who didn’t even make it onto the list before have since then become significantly prominent. The time has come for a second update! It’s important to recall that these are not necessarily the authors that I have read more books by. But they are in a way the ones that I’ve enjoyed the most books by, either because they have written book series I cherished or because I’m an admirer of their work in general. Continue reading

Contemporary Portuguese Authors I Want to Read

With a couple of exceptions, Portuguese authors are not that well known in the English-speaking world. That is one of the reasons why I review almost all of the books I read by them even when translations into English are not yet available. Though I try to read a mix of books written in English and in Portuguese, I feel that I haven’t been reading many contemporary Portuguese authors recently. And by contemporary, for the purpose of this post, I mean authors who are currently alive.

There are six contemporary Portuguese authors that I haven’t read any books by yet, but whose work I’m curious about. Many of their books appeal to me. Nevertheless, there is one book by each of them that I’m more eager to read than the others (I may always change my mind, though).

 

João Tordo

Born in 1975, João Tordo won the José Saramago Prize in 2009. Despite his relatively young age, he has close to twenty books published. His novels have been catching my attention for some time now, but I haven’t read one yet for reasons unknown. I plan to change that soon. I’ll probably start with Felicidade, whose main character is a 17-year-old teenage boy who feels trapped between two worlds. He falls in love with Felicidade, one of three identical twins, who are known as the Kopejka sisters, in 1973, a time when modernity and tradition are clashing. Continue reading