‘The Testaments’ by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 3 stars

To describe a book as a page-turner is usually a compliment. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood has that gripping power of highly compelling reads, but it lacks emotion, details and character exploration. Set in the same fictional world as The Handmaid’s Tale, it’s nowhere near as affecting as its predecessor. Although it offers interesting insights about the inception and disintegration of Gilead, the prose is not poignant enough and the plot is too predictable.

The story is told from three different points of view – Aunt Lydia, Agnes Jemima and Daisy. Secretly, at the Ardua Hall’s library, Aunt Lydia, who was introduced in The Handmaid’s Tale, decided to write about her role within Gilead and her memories concerning the inception of the regime. Before the establishment of Gilead, she had been a family court judge. She recalled how her life quickly changed afterwards. What she had to endure was brutal. But now she was a crucial element within that repressive and puritanical state, which divided society into very defined roles. Her importance was such that nine years before, she had been given a statue.

Agnes Jemima is a girl who grew up in Gilead. The man whom she believed to be her father was a Commander. Readers are aware from the very beginning that he is not her biological father, though, since the woman whom she thought was her mother, Tabitha, used to say that she chose her as her daughter. After Tabitha’s death, when Agnes was around nine years old, her father married another woman, Paula, and a Handmaid was brought into the house, which meant that they wanted to have a child. This was when Agnes discovered that the people she had always called mother and father weren’t really her parents. Her real mother had tried to take her across the border to Canada, but they were caught. Continue reading

Love a Book, Judge the Next

Loving the first book that we read by an author is a fabulous experience, regardless if they are at the beginning of their writing career or if they already have various books published. The downside is that it can make us be much harsher when reading a second book by them. I think this happened to me a few times. I loved the first books that I read by certain authors so much that I ended up being much severe when judging my following reads by them.

 

Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

The first book that I read by Daphne du Maurier was the magnificent Rebecca, an enthralling, enigmatic and atmospheric novel, which is full of fleshed out characters. After marrying Maxim de Winter, the unnamed narrator moved with him to his family home, Manderley. She already felt inferior to his first wife, Rebecca, before, but living there only increased her insecurities and her sense of inaptitude.

After loving Rebecca, I was eager to continue exploring Du Maurier’s work. I soon picked up My Cousin Rachel. Philip, the narrator of the story, was raised by his older cousin Ambrose, who married Rachel while in Italy. Not long after his marriage, he died. Although Philip harboured suspicions about the role of his cousin Rachel in Ambrose’s death, he ended up falling in love with her. There’s a mysterious ambience throughout, as readers are skilfully led to have conflicting feelings about the characters. I was not fully convinced by how Philip fell so head over heels with Rachel, though. Despite being certain that I didn’t like it nowhere near as much as Rebecca, I feel like I was a bit too harsh on my review. Continue reading

‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ by Anne Brontë

My rating: 4 stars

The Brontë family wasn’t short of talent. The epistolary novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by the youngest of the Brontë sisters, Anne, is a story about how women cannot hope to change men’s behaviour after marriage and how a mother will always try to protect her son. Offering two complementary perspectives, this book comprises various fleshed out characters. But the pacing is not always perfect.

Gilbert Markham decides to write a long letter to his old friend J. Halford to reveal to him significant moments from his life. In the autumn of 1827, Gilbert’s mother and sister paid a visit to the new inhabitant of Wildfell Hall, a young widowed woman called Mrs Helen Graham. Only later did he make her acquaintance. As he was once passing by Wildfell Hall, he saw Mrs Graham’s son, Arthur, on the top of a wall and helped him climb out of it. This was only the first time that he had the opportunity to speak with her.

A few days later, Mrs Graham also paid a visit to the family at Linden-Car. They discussed her son’s education. It wasn’t part of her plans to send him to school, since she wanted to prepare him for the challenges of life herself. She believed that there was no need for boys and girls to have different types of education. Gilbert’s mother disagreed with her views and considered her to be too obstinate. Continue reading

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

Books Between a 3 and a 4-Star Rating

Deciding on the rating of a book can sometimes be difficult. I usually struggle when my opinions and feelings about a book change throughout the reading experience. Some books have great beginnings, while others become outstanding closer to the end. I decided early on not to give half-stars, since that would make me overthink (even more) the rating. Why only give a book 3.5 stars when it could maybe be a 3.75? That decision left me with another problem, though – how to rate books that I enjoyed for the most part, but that I also had more qualms about than I typically do for a four-star read.

There are at least five books that I struggled to decide whether to rate with four or three stars.

 

Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb

The second book in The Farseer Trilogy continues to tell the story of Fitz, who, being the bastard son of Prince Chivalry, is a member of the Farseer royal family. Court intrigue, battles and magic abound in this novel that I rated with four stars after some contemplation. For almost half of the book, the plot doesn’t seem to have a well-defined direction and the pacing is all over the place. However, the rest of the book is engaging and affecting. The characters gain a new life and shine as bright as in the first book in the trilogy, Assassin’s Apprentice. 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

Nobel Prize in Literature Winners I’ve Read

The American poet Louise Glück has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in this bizarre 2020. I’ve never read her work, so I don’t have an opinion on how deserved the recognition is. There are other Nobel Prize Winners whose books I’ve read, though. Some I liked immensely, a couple I have almost no recollection of, and others I just didn’t enjoy at all. Literature is not objective after all and we all have opinions.

 

Svetlana Alexievich

The Belarusian author Svetlana Alexievich won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2015 “for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time”, as the Swedish Academy put it. I’ve only read one book by her, so far. I had high hopes for Chernobyl Prayer, but my expectations weren’t met. This non-fiction book about the nuclear disaster that took place in 1986 in Ukraine and highly affected Belarus is a collection of testimonies, some of which are invaluable. Alexievich interviewed former workers of the power plant, doctors, scientists, soldiers and displaced people. Although it raises interesting questions, overall it lacks context and editing to make the testimonies more engaging.

 

Mario Vargas Llosa

In 2010, the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa was awarded the Nobel “for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt and defeat”. Many years ago, I read the novel The Way to Paradise, which I don’t remember much about to be honest. I’m not even sure whether I enjoyed it or not anymore. It focuses on the painter Paul Gauguin and the feminist Flora Tristan, who was his grandmother. Continue reading

Monthly Favourites – September 2020

I’m starting to dread writing my monthly favourites and there’s only one reason for that. I’ve no idea how to introduce these posts anymore without sounding like a broken record. Well, what can I say? This instalment is short and sweet, as it consists only of a book, a film and a song.

If you’ve read my review of The Confession by Jessie Burton, you may be surprised to know that it is my favourite book from the ones that I read in September. I enjoyed reading it, but I sounded disappointed in my review, since I couldn’t help comparing it to Burton’s previous novels, which I adored. Her third book for adults is a story about motherhood which promises to reveal what happened to Rose’s mother, Elise Morceau, who disappeared before her first birthday. In order to discover what happened, Rose decides to go look for Constance Holden, the last person to see her. Although it features a mystery, this is mainly a character-focused novel. The characters get progressively more interesting and the story more engaging.

Near the end of the month, I highly enjoyed watching Enola Holmes on Netflix. The main character of this film, played by Millie Bobby Brown, is the teenage sister of the famous detective Sherlock Holmes. Their mother leaves one night without explanation and Enola, who had a very special education, decides to go search for her in London. It’s both funny and endearing. Continue reading

‘The Confession’ by Jessie Burton

My rating: 4 stars

A story about motherhood and the distress that it may cause, The Confession by Jessie Burton promises to solve a mystery – what happened to Rose’s mother? But that truly isn’t the focus of this novel, which is set in two different time periods. Readers are introduced to Rose as she tries to understand herself and figure out what she aspires to do in life. For that reason, the characters are the main allure of this book, which is neither as enthralling nor bewitching as The Miniaturist and The Muse. Although it is a competent work of fiction, it lacks the magnetism of Burton’s previous novels.

On a winter afternoon in 1980, 23-year-old Elise Morceau went to Hampstead Heath in London to meet a man on the advice of her landlord. He didn’t appear, though. Instead, she ended up crossing paths with Constance Holden, whom she later discovered was a writer. Soon after they met, Elise moved in with Connie. She was deeply infatuated and treated her almost with reverence. Two years later, they both moved to Los Angeles, as one of Connie’s books was to be adapted to film. While in LA, Connie became colder and more distant.

In 2017, 34-year-old Rose recalls in the first person what it was like growing up without knowing where her mother was. Elise disappeared without a trace before she was one year old, leaving her with her father. As a little child, Rose used to always tell her friends that her mother was travelling. At 14, she started telling them that she had died. In her twenties, as some of her friends had really experienced losing their parents, saying the truth felt like the only humane option. Continue reading

So Different and So Similar Pairs of Books

Two books can have significant elements in common and still tell different stories. Characters may face similar situations, but their individual choices take the plots in completely different directions. The themes of two novels may be similar, but the action, the characters and the writing style ensure that they are ultimately distinctive and readers are still experiencing a fresh story.

I’ve read (at least) four pairs of books that are both different and similar for various reasons.

 

História do Cerco de Lisboa (The History of the Siege of Lisbon) by José Saramago + The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier

These two novels have in common being my least favourites, so far, by José Saramago and Daphne du Maurier, two authors I adore. This is not the reason why I chose them to be part of this post. Both of them are also set in two different time periods, which are connected by a man. The tribulations that the characters face, however, are completely different. Continue reading