Most Disappointing Books of 2019

Every year there are books that I hope to at least mildly enjoy but that end up being disappointing for a variety of reasons. 2019 was sadly full of those books. And they were not disappointing in the sense that I only didn’t love them as much as I was expecting to. I truly didn’t like them. Some I read in their entirety and rated with two stars, while others I decided not to finish, as I had no hope to start enjoying them at any point.

First, there were three books that I read until the very end but that I didn’t like.

 

The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin

Two women, Hester and Rebekah, who are developing feelings for one another, try to discover why people are disappearing around London in 1831. The premise sounded promising. However, there is no aura of mystery throughout the book, in part because the descriptions are soulless. The plot is unjustifiably meandering. Some events are completely unnecessary for the clarification of what is supposed to be the main mystery. And there is also too much telling and not enough showing. I only kept reading because I was mildly curious to know the reason behind the disappearances. Continue reading

Books Waiting Too Long to Be Read

I always try to keep my TBR pile under control. Thus, I generally read the majority of the books that I buy in the subsequent months. Occasionally, however, some of them are left waiting as I decide to pick up newer additions to my shelves. I’ve recently realised that there are five books on my shelves waiting to be read since 2017. I’m still interested in reading almost all of them, but my enthusiasm has waned since then.

 

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

I bought this book back in January 2017, I believe, but for reasons unknown never got around to reading it. This is a crime novel written by J.K. Rowling under a pseudonym. Private detective Cormoran Strike investigates the apparent suicide of a troubled model. This will be the year that I’ll finally read it!

 

Vozes do Vento by Maria Isabel Barreno

This book by the Portuguese writer Maria Isabel Barreno is the one that I’m least eager to pick up. I read about four pages soon after buying it, but as I couldn’t get into it I decided to put it down and give it another try in the future. It is a family colonial saga set in Cape Verde. Continue reading

Fernando Pessoa in the Work of Other Authors

Fernando Pessoa is one of the most iconic names in Portuguese literature. All over Lisbon we can find many depictions of him wearing his legendary black fedora hat and somewhat rounded glasses. While some tourists are not familiar with the writer and thus pass by the tributes to his genius obliviously, others make sure to visit ‘Casa Fernando Pessoa’ and to take pictures near his statues. Born in 1888, he was a modernist writer who came up with the concept of ‘heteronyms’ – different voices with their own biographies and writing styles. He also served as inspiration for various artists, including painters and other renowned authors. José Saramago and Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen are among those he inspired.

In O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis (The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis) by José Saramago, Fernando Pessoa’s influence is palpable. The main character in this novel is inspired by one of Pessoa’s many heteronyms, the doctor and poet Ricardo Reis. After many years living in Brazil, he returns to Lisbon in 1936, following the death of his friend Fernando Pessoa. He finds a country living under a recent fascist regime.

The reference to Pessoa in O Homem Duplicado (The Double) also by Saramago is much subtler. This is a book about a man who discovers that there is a person completely identical to him, while watching a film. Throughout the book, he has many conversations with his common sense. In one of those interactions there is a witty allusion to Fernando Pessoa, although his name is not directly stated. Continue reading

Books I Struggled to Rate

Sometimes, as soon as I finish a book, I instantaneously know how many stars I’m going to award it. Other times, to choose one from only five numbers becomes a hugely challenging task. My main difficulty, so far, has been deciding whether some books were 3 or 4-star reads. There was also an instance when I was unsure whether a book deserved a 2 or a 3-star rating.  However, I’ve never had indecisions involving possible 5-star reads – those are just faultless books in my eyes, easy!

Since I’ve started this blog, the following books were the ones that I remember struggling the most to rate.

 

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

In All the Light We Cannot See, readers are introduced to the stories of Marie-Laure and Werner, whose lives are deeply affected by the events of the Second World War. The overall story is quite inspiring, and I really appreciated the ending. However, I didn’t immediately connect with the characters, mainly because of the structure of the book, which felt too fragmented. I was unsure whether to rate it with 3 or 4 stars. I ended up going for a 4-star rating and now feel like it was the right choice. Continue reading

Discovering Fernando Pessoa around Lisbon

The life of Fernando Pessoa is imprinted in the city of Lisbon. While strolling around the Chiado and downtown neighbourhoods, we can find many traces of the poet’s usual daily life activities as well as some of the houses where he lived in. But the best place to start discovering more about Pessoa in Portugal’s capital is in the Campo de Ourique neighbourhood, where it’s located an institution whose main purpose is to disseminate the author’s work and biography.

Casa Fernando Pessoa opened, in 1993, in the building where the poet lived during the fifteen years preceding his death. He moved with his family to the number 16 at Rua Coelho da Rocha in 1920. Although he only lived in the apartment on the first floor right, the public institution occupies the entirety of the building. The main attractions of the house are a reconstruction of his bedroom, the multimedia room and the library specialising in world poetry.

On arrival at Casa Fernando Pessoa, whose white front is festooned with famous quotes by the poet, I was advised by one of the members of the friendly staff to start the visit on the top floor and walk my way down. There is set a multimedia room where visitors can learn more about the life and work of Pessoa. Have you never heard of his heteronyms? There you can find plenty of information about them. The various images of Pessoa on the walls convey that idea of an author who wrote under different personalities. Continue reading

Favourite Portuguese Authors

Do you want to start reading (more) books by Portuguese authors, but don’t know by whom specifically? I have some recommendations for you! Before deciding to write about this topic, I had never reflected on whom would make their way onto a list about my favourite Portuguese writers. So, I was surprised to realise that all of them had already passed away. This doesn’t mean that I don’t read and enjoy books by more contemporary Portuguese authors. I just didn’t like all of the books I read by them, as was the case with the following four so far.

 

Eça de Queirós

If you are a fan of classics, then Eça de Queirós (also spelt ‘Queiroz’) may be the author for you. Born in 1845, he wrote some of my favourite Portuguese classics – Os Maias (The Maias) and O Crime do Padre Amaro (The Crime of Father Amaro). His books are rich in instances of social criticism and irony. Some of the thoughts he put onto the page are still quite relevant today. In case you want to know more about his work, I wrote a more in-depth feature on him when I first started this blog.

 

José Saramago

José Saramago is the only Portuguese writer to have won the Nobel Prize in Literature so far. His writing style is pretty recognisable. In the majority of his books, you won’t find any quotation marks. The dialogues and the characters’ thoughts are differentiated from the rest of the text by using a comma followed by a capital letter. But as soon as you get familiar with the style, his books become quite readable and flow really well. Continue reading

Book Haul – November / December 2017

I don’t know if you remember, but I was trying not to buy any more books until the end of the year. Obviously, I was unsuccessful! I blame Black Friday and other random discounts. I probably won’t even manage to get to some of the books mentioned below during the following twelve months or so, thanks to a reading plan I have for next year (I’ll reveal it on a future post about my bookish resolutions for 2018). But it’s really hard to resist a bargain.

So, without further ado (and pointless excuses), these are my most recent acquisitions:

 

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is one of the authors I plan to read a book by every year. So, I needed to buy a new one for 2018. It was quite easy to choose Alias Grace, because I’m rather curious about the TV series adaptation and don’t want to watch it before reading the book. Inspired by the 1843 murders of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery in Upper Canada, it delves into the story of Grace Marks through a “tale of sexuality, cruelty and mystery”. Continue reading

Portuguese Poets in Music

Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016 sparked a (sometimes heated) debate about whether song lyrics can be considered poetry or not. Although I don’t have a strong opinion on the subject, I tend to believe that song lyrics can be regarded as poetry, as long as they are intricate, profound and convey a stimulating meaning through the rhythmic qualities of the language. The difference seems to be that usually song lyrics are regarded as popular while poetry is considered to be erudite.

Some Portuguese artists and bands mixed the two concepts by setting to music the works of famous poets. The two cases that immediately sprang to mind were Fernando Pessoa and Florbela Espanca. But there may be more examples that I don’t know of.

Fernando Pessoa (1888–1935) has had various of his poems used as song lyrics of diverse music genres – Jazz, Indie-Pop and Fado. Early this year, Salvador Sobral sang during a concert a song, Presságio (composed by Júlio Resende), whose lyrics are a poem by Fernando Pessoa. Continue reading

Fernando Pessoa: Many Personalities in One Author

To write an author spotlight about Fernando Pessoa is quite a demanding task, since he was not one single writer, he was many. He invented the concept of ‘heteronyms’, which are not ordinary pen names or pseudonyms, but different ‘voices’ with their own biographies, writing styles, physiques, personalities and intellectual lives. Pessoa is one of the most famous Portuguese writers and published both poetry, essays and fiction.

Born in 1888 in Lisbon, he moved to South Africa with his mother in 1895 to join his stepfather, a military officer who was then the Portuguese consul in Durban. His father and his younger brother died when he was really young. In 1905, he returned to Lisbon, where he died in 1935 of cirrhosis. Some of his works were left unfinished and the majority were only published after his death.

Fernando Pessoa can be characterised as a modernist writer, being one of the authors who established the movement in Portugal. I am no specialist, but from what I remember from school, modernist writers aimed to self-consciously break with the traditional ways of writing. They had a conscious desire to express new sensibilities, focus on new themes in poetry and contravene the language rules. 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