‘A Máquina de Joseph Walser’ (‘Joseph Walser’s Machine’) by Gonçalo M. Tavares

My rating: 2 stars

The characters in A Máquina de Joseph Walser (Joseph Walser’s Machine in the English translation) by the Portuguese author Gonçalo M. Tavares are incredibly detached. It’s not easy to connect with them. They seem to be facing a grim, harrowing situation, but their feelings and tribulations are not affectingly conveyed. Their existence in the story feels merely like a vehicle to communicate abstract ideas.

Joseph Walser is initially an intriguing main character. He was married to Margha and worked in a factory owned by the mogul Leo Vast. A man of few words, he looked like someone who was oblivious to the outside world. He was only completely focused while working. He operated a machine that required his full attention so he didn’t get hurt. Once, while returning home at night after being with his work colleagues, he saw his wife leaving a building and instantly thought that she was cheating on him. He wasn’t wrong. He soon learnt that she was having an affair with his manager, Klober Muller.

Not even halfway through the book, the characters and the plot start to be disregarded. The narration is, since the beginning, interspersed with philosophical considerations about life, war and the human existence in general. However, as events start to be just thrown into the book without having a meaningful impact on the characters’ feelings and actions, this at first promising novel (or maybe novella) becomes just a boring collection of haphazard thoughts. Continue reading

Books Enhanced by Their Structures

The way in which authors decide to structure their books may have a huge impact on the final result. I’m unsure if structure is the correct term. But I mean the choices that writers make in terms of the order and the manner in which the narrative is presented to the readers, or the form used to tell a specific story.

There are three books, which I read in the latest years, whose structures were one of the highlights of my reading experience. I’m certain I wouldn’t have liked them as much as I did if the story had been told in a different way.

 

Jerusalém by Gonçalo M. Tavares

In this novel, the Portuguese writer Gonçalo M. Tavares delves into insanity and horror. The story is told from the perspectives of various characters – Ernst, Mylia, Theodor, Hanna and Hinnerk – and doesn’t follow a strict chronological order. The actions of the characters are not revealed in sequence but when they are useful for the narration. Each chapter reveals more information about either the past or the present, which helps the reader understand how the characters are connected with one another. This enhanced the story, because it kept me curious and guessing. Continue reading

‘Jerusalém’ by Gonçalo M. Tavares

My rating: 4 stars

What are the characteristics of insanity? While reading Jerusalém by the Portuguese author Gonçalo M. Tavares (a translation into English is available with the same title), that was the question that kept crossing my mind. The sane characters physically and emotionally hurt others on purpose, whilst some of the mentally ill looked for love and a more fulfilling life. Insanity and horror are the main subjects delved into in this short novel, which follows various characters whose paths crossed on specific occasions.

The story is told from several points of view in the third person and doesn’t follow a strict chronological order. Each chapter gradually presents the reader with more information that connects the characters introduced beforehand with one another. Ernst, Mylia, Theodor, Hanna and Hinnerk’s paths crossed at different points in time, and their lives were all interconnected, although they didn’t fully realise it.

Ernst Spengler was about to commit suicide by jumping from a window when his phone rang. Despite hesitating, he decided to pick it up. On the other side of the line was Mylia. She was seriously ill and in pain. Nevertheless, she had decided to leave the house during the night to look for an open church. She behaved in a strange way, but the author’s approach to convey her actions makes her thought process almost seem reasonable. The pain in the stomach kept getting worse. She only had time to phone Ernst before fainting. The extent of their relationship is only revealed further on into the book. Continue reading

Book Haul – April 2017

I always try not to have too many unread books on my shelves. But, although my pile of to be read books is only slowly decreasing, I bought more books this month. Just four though! There was a sale on an online Portuguese shop and I wasn’t able to resist the temptation to buy some bargains.

So, I acquired the following books:

 

Jerusalém by Gonçalo M. Tavares

I have to confess that I know nothing about the plot of this book by Gonçalo M. Tavares. But this is one of the most renowned books by a contemporary Portuguese author. It was praised by many other famous writers, including José Saramago. I’ve also just realised that this is the third book in a series, but I believe that they may also be read as standalones. I bought the original in Portuguese, but there is an available translation into English by Anna Kushner, published by Dalkey Archive Press and titled Jerusalem. Continue reading