Books Told from Different Perspectives

Narrators are an essential part of all novels, novellas and short story collections. They can either be one of the characters or mere fictional observers that take no part in the action. Some books even have more than one narrator, the story being told from different perspectives or points of view. Those perspectives can be conveyed in a variety of ways – via a first-person narrator; an omniscient narrator, who knowns everything about all of the characters; or a third-person narrator who adopts the point of view of a specific character.

I’m always drawn to books that feature chapters narrated from different perspectives, presenting a compelling mix of voices. From the ones that I’ve read and enjoyed, despite not all being favourites of mine, there are seven that immediately sprang to mind.

 

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

At the beginning of the first book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin, Robert Baratheon is the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms and sits on the Iron Throne. After the death of his Hand, he invites his old friend Lord Eddard Stark to assume the suddenly vacant role. Peace is fragile, though, since the lords of Westeros are playing dangerous games and the exiled Targaryens want to take back their father’s throne. The intricate characters and the enthralling plot turn this book into a compelling mix of fantasy and political machinations. It is told in the third person from the perspectives of various characters: Tyrion Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen and six members of the Stark family – Ned, Catelyn, Bran, Sansa, Arya and Jon Snow. Continue reading

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Book Club Recommendations – Books Worth Discussing

Spending a couple of hours just in the company of a good book feels like heaven for many readers, including me. But reading doesn’t have to be a solitary experience. The most sociable readers have always the option of joining a book club either in person or online to discuss previously agreed books and have a lively, but respectful, debate.

Generally-speaking, any book is a good book to choose to read for a book club. However, some are bound to spark a more spirited discussion than others. It’s important to choose books that are interesting to muse about, that make readers think, maybe arrive at different conclusions, or look at the characters from different perspectives. I have five recommendations that I believe are good options to read in a book club.

 

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Although Piranesi by Susanna Clarke is full of fantastical elements, it focuses on very human experiences. This book, which is ultimately about memory and traumatic experiences, has as main character Piranesi, who lives in an immense house surrounded by the sea. He joins the Other twice a week to discuss their endeavours to discover some unknown knowledge. His emotions are portrayed with a meaningful subtlety. For such a short book, it provides many topics for discussion. How do memories influence our perception about ourselves? What clues about the ending did readers find? What did readers discern about what was going on in that world at various stages? Continue reading

‘Human Acts’ by Han Kang

My rating: 3 stars

Suffering is a constant feeling in Human Acts by Han Kang. It is a book about how an uprising in South Korea and the actions of an authoritarian government affected the lives of various people throughout the years. Told from several points of view, it could have been more impactful had it focused on fewer perspectives and intertwined them more closely.

At the beginning of the book, the municipal gymnasium in Gwangju is being used to keep the bodies of the civilians who were killed by the South Korean army during the popular uprising of 1980. The narrator of the first chapter indirectly addresses a character who is looking for his friend’s corpse and, not having been successful in finding it, ends up staying at the gymnasium to help. He was with his friend during the uprising but fled when the army started shooting.

Each chapter has a distinct narrator. The second chapter is told in the first person by the soul of Jeong-dae, who was killed during the uprising. His body and those of many victims were thrown into a pile. He wants to know who killed him and his sister. Five years later, Kim Eun-Sook, an editor at a publishing house, is slapped seven times by a police detective who wants to know the whereabouts of a translator. Through a third-person narration, we learn how she was also affected by the uprising. The first-person narrator of the following chapter is a man who was a prisoner. He was one of the students who was part of the uprising and, in 1990, is recalling what he remembers from that time to a professor. Continue reading

Favourite Books by Women in Translation

August is Women in Translation Month, the perfect time to read translated books written by female authors. For those looking for suggestions of appropriate books to pick up during the next month, there are four that stood out the most for me from the ones that I’ve read in translation so far.

Bear in mind that, as my mother tongue is Portuguese, I don’t read Lusophone authors in translation. But if you are looking forward to reading books originally written in Portuguese during August, you can find many blog posts with recommendations on this blog or ask any questions you may have in the comments section!

 

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The South Korean novel The Vegetarian is an impressive, affecting and disconcerting exploration of abuse, mental health, desire and rebellion against social conventions. Yeong-hye has always been a dutiful wife. But one day a disturbing dream leads her to become a vegetarian, which deeply upsets her family. Although she is the main character, the story is not told from her point of view. Readers are presented with the perspectives of her husband, her brother-in-law and her sister, who all have distinctive voices. Continue reading

Favourite Books I Read in 2020

In theory, the fiasco that was 2020 afforded us far more free time for reading. Nevertheless, I managed to read not only fewer books, but also fewer pages than in the previous year. The only reason for that is that I found it difficult to focus on whichever book I was reading for long periods of time, having had to shorten each reading session significantly. On the bright side, I enjoyed the vast majority of the books that I have read.

So far, I have read 29 books in their entirety and will certainly finish the one I’m currently reading before the end of the year. Almost all of the books that I decided to pick up were novels and novellas, but I also read a couple of short story and poetry collections (I didn’t review all of them, though). My reading was also varied in terms of genres: literary fiction, classics, fantasy, myth retellings, historical fiction… Two of the books that I read were not new to me. After reading their translations into Portuguese years ago, I decided to finally read Atonement by Ian McEwan and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen in the original. I loved them as much as I did the first time.

However, only taking into consideration the books that I’ve read for the first time in 2020, irrespective of date of publication, my favourites, in reverse order, are: Continue reading

Monthly Favourites – August 2020

Another month has come to an end (since April it seems that time is flying by exceedingly fast). So, today I’m sharing with you my favourites from August! They include a book, a TV show, a music album and a blog post.

After a long while, I finally rated a book with five stars again. The Vegetarian by Han Kang is a disconcerting, affecting and extraordinary exploration of abuse, mental health issues, rebellion against social conventions and desire. Yeong-hye had always been a dutiful wife until the day that she decided to become a vegetarian after having a disturbing dream. We never read her version of events, though. The story is told from three other perspectives – her husband, her brother-in-law and her sister. It is through their angles that we become aware of what she had to endure throughout her life and what influenced her actions.

On a much lighter note, I enjoyed watching the TV series The Great on HBO Portugal (I don’t know where you can watch it in other countries). Staring Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult, it’s a gripping comedy-drama based on the rise of Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia. Don’t expect it to be historically accurate! From the very beginning, it lets viewers know that that is not the aim at all. In fact, it’s occasionally obviously outlandish. Continue reading

‘The Vegetarian’ by Han Kang

My rating: 5 stars

Human beings can cause each other unimaginable suffering, not only physically, but also psychologically. Despite its title, The Vegetarian by Han Kang is not a book about vegetarianism. It delves into the consequences of abuse, mental health problems, rebellion against social conventions and desire, achieving an unsettling, affecting and remarkable tale, which encapsulates a myriad of believable emotions and tribulations.

Yeong-hye had always been a dutiful wife. She cooked dinner, washed her husband’s clothes, prepared everything he needed in the mornings. One day, after having a strange and disquieting dream, she threw away all of the meat that they had in the fridge and became a vegetarian. Why did that dream affect her so much? The book is not told from Yeong-hye’s point of view. So, in order to understand her decision, readers have to piece together the perspectives of three other characters, and an answer can only be inferred after her sister’s memories are presented.

Han Kang split the narrative into three parts. The first one is narrated by Yeong-hye’s husband, a patently despicable man. The way in which he speaks about his wife is revolting, and his actions even more so. He was concerned that she had stopped sleeping and had started to progressively lose weight for what were only selfish reasons. He recalls her parents being also appalled at her becoming a vegetarian and having ceased to cook meat for him, as that was completely out of the norm. His contempt for Yeong-hye is obvious from the very beginning. Continue reading