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

‘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

Read in Translation, Want to Read the Original

As those of you who have been following my blog for a while probably already know, my first language is Portuguese. The first fiction book that I read in its entirety in English was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling, because I didn’t want to wait for the translation. It was only after 2010, however, that I started reading the original versions of English books more recurrently. Nowadays, I don’t read the translations of books originally written in English anymore. Not only is it a great way to practise my English reading skills, but ordering books from the UK is also cheaper than to buy them in Portugal.

There are three books by English authors that I read the translation into Portuguese, but that I’m eager to read the original version of.

 

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I read the Portuguese translation of Pride and Prejudice, titled Orgulho e Preconceito, more or less 13 years ago. The heroine of the novel is Elizabeth Bennet. Her mother is eager to marry all of her five daughters. Elizabeth is playful, intelligent and witty, but she also makes quick judgements about people. One of them is Mr Darcy. The misunderstandings between the two of them are also a consequence of his prideful nature and of the importance he gives to social status. The believable characters are accompanied by great moments of satire. Continue reading

Writing the Seasons with Books: Winter

This year I decided to write the four seasons with books. Thus, at the beginning of each of the previous seasons (Spring, Summer and Autumn), I selected books from my shelves whose titles begin with the letters of the name of the season in question. The time has finally come to do the same for Winter!

When I had the idea for this sort of series, I didn’t expect that it would be so difficult to find on my shelves books with titles beginning with certain letters. In order not to pick Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier again, I had to cheat slightly this time, as I’ve done in past seasons for other reasons.

 

Winter by Ali Smith

Told from the perspectives of Sophia and Art, her son, this book, which is part of Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet, delves into how dissimilar world views can cause rifts between family members. Art was supposed to take his former partner, Charlotte, to spend Christmas at his mother’s house. As she left him, he decided to pay a young woman to go with him. Although the plot is not outstanding, the characters are compelling. Continue reading

‘The Child in Time’ by Ian McEwan

My rating: 3 stars

The disappearance of Stephen’s daughter seems to be the incident that will set in motion a chain of events in The Child in Time by Ian McEwan. However, as the story progresses, this novel turns out to be a patchwork of different segments, which unfortunately never fully come together into a harmonious whole. The theme of childhood and the main character, Stephen, serve as a link between everything that happens throughout the book, but nothing feels wholly realised. The novel is at its best when it focuses on Stephen’s emotions.

Stephen’s life completely changed after he went with his three-year-old daughter, Kate, to the supermarket and, while at the checkout, she disappeared from the trolley. His marriage suffered a major setback. He and his wife, Julie, dealt with their tribulation in a very different way. He went looking for Kate everywhere on his own, even after the police lost interest in the case. On the other hand, she sat all day on her armchair in the bedroom, until one day she decided to leave to a retreat without previous warning.

Julie and Stephen’s separation was not simple. When she returned from her retreat, they occasionally saw each other. At those instances, for a little while, it felt like nothing had changed. They shared the same level of intimacy as before. But then the memories of their daughter’s disappearance would take over and an awkwardness would immediately grow between them. Their connection feels real and the way in which it is described is absorbing. Continue reading

Book Haul – July 2019

As it was my birthday a couple of days ago, I obviously had to buy some books this month! But I managed to control myself and only acquired four. Some I’ve been meaning to read for ages, while others caught my attention more recently.

 

Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

Fitz is the protagonist of the first book in the Farseer Trilogy. He is a royal bastard with a magical link with animals, which is an old art known as the Wit. This power is frowned upon by the nobility, so when he is accepted into the royal household, he has to give it up. Secretly, he starts training as a royal assassin. I’m eager to finally start my journey into Robin Hobb’s work.

 

Circe by Madeline Miller

I’m also yet to read a book by Madeline Miller. In this myth retelling, Circe is banished by Zeus to the remote island of Aiaia. There she learns to harness her witchcraft skills and needs to decide whether her place is among the deities or the mortals. I have high hopes for this novel! Continue reading

Favourite Book Settings

When choosing a new book, the setting of the story is not, by any means, my primary concern. However, with the passing of the years, I’ve come to realise that there are certain locations that tend to appeal to me. Generally speaking, I’m more interested in books that are set in cities than in those taking place in the countryside, for example, and am also keen on fictional locations. There are four book settings, some real and others fictional, that I particularly love.

 

London

London has always been one of my favourite cities, strangely (or not) even before I ever visited. Thus, a book set there is bound to catch my attention. I love reading the descriptions of the city and recognising the names of the streets. I have read plenty of books solely or partially set in London, after all there are no shortage of them.

Saturday by Ian McEwan is not one of my favourite books, but the various mentions of the streets of London stood out to me. It takes place during one day in February 2003. A demonstration against the Iraq war makes the main character, Henry Perowne, muse on personal satisfaction, the meaning of his life and the protest itself. Continue reading

‘Nutshell’ by Ian McEwan

My rating: 4 stars

Ian McEwan is a writer whose work I have mixed feelings about. Some books I really enjoyed, while others I found too dull. Nutshell falls into the first category, thanks to both its original narrator – an impressively intelligent and occasionally drunk foetus – and the frequent lyricism of the prose. In the first person, the resident of Trudy’s womb gradually unveils a plot of criminal intent, involving his mother and Claude.

The foetus can listen to everything people nearby him are saying. That faculty allows him to realise that Trudy and Claude, her lover and his uncle, are planning to act against John Cairncross, his father. John is a poet who hasn’t achieved much success. Despite not living in the same house as Trudy anymore, as she claimed to need more space and time to be alone, he still visits them in the hope of returning to his family house one day.

Throughout the novel, Trudy displays erratic feelings concerning John, but one thing is constant: her irresponsibility as a mother. She drinks too many alcoholic beverages for a pregnant woman. Something that the precocious narrator doesn’t really mind, although he is aware that alcohol can lower his intelligence. During a dinner out with Claude, Trudy drinks two glasses of wine, and the foetus has quite a poetic response to it. Continue reading

Book Haul – March 2018

I bought a total of ten books in March. As I didn’t buy them all at once, it was only when I decided to write this post that I realised how many they were. I can’t truly remember the last time I bought so many books in just a month. The majority of them I’m going to read for my ‘EU still 28’ project, while others were at a discount and I don’t seem to be able to resist a bargain.

To know a little bit more about each of my choices, carry on reading!

 

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

I love the covers of the books by Daphne du Maurier from the Virago Modern Classics collection. Since I’m slightly afraid that they may vanish from the market before I have them all, once in a while, I buy one of them even if I don’t plan to read it soon. Jamaica Inn was recommended to me numerous times. It focuses on Mary Yellan, who, after the death of her mother, goes to her aunt Patience’s home. Continue reading

Unexpected Surprising Books

Occasionally, when we start reading a book, we’re already expecting to be surprised by some event, outcome or revelation. We may not know what that surprise will be, but we know it’s coming, possibly because there may be some mystery awaiting to be solved. The books mentioned below have the particularity of featuring surprises that I was not expecting at all for various reasons. I could have chosen a few more, but these were the first that sprang to mind.

 

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

The first reason why I was surprised by Jessie Burton’s debut novel was that I knew close to nothing about the plot before buying it. I just had fell in love with the cover. However, after reading the first chapters, the main mystery seemed to be the identity of the miniaturist who sends Nella small replicas of people and objects from her daily life that she didn’t order. So, it was with great astonishment that I realised that many other and more interesting surprises had been awaiting me.

 

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

Through a non-linear narrative, A God in Ruins introduces the reader to the life of Teddy Todd. Despite desiring to be a poet when he was younger, he ends up becoming a bomber pilot during the Second World War. I got immersed in his life and became quite interested in his relationship with his family. The revelation near the end of the book saddened me and took me completely by surprise. Continue reading