‘Livro’ by José Luís Peixoto

My rating: 4 stars

Having read Livro by the Portuguese author José Luís Peixoto for the first time almost a decade ago, I was certain that I had forgotten many details about it. I was not expecting to have misremembered so much about the plot and the characters, though. While telling the story of Ilídio and Adelaide, Peixoto painted not only a convincing picture of the life in a small Portuguese village in the second half of the 20th century, but also touched on issues related to the political repression of those who criticised Salazar, the colonial war, and the Portuguese migration to France.

In 1948, Ilídio, one of the main characters, was merely six years old. To his surprise, his mother gave him a book as they were walking around the village. Although he couldn’t figure out the reason why, his attention quickly turned to something else. While he was giving free rein to his imagination, his mother left him by himself next to a fountain with just a bag and the book. He waited for hours for her to return, but she never did. On the following morning, Josué, the mason of the village, arrived to pick him up and took him to his home, where he then grew up.

When he was 15, Ilídio asked Adelaide, the niece of one of the most well-known inhabitants of the village, Lubélia, to be his girlfriend. She said yes. As a thank you, he offered her 100 escudos, a pigeon and the book that his mother had given him before disappearing. Around seven years later, Ilídio went to Lubélia’s house seeking permission to marry Adelaide. The old woman started laughing nonstop. Continue reading

Do I Want to Read My Goodreads Recommendations?

After watching Sophie’s video “If Goodreads was a dating App” on her YouTube channel, Portal in the Pages, I decided to take a look at my Goodreads recommendations. Did any of the books there appeal to me? Did I discover new books to add to my wish list? From the 40 books (I’m not going to list them all) that Goodreads thinks that, for some reason, I would like, I’m certain that I want to read merely four. I’m ambivalent about other two. These books were either already on my wish list, or I had at some point considered adding them to it. I sadly didn’t discover any new books that I may want to read in the future. Exploring my Goodreads recommendations ended up not being particularly useful.

Nevertheless, I still want to share with you the four books that I plan to read from that list, plus the two that I’m uncertain whether I want to read or not!

 

O Retorno (The Return) by Dulce Maria Cardoso

I’ve recently mentioned this book on a post about the contemporary Portuguese authors I want to read books by. It is set in 1975 after the independence of Angola. The main character, Rui, is a young boy who has recently arrived in Portugal. His family had to flee Angola and he is having a hard time settling in. Continue reading

3-Star Books I Kept Because of a Specific Feature

A few years ago, I decided against keeping on my shelves all of the books that I read. First, I gave away almost all of the books that I read when I was a child and a teenager. I only kept the ones that I assumed I would still enjoy if I ever read them again as an adult. Then I decided to only keep the books that I enjoyed or loved, that is to say the ones that I rated with either four or five stars, plus some special three-star reads.

You may be wondering what makes a three-star book special. It has to fall within at least one of a couple of categories: having been almost a 4-star read, which was the case of Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors and The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis; being part of a collection, such as the Penguin English Library, or of a book series which I enjoy in general; or featuring a specific element that stood out to me because of how well it was crafted. I also used to keep 3-star books by authors whose work I overall cherish, but I only do so now when they fit into one of the previous categories.

The eight books below stood out from other 3-star reads because they feature a character that I loved, an interesting structure, an intriguing narrator, a tangible array of feelings or one strand of many that I highly enjoyed. 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

Books in Portuguese to Read this Year

Last year, UNESCO proclaimed the 5th of May as the World Portuguese Language Day. Although Portuguese is my mother tongue, I’ve recently been reading more books originally written in English than in Portuguese. There are some books written by lusophone authors that I definitely want to read until the end of the year, however. The list features writers from Portugal, Brazil and Angola.

 

Lillias Fraser by Hélia Correia

Hélia Correia won the Camões Prize (a literary career prize for authors who write in Portuguese) in 2015. Lillias Fraser is a historical fiction book about a Scottish girl who was part of a clan that lost the battle of Culloden against the English. She then ran away and moved to Portugal.

 

O Irmão Alemão (My German Brother) by Chico Buarque

The Brazilian author Chico Buarque is the latest winner of the Camões Prize. This book is a combination of fiction and reality. When he was 22 years old, Buarque discovered that he had a brother in Germany, so he decided to write a book about that. Continue reading

Writing the Seasons with Books: Autumn

This year, instead of recommending books that some people may deem appropriate to read during a specific season, I’m writing the four seasons with books. I take a look at my shelves and select books with titles beginning with the letters of the name of the season that is just starting. And the time has come to welcome autumn! Temperatures have started to slowly drop. The leaves of the trees are getting ready to fall.

 

Autumn by Ali Smith

This was the first book that I read by Ali Smith. It’s not easy to describe what Autumn is about, as it mixes a couple of elements. Not only does it compile recollections about how 101-year-old Daniel Gluck, who lives in a care home, influenced Elisabeth Demand’s life, it also alludes to a variety of current events. Brexit, the plight of refugees and various economic issues connect this novel to the time of its writing.

 

Uma Casa na Escuridão by José Luís Peixoto

The Portuguese author José Luís Peixoto penned a hugely implausible story that doesn’t aim to be anything else. The plot of this novel, which hasn’t been translated into English yet as far as I know, is merely used as a way to convey feelings – love, jealousy, fear, suffering and solitude. Although I struggled to finish it, I truly cared for the characters and enjoyed the poetic prose. Continue reading

Books in Portuguese that Should Be Translated into English

When I decided to create this blog about books, I thought it a good idea to write it in English, although it is not my first language. I don’t regret that choice in the slightest, since it has allowed me to continue practising the language and to interact with fellow readers from all over the world. However, it has also a downside. Sometimes I mention books originally written in Portuguese that are not available in English and, thus, that the majority of you can’t read.

Today’s post will add to this conundrum, seeing that it’s exclusively about books that, to the best of my knowledge, haven’t yet been translated into English but should have. Some of these are available in other languages besides Portuguese, such as Spanish and French, though.

 

Livro by José Luís Peixoto

Set in part in the ‘60s, Livro delves into the Portuguese emigration to France through the story of a specific family. José Luís Peixoto uses more than words to tell this story, which emphasises how difficult it can be to achieve a better life. A circle drawn around particular words helps to convey an important plot point. ‘Livro’ means ‘book’ in Portuguese, and it is not only the title of this novel but also the name of a crucial character. Continue reading

Favourite Not So Popular Books

A long time passed since the day I started blogging and the moment when I created my Goodreads account at the beginning of this year. I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to finally decide to set it up, though, because I’ve been finding it quite useful. Besides being a good tool to keep track of the books that I own but haven’t read yet (previously I only used a spreadsheet to list the books that I had read), it also made me realise that some of the books I really liked haven’t been read by that many people.

Some of the books that I really cherish have less than two thousand ratings on Goodreads. So, in comparison with other books, they are not particularly popular. Nevertheless, they are still really worth reading. These are the five that I wish more people would read:

 

The Dumb House by John Burnside

The Dumb House by John Burnside deals with quite uncomfortable topics, but that didn’t prevent me from being in awe of the way sentences were crafted. From the outset we know that Luke has performed a cruel experiment on his own children. He was fascinated by the tale of the Dumb House, so he wanted to know whether language was learnt or innate. His obsession not only with that story but also with the matter of life and death and the existence of a soul takes him down a dark path. Continue reading

Favourite Books with a Historical Backdrop

Whenever I’m book shopping, one of the many things that catches my attention is the time period in which a story is set in. I tend to like books which either the entirety or only part of the action takes place at the time of an important historical event. These are books whose fictional characters and events end up being embroiled in a real historical episode in one way or another and that can be labelled as historical fiction or not.

I categorise as historical fiction the books that not only are set in the past, but that also were written by authors who were born after the time period in which their novel unfolds. In these cases, authors don’t have a first-hand experience of the period they depicted in their novels. Books with a historical backdrop, on the other hand, can be written by authors who lived during the time period the story is set in or not. But, and more importantly for this distinction, besides depicting the manners and other details about a particular time period, these books feature an important real historical event. So, for me, a novel with a historical backdrop is not necessarily historical fiction.

After explaining how I describe books with a historical backdrop, I can now reveal which are my favourites. Continue reading

‘Uma Casa na Escuridão’ by José Luís Peixoto

My rating: 3 stars

I have a complicated reading relationship with the Portuguese author José Luís Peixoto. I loved the first book I read by him – Livro – and mildly enjoyed the second one – Cemitério de Pianos (The Piano Cemetery in the English translation). And what about Uma Casa na Escuridão? This is one of the most absurd books I’ve ever read. The story being told isn’t plausible and doesn’t aim to be. The plot is a tool to express feelings: love, jealousy, fear, suffering and solitude. Being this a strange and complicated book, I struggled to finish it. Nevertheless, it had an impact on me.

The story is narrated in the first person by a nameless writer. He lives with his mother, who is quite debilitated, in a house full of cats. During a sleepless night, he imagines a woman who inspires him to write a book. She becomes so real that he falls in love with her. The more he writes about her and his feelings the more he loves her. He even feels jealousy when his editor, who is imprisoned, reads the first pages of the book he is working on.

When the editor dies in prison and the narrator goes to the funeral, accompanied with a childhood friend named as ‘príncipe de calicatri’, he sees on one of the many gravestones the picture of a woman who looks exactly the same as the one he has imagined, what deeply unsettles him. The story starts getting darker and stranger. Disturbing events take place, and various forms of love develop into pain. Continue reading