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 which 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 ones 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

Book Haul – October / November 2016

Before I started this blog, back in June, I decided not to buy any more books until I finally read the ones that I already had on my shelves. I managed to stick to that intention until last month, when I couldn’t resist the temptation any longer. Then I changed the goal to not buying any more books until January and… I failed again and bought more books last week. So, the time is right to do a book haul!

These are the books that I bought recently:

 

Contos Escolhidos by Fernando Pessoa

This is a collection of short stories by the famous Portuguese author who is, however, better known as a poet. I have never read any of his short stories, so I am really curious to do so. Fernando Pessoa also wrote in English and, in fact, the first short story featured in this collection is called A Very Original Dinner and is accompanied by a Portuguese translation. All the other stories featured in this collection are in Portuguese, though. Continue reading

Favourite Historical Settings

If you had the chance to take a look at my shelves, you probably wouldn’t be able to establish what my favourite book genre is. In fact, I don’t tend to read a single genre. My reading taste covers fantasy, literary fiction, mysteries, classics, sci-fi, poetry… As I read different types of books, it is not a specific genre that catches my attention when I go book shopping. One of the many things that makes me curious about a book is its historical setting. I particularly like stories that take place during the Second World War and the Portuguese “Estado Novo”.

Some of the fiction books that tend to catch my eye are written by contemporary authors but are set around the time of these important historical events. Generally speaking, such books tend to examine real concerns through a fictional story. They help us remember that it is crucial not to make the same mistakes again, that humans are capable of both boundless monstrosities and great deeds (there are always those who rebel against the dark authoritarian regimes), and that war has an ugly face and terrible consequences.

The “Estado Novo” was an authoritarian corporatist regime, considered to be fascist, that lasted from 1933 to 1974 in Portugal. It was established by António Oliveira Salazar and, as many other dictatorships, had a political police force, in order to control dissidents, not only in Portugal, but also in the African colonies. Especially during the 60s, many Portuguese evaded the country, for example to France, in order to avoid being called to fight in the colonial war or just to look for a better life. Some of the books that I read during the latest years have this reality as an historical setting. Continue reading

Favourite Books by Portuguese Authors

Portuguese authors don’t seem to be that well known to book bloggers who are not from Portugal or from other Portuguese-speaking countries. For that reason, I decided to share with you five of my favourite books by Portuguese writers. They are listed in no special order and I read them throughout the years.

 

O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis (The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis) by José Saramago

So far, I have read three books by the only Portuguese writer to have won the Nobel Prize in Literature, José Saramago. O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis (The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis in the English translation) is my favourite. It tells the story of Ricardo Reis, a doctor and a poet, who returns to Portugal after living in Brazil. The idea behind the book stems from Fernando Pessoa’s heteronyms, all of whom are characters created by the poet to write in different styles. The most famous are Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis and Álvaro de Campos. José Saramago transforms Ricardo Reis into a real person who arrives in Lisbon, after the death of his friend Fernando Pessoa, and discovers a Portugal living under a newly established dictatorship.

 

Os Maias (The Maias) by Eça de Queirós

As the title suggests, in this book we are introduced to the Maia family. The novel is built around two plots. One focuses on the relationship between Pedro da Maia and Maria Monforte; while the other, which is the main plot of the book, revolves around Carlos da Maia and Maria Eduarda. However, what this novel excels at is creating a portrait of the 19th century Lisbon, its vices and political corruption, with lots of satire in the mix.

Continue reading