‘The Testaments’ by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 3 stars

To describe a book as a page-turner is usually a compliment. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood has that gripping power of highly compelling reads, but it lacks emotion, details and character exploration. Set in the same fictional world as The Handmaid’s Tale, it’s nowhere near as affecting as its predecessor. Although it offers interesting insights about the inception and disintegration of Gilead, the prose is not poignant enough and the plot is too predictable.

The story is told from three different points of view – Aunt Lydia, Agnes Jemima and Daisy. Secretly, at the Ardua Hall’s library, Aunt Lydia, who was introduced in The Handmaid’s Tale, decided to write about her role within Gilead and her memories concerning the inception of the regime. Before the establishment of Gilead, she had been a family court judge. She recalled how her life quickly changed afterwards. What she had to endure was brutal. But now she was a crucial element within that repressive and puritanical state, which divided society into very defined roles. Her importance was such that nine years before, she had been given a statue.

Agnes Jemima is a girl who grew up in Gilead. The man whom she believed to be her father was a Commander. Readers are aware from the very beginning that he is not her biological father, though, since the woman whom she thought was her mother, Tabitha, used to say that she chose her as her daughter. After Tabitha’s death, when Agnes was around nine years old, her father married another woman, Paula, and a Handmaid was brought into the house, which meant that they wanted to have a child. This was when Agnes discovered that the people she had always called mother and father weren’t really her parents. Her real mother had tried to take her across the border to Canada, but they were caught. Continue reading

So Different and So Similar Pairs of Books

Two books can have significant elements in common and still tell different stories. Characters may face similar situations, but their individual choices take the plots in completely different directions. The themes of two novels may be similar, but the action, the characters and the writing style ensure that they are ultimately distinctive and readers are still experiencing a fresh story.

I’ve read (at least) four pairs of books that are both different and similar for various reasons.

 

História do Cerco de Lisboa (The History of the Siege of Lisbon) by José Saramago + The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier

These two novels have in common being my least favourites, so far, by José Saramago and Daphne du Maurier, two authors I adore. This is not the reason why I chose them to be part of this post. Both of them are also set in two different time periods, which are connected by a man. The tribulations that the characters face, however, are completely different. Continue reading

Books I Almost Loved

Very rarely do I rate books with five stars. For that to happen, a book has to be perfect in every regard in my opinion. I can’t even have a minor complaint. As I decided early on not to use half stars on my ratings, I always award four stars to books that weren’t flawless but that I almost loved. Only by reading the review can my high esteem for such books be fully perceived. The following eight books fall under that category.

 

Circe by Madeline Miller

This retelling of an Ancient Greek myth resembles a fictional memoir. Circe, the daughter of Helios (the god of sun) and Perse (a nymph), was sentenced to exile as a punishment for using witchcraft against her own kind. Throughout the book, Madeline Miller delves into the meaning of love and the fear of losing a dear one. The prose is gripping and the characters feel truly real, thanks to a tangible portrayal of emotions, particularly those of Circe. However, the book loses a bit of its enchantment when Circe tells stories about Odysseus.

 

Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

The first book in The Farseer Trilogy is not only a story of court intrigue and lust for power, but also a true interpretation of human emotions. When he was 6 years old, Fitz was left by his grandfather at the castle of the town where they lived in, because he was the bastard son of the Crown Prince, Chivalry. Some years later, he started being trained as an assassin in secret. The detailed and absorbing writing style is one of the highlights of this fantasy book. Unfortunately, the last chapter is not as thorough and some events are just briefly mentioned. Continue reading

Monthly Favourites – January 2020

January has come to an end, so it’s time for the first edition of my monthly favourites of 2020! As I’ve mentioned in my bookish resolutions for this year, from now on these overviews will also start including my favourite blog posts and YouTube videos from each month. This month, they are accompanied by a book, a TV series and a film.

The book I enjoyed the most was The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. It’s an enthralling mystery and family drama that explores the difficulties faced by women in the 20th century. Laura Chase, Iris’s sister, drove a car off a bridge ten days after the end of the Second World War. What was the real reason behind Laura’s fate? The answer is confirmed at the end of this great novel, which consists of a first-person narration by Iris, various news pieces and a short book written by Laura. Although it is occasionally too slow paced, I highly recommend it.

I also spent a great couple of hours watching Dracula on Netflix (I believe it was originally created by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat for the BBC). It’s one of those series that I’ll certainly re-watch many times to discover new details. Claes Bang is perfect as Count Dracula. The first episode is terrifying, and the second is strangely compelling, considering that it’s set in such a confined space. The third episode has a completely different feeling from the others. It reminded me of Sherlock at times, not only because it’s set in modern-day England, but also because the interactions between Dracula and Van Helsing resembled those of Moriarty and Sherlock. Despite being my least favourite of the episodes, I still highly enjoyed it. I liked how it tries to come up with an answer to why Dracula fears certain objects. Continue reading

‘The Blind Assassin’ by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 4 stars

An engaging mix of mystery and family drama, The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood tells the story of two sisters, Iris and Laura, and how their lives were shaped by social expectations, patriarchal attitudes and historical events. The novel, which covers many decades, consists of various parts that slowly complement each other and help answer the question that is raised at the very beginning – what was the real motive behind Laura’s fate?

Laura Chase, the sister of the narrator, drove a car off a bridge ten days after the end of the Second World War. Two witnesses saw her turn the car deliberately. However, when giving Iris the news, the police officer was respectful enough to say that it could have been an accident. And, according to a news piece from 1945, after an inquest, it was indeed surprisingly considered to be an accident, since apparently Laura suffered from severe headaches, which affected her vision.

The novel contains within it a first-person narration by Iris, various news pieces and a short book written by Laura. Many decades later, Iris, who regrets not having done everything that she could for Laura, is writing an account of what happened and sharing her recollections about past events. Her ancestors owned various factories, mainly of buttons. Her mother died when she was nine years old and Laura was six. After that, they grew very close. The family was also affected by what was happening around the world. The First World War, the Great Depression and their social and political repercussions left their mark. Continue reading

Book Haul – September / October 2019

I was not expecting to buy as many books as I did during September and this month. However, after deciding not to finish four novels in the latest months, I was running out of books to read. I usually keep a relatively small number of unread books on my shelves. I tend to only buy new ones once I’ve finished a few of those that I already owned.

So, I acquired nine new books!

 

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Set in Paris and in London, it was described by Dickens as his best story. A French aristocrat and a dissolute English lawyer face chaos and fall in love with the same woman. I’m expecting it to delve into a variety of social issues that characterised the 19th century. Continue reading

Books I’m Waiting for in Paperback

Unless I’ve been impatiently and fervently expecting a book for years, I always tend to wait for the release in paperback. They are cheaper, much easier to hold and carry around. This also means that I tend to read the majority of books when the hype has already subsided. There are four books that I have been seeing mentioned around a lot lately and that I’m planning to read as soon as the editions in paperback are released.

 

The Confession by Jessie Burton

Since I loved both The Miniaturist and The Muse, I obviously want to read The Confession, Jessie Burton’s new novel. My expectations are not as high as they could have been, though, as part of the book takes place in LA, a location that usually doesn’t appeal to me.

On the other hand, it is set in different time periods, something I tend to enjoy. In the 1980s, Elise Morceau falls in love with Constance Holden, a successful writer whose book is about to be adapted into a Hollywood film. Thirty years later, Rose Simmons is looking for answers about her mother, whom she has never met. The last person to see her was Constance. 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

Monthly Favourites – March 2019

I expected March to be a month full of favourites, but I was wrong. It was a good reading month overall, although I didn’t finish two of the books that I started. However, some of the films and TV series that I began watching were, unexpectedly, a disappointment. Let’s focus on the positives, though!

My favourite book from the three that I finished in March is The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood, as you already know if you follow me on Instagram (here is a link to my profile in case you’re interested). It’s a retelling of a Greek myth in which Penelope presents her version of events from The Odyssey. It exposes how a patriarchal society can put women in conflict with each other without them even noticing.

Music-wise, I listened on repeat to ‘The Knife’ by Maggie Rogers. I didn’t enjoy the album Heard It in a Past Life in its entirety, but I couldn’t stop listening to this song in particular. I love the piano sound in the background throughout the song and how it takes over at the end. Continue reading

‘The Penelopiad’ by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 4 stars

Being a retelling of an Ancient Greek Myth, The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood features various characters whose names are well-known. Penelope assumes the role of storyteller after her death and reminisces about the events of the Odyssey from her perspective. This novella lends itself to various interpretations. My main take on it is that it exposes how a patriarchal society puts women in conflict with each other. Some women are so used to live under the power and influence of male figures that they don’t even realise that they have been engulfed by it.

Penelope was the daughter of King Icarus of Sparta and a Naiad. Her father ordered her to be thrown into the sea because of a prophecy. Luckily, a flock of ducks rescued her. From then on, her father became much more affectionate. Her cousin was the beautiful Helen of Troy, whom she describes as vain, ambitious and an attention-seeker. She is snarky in her descriptions of her behaviour, as Helen was of her appearance. At the age of 15, Penelope was married to Odysseus, after he cheated to win a race for her hand. He managed to convince her that they were friends and that he reciprocated her loving feelings.

Although she is remembered for her fidelity to Odysseus during the time he was away fighting in the Trojan War, Penelope doesn’t want other women to follow her example. She never contradicted her husband and nor asked questions. Her outlook on life has changed after death. She was never as blunt when she was alive. So, she has decided to reveal her version of events. Continue reading