‘Moral Disorder’ by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 4 stars

All the short stories in the collection Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood focus on the life of the same woman, Nell, and her relationship with her family. Particularly when the stories are told in the first person, they are enthralling and immersive. The more stories we read, the more we learn not only about Nell, but also about her partner, sister and parents. Their personalities become gradually clearer, and their tribulations are more often than not tangible and authentic. The least gripping stories are the ones narrated in the third person.

The collection opens with the story ‘The Bad News’. It focuses on an old couple who has a different outlook on the news that they read and listen to. Only later in the collection do readers learn that Nell is the woman telling some of the stories, including this one, and the protagonist of the collection. Albeit short, the story paints a clear picture of the couple’s personalities and their long-lasting relationship. It’s duly sarcastic at times.

The moods of the characters are as palpable in ‘The Art of Cooking and Serving’. The narrator recalls how, when she was a child, she knitted clothes for the sibling that her mother was carrying. She had to help with many of the chores, because her mother had to spend a long time resting. Hers was a high-risk pregnancy. Despite a long time having passed since the events, the confusion and fear the narrator felt is tangible. It was after that moment that she decided to exist not only to serve others, but also to become more independent. Change is a main topic in ‘The Other Place’ as well. The narrator recalls how she kept moving from one place to another as a young adult and the people she met along the way. Continue reading

Books I Want to Read Until the End of 2021

There are only three full months left in 2021, and I’m falling behind in my reading challenge. In order to complete it, I will have to finish the eight books that I’m truly eager to read until the year is over. The list features both novels, short story collections and poetry. Some authors are new to me, while others are old acquaintances. Some books are massive, others are tiny. In terms of genres, they are as diverse.

 

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

I’ve only recently started reading The Luminaries and don’t have a strong opinion about it yet. As I don’t think I’ll DNF it, though, it is one of the books I want to finish until the end of the year. Set in 1866, it follows Walter Moody as he arrives in New Zealand to try his luck at the goldfields and to search for his father, who disappeared from Scotland. At the Crown Hotel, he encounters a group of twelve people who are discussing a series of crimes.

 

Não Se Pode Morar nos Olhos de um Gato by Ana Margarida de Carvalho

Set at the end of the 19th century, this novel by the Portuguese author Ana Margarida de Carvalho has been on my wish list for years. The time has come to finally read it. After the abolition of slavery, a boat illegally carrying slaves sinks near the coast of Brazil, but a group of people manages to survive. They are the main focus of this book, which seems to be most of all a character study. Continue reading

Authors I Want to Read Every Year – A Rethink

I don’t ever want reading to feel like a chore. When in 2017 I wrote a post about the authors that I wanted to read every year, I didn’t expect to constantly have to check it a couple of years down the line in order to make sure that I would have enough time to read books by those authors. The fact that I was almost forcing myself to find the time is certainly a sign that I am not truly eager to read books by them. A rethink is obviously needed!

My list of authors to read every year featured Margaret Atwood, Charles Dickens, John Burnside, Ian McEwan, Daphne du Maurier, José Saramago and Mia Couto. From these authors, there are only three that I feel I would have picked up books by this year if it were not for the list – Daphne du Maurier, José Saramago and Margaret Atwood. Unsurprisingly, these authors are some of my favourites of all time.

Why am I not as excited to read books by the other authors as I was before? I don’t have a definite, single answer. In the cases of Charles Dickens and John Burnside, it’s probably because I was disappointed with the latest books that I picked up by them. Mia Couto’s novels were starting to feel a bit samey to me, though I enjoyed them all. And I’ve always had a difficult reading relationship with Ian McEwan, having enjoyed some of his books and disliked others. Continue reading

Favourite Authors of All Time

There are authors whose work we, as dedicated readers, want to continue to explore for years to come. We treasure almost all of the books that we read by them and, thus, cannot wait to pick up again a few more of the novels, poetry or short story collections that they wrote for our enjoyment.

My favourite authors of all time are those whose work I’m constantly recommending to other readers, even though I didn’t equally love all of the books that I read by them and don’t think that all of them are perfect. I have read three or more books by the authors below, and their work has a special place in my heart.

 

Daphne du Maurier

I fell in love with Daphne du Maurier the moment I read Rebecca, my favourite book by her followed by Jamaica Inn. Her work doesn’t fit neatly into one genre, comprising both historical fiction and sci-fi, for example. But both her novels and short stories tend to be atmospheric, enthralling, gripping and slightly mysterious. The characters that she created are vivid and many unforgettable. I’ve read nine of Daphne du Maurier’s books so far! I haven’t finished exploring her work yet, though. I still have at least eight of her other books on my wish list. 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

‘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