Favourite Opening Lines

By the time that we finish reading most books, the opening lines have already vanished from our memory. A selected few, however, linger on, long after we close the books and start new ones. They remain forever imprinted in our mind. My favourites are long and short, summarise the premise of the book or just leave readers wondering. There’s not a specific characteristic that distinguishes all of them.

 

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

 

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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Favourite Books by My Most-Owned Authors

In past years, I wrote a blog post listing all the books that I had on my shelves by my most-owned and read authors. The plan was to publish such a post every year, in order to evaluate if there were any changes. As the differences weren’t that significant from one year to the next, I discarded the idea of doing it annually.

My shelves look slightly different now, since I’ve unhauled not only many books from my childhood, but also more recent ones that I didn’t enjoy that much. However, instead of just listing the titles of the books that I read by my most-owned authors, this time I decided to reveal my favourite book by each of the most prevalent writers on my shelves. The list below features seven authors. Four of them I read and own six books by, the others more than that.

 

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

I read and own eight books by J.K. Rowling. A number that increases to nine when adding the work that she wrote under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith. My favourite is still Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. In the third book in the series, Harry, Hermione and Ron investigate Sirius Black, whom they believe is an ally of Voldemort. It also explores Harry’s family history. Continue reading

Monthly Favourites – July 2019

The July instalment of my monthly favourites may be a bit later than usual, but I do have a few sources of joy to share with you. These include two books (they are both worthy of a mention), two specific episodes of two very different TV series, a documentary and music from a band that I hadn’t listened to in ages.

Last month, for the first time in probably two decades, I finished rereading a book. O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis (The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis in the English translation) is one of the books that I wanted to reread, since I remembered it as an old favourite. And I’m so glad that I loved it as much as the first time! It is a fantastic example of intertextuality, as Ricardo Reis, one of Fernando Pessoa’s heteronyms, is turned into a real person. After 16 years living in Brazil, he returns to Portugal at the end of 1935. In Lisbon, he interacts mainly with three people: Lídia, a chambermaid at the hotel he is staying in; Marcenda, a young woman whose left hand is paralysed; and his deceased friend Fernando Pessoa. Although not much happens in terms of plot, this is still an engrossing and mesmerising work of literature, which also delves into the fascist regime in Portugal.

Another book that I also highly enjoyed reading in July was Circe by Madeline Miller, a retelling of an Ancient Greek myth. Circe is the daughter of Helios, god of sun, and the nymph Perse. She was sentenced to exile on a deserted island for using witchcraft against her own kind. Her emotions throughout the novel, which reads much like a fictional memoir, are palpable. It focuses on what she learnt during her life and explores the meaning of love and the fear of losing someone. The prose is almost always gripping. Continue reading

José Saramago: The Gifted and Uncompromising Portuguese Nobel

The Portuguese author José Saramago was a man of strong convictions. He didn’t shy away from bluntly expressing his views, often causing controversy. But his work and talent shined brighter than any outcry, ideological difference or political disagreement. He published his first novel, Terra do Pecado, in 1947, and until 1966 it remained his only book. Born on 16 November 1922 in the village of Azinhaga, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1998, being the only Portuguese writer to have had that honour so far.

When he wasn’t yet two years old, his parents moved to Lisbon, where he grew up. For economic reasons, he had to do a vocational course at a secondary technical school, and his first job was as a car mechanic. It was in a public library that he continued to learn and to cultivate his love for reading. Later, he also worked as a translator and a journalist. He died on 18 June 2010 on the island of Lanzarote (Spain), and his ashes were laid to rest beneath an olive tree near the river Tagus in Lisbon.

He wrote novels, non-fiction, short stories, poetry and plays. His novels challenge genre boundaries, as they mix elements from magical realism, historical and literary fiction. Many are allegories about the human condition and delve into a variety of social and moral issues through stimulating and funny considerations. His characters and narrators lose themselves in their thoughts. Their asides replicate, in a way, how we communicate orally. Continue reading

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

My rating: 5 stars

A mesmerising and compelling book doesn’t always have to be action-packed. In O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis (The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis in the English translation), José Saramago turned one of Fernando Pessoa’s heteronyms into a real person to create a gloriously ingenious novel that doesn’t require a thrilling plot to shine. I read this book for the first time around 12 years ago, and it was a pleasure to rediscover it recently. It mixes magical realism with existentialism, literary and historical fiction, while paying homage to great names of Portuguese literature.

Ricardo Reis arrives in Lisbon at the end of 1935, on a rainy day, after spending the last 16 years in Brazil. He is a 48-year-old doctor who writes poetry and was born in Porto. He decided to return to Portugal after receiving a telegram from Álvaro de Campos informing him that their friend Fernando Pessoa had died. Around the same time there was also a (failed) rebellion in Brazil. After a journey on board of the Highland Brigade, he takes a taxi at the port, and the driver suggests that he stays at the Bragança Hotel. Its manager, Salvador, is eager to discover everything he can about his clients. But Ricardo Reis isn’t sure about how long he will stay at the hotel. He could either rent a house and practise medicine in Lisbon or return to Brazil.

During his stay at the hotel, Ricardo Reis becomes interested in a young woman whom he sees at the dining room. Her left arm is paralysed. He learns from Salvador that her name is Marcenda and that she and her father have been staying at the hotel three days every month for the last three years. They are from Coimbra and apparently go to Lisbon to see a doctor because of her condition. Continue reading

Fernando Pessoa in the Work of Other Authors

Fernando Pessoa is one of the most iconic names in Portuguese literature. All over Lisbon we can find many depictions of him wearing his legendary black fedora hat and somewhat rounded glasses. While some tourists are not familiar with the writer and thus pass by the tributes to his genius obliviously, others make sure to visit ‘Casa Fernando Pessoa’ and to take pictures near his statues. Born in 1888, he was a modernist writer who came up with the concept of ‘heteronyms’ – different voices with their own biographies and writing styles. He also served as inspiration for various artists, including painters and other renowned authors. José Saramago and Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen are among those he inspired.

In O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis (The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis) by José Saramago, Fernando Pessoa’s influence is palpable. The main character in this novel is inspired by one of Pessoa’s many heteronyms, the doctor and poet Ricardo Reis. After many years living in Brazil, he returns to Lisbon in 1936, following the death of his friend Fernando Pessoa. He finds a country living under a recent fascist regime.

The reference to Pessoa in O Homem Duplicado (The Double) also by Saramago is much subtler. This is a book about a man who discovers that there is a person completely identical to him, while watching a film. Throughout the book, he has many conversations with his common sense. In one of those interactions there is a witty allusion to Fernando Pessoa, although his name is not directly stated. 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

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

Books I Would Like to See Adapted to Screen

I may be wrong, but I am under the impression that an increasing number of the films and TV series being released lately are adaptations of books. Although sometimes I wonder if that stems from a lack of new ideas, I think this adaptation frenzy can be a good thing, since more people may become interested in the books that were the source of inspiration and then start reading more.

There are some books, which haven’t been adapted yet, that I feel have the potential to be either great films or TV Series. Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan is one of them. It tells the story of Serena Frome who is recruited by the MI5 after graduating from the University of Cambridge in the early 1970s. Her assignment is to select young writers with anti-communist views whom will be offered financial assistance. This spy story becomes more complex when love is added to the mix. Someone should hire Joe Wright to direct it, as he did a fantastic job with Atonement.

A book I also think could be turned into either a fantastic film or TV series is The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis (O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis in the original in Portuguese) by José Saramago. This is one of my favourite books by a Portuguese author. The main character in this novel is Ricardo Reis, one of the many heteronyms created by Fernando Pessoa. Saramago transforms Ricardo Reis into a real person who returns to Lisbon after the death of his friend Fernando Pessoa. He discovers a Portugal under the shadow of a dictatorship. Continue reading