1001 Books Round-Up January 2022
Is it me or has January 2022 lasted forever?
Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter – Tackle the TBR – What GR says: Is Sophie Fevvers, toast of Europe’s capitals, part swan…or all fake?
Courted by the Prince of Wales and painted by Toulouse-Lautrec, she is an aerialiste extraordinaire and star of Colonel Kearney’s circus. She is also part woman, part swan. Jack Walser, an American journalist, is on a quest to discover the truth behind her identity. Dazzled by his love for her, and desperate for the scoop of a lifetime, Walser has no choice but to join the circus on its magical tour through turn-of-the-nineteenth-century London, St Petersburg and Siberia. Yep that is what the book is about.
My Thoughts: Wow just wow – while this lacked just a little something to get it to a 5 star read for me I really did enjoy this story. I love the way the story progresses from relative stability in London to more and more absurdity as we move through Russia into Siberia.
Magical realism as well as circus imagery is a massive part of this story from the beautiful central character Fevvers the half swan aerialist to the diminutive spelling pig Sybil via apes that read and write, tigers who dance and elephants who understand they are captive and are railing against that captivity.
I loved the way the book takes a traditional male setting, the circus, and turns it on its head. Yes the women start out being exploited but by the end of the book it is clear who has the upper hand. It is really the female relationships that make this book so compelling from Fevvers and Lizzie to the Princess and Mignon it is these friendships and rivalries that make the back bone of the story.
And yes the Princess really does save herself (and everyone else she can) in this one.
4 Stars – if you need to escape the mundane world out there you won’t get much better than this magical mystery totally whacked out exploration of life in the circus.
Metamorphoses by Ovid. Quarterly Read. What GR says: Prized through the ages for its splendor and its savage, sophisticated wit, The Metamorphoses is a masterpiece of Western culture–the first attempt to link all the Greek myths, before and after Homer, in a cohesive whole, to the Roman myths of Ovid’s day. Hmmmm
My Thoughts: For me this started out well as were exploring less well know Greek/Roman myths and it was fascinating to read an early version of Romeo and Juliet told by sisters exchanging stories while the work in a 1001 Nights kind of way after that it got bogged down in the more well know myths and stories.
If I had not recently read A Thousand Ships and other books that tell the same stories from a female perspective I probably would have appreciated it more as it was reading like this was like an 80s Christmas where every year you get to watch Sinbad the Sailor or Jason and the Argonauts or insert name here on a repetitive loop. Sorry Ovid.
I also enjoyed the last section which focussed more on nature and the world than on any specific myth and this provided new insights into Origin stories.
Overall I totally get why this on the 1001 list of books because in its day it would have been ground breaking, new and exciting but in today’s world of film, TV and retelling this suffered from being too familiar. This is not a criticism of the author it is a criticism of this reader who can’t put that fact aside and pretend this is the first time she has heard these stories.
3 Stars – This is an interesting read it just didn’t work for me it may work for you.
The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis by Jose Saramago – BOTM #1 – What GR says: The world’s threats are universal like the sun but Ricardo Reis takes shelter under his own shadow.
Back in Lisbon after sixteen years practicing medicine in Brazil, Ricardo Reis wanders the rain-sodden streets. He longs for the unattainably aristocratic Marcenda, but it is Lydia, the hotel chamber maid who makes and shares his bed. His old friend, the poet Fernando Pessoa, returns to see him, still wearing the suit he was buried in six weeks earlier. It is 1936, the clouds of Fascism are gathering ominously above them, so they talk; a wonderful, rambling discourse on art, truth, poetry, philosophy, destiny and love. Rambling you got that right…
My Thoughts: This is one of those books where to fully appreciate you need to be aware of the writings of another author name Fernando Pessoa. The main conceit being that Ricardo Reis the central character in this novel is a pseudonym used be Fernando Pessoa. Being familiar with Pessoa’s writing style will also allow you to draw parallels between the two books. Unfortunately for me I have only read one Pessoa novel (The Book of Disquiet) and I really didn’t enjoy it so you can guess where this is going.
Whenever I picked this book up I enjoyed what I was reading the problem was I had to force myself to pick it up. In the end I set myself a target of at least one chapter a day just to get it finished.
Why the reluctance to pick it up? Well the rambling nature for one thing and the lack of punctuation a pet hate of mine as with all my eye problems I need breaks on the page for my eyes to rest.
What I did like about the book was the ghost of Pessoa who would turn up at random, who couldn’t walk through doors, was always immaculately dressed and who at times was visible to others by merely as a shadow they could have imagined. The secondary characters were great as well from the hotel manager who has a pathological need to know all about his guests, the noisy neighbour women in the apartment block and the old men who wait daily for the second hand newspaper. I also enjoyed the way current events were blended into the narrative via daily news bulletins and it was interesting to see how events in Spain, Germany and Italy impacted on Portugal at the time.
Overall a mixed bag for me but I am pleased to have read it. Now I don’t have to read it again.
3 Stars – Not a bad book just not a great book either.
The History of the Siege of Lisbon by Jose Saramago. BOTM #2. What GR says: “If proofreaders were given their freedom and did not have their hands and feet tied by a mass of prohibitions more binding than the penal code, they would soon transform the face of the world, establish the kingdom of universal happiness, giving drink to the thirsty, food to the famished, peace to those who live in turmoil, joy to the sorrowful … for they would be able to do all these things simply by changing the words …” The power of the word is evident in Portuguese author José Saramago’s novel, The History of the Siege of Lisbon. His protagonist, a proofreader named Raimundo Silva, adds a key word to a history of Portugal and thus rewrites not only the past, but also his own life.
Brilliantly translated from the Portuguese by Giovanni Pontiero, The History of the Siege of Lisbon is a meditation on the differences between historiography, historical fiction, and “stories inserted into history.” The novel is really two stories in one: the reimagined history of the 1147 siege of Lisbon that Raimundo feels compelled to write and the story of Raimundo’s life, including his unexpected love affair with the editor, Maria Sara. In Saramago’s masterful hands, the strands of this complex tale weave together to create a satisfying whole. Sounds great doesn’t it…
My Thoughts: The second Saramago of the month and of my life and I can honestly say he is not a writer for me. Even with the interesting premise given above this book was more of a snoozefest than an epic.
The story is disjointed and shifts as random from Raimundo’s story to the History and back again, there is little to no punctuation and the person speaking swaps mid sentence making it hard to keep track of what is going on.
Buried within these 300 odd pages there is probably a great story desperate to get out the only problem is…it hasn’t tried hard enough to break through the rest.
Overall I can kind of see what the author is trying to do, I can see how this could make an interesting but, and it is a big but, I can’t make myself enjoy this.
3 Stars – Saramago is not for me he may be for you…
Have you read any of these books? Let us know what you thought of them. Any Saramago fans out there please let me know what it is I am missing.