The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy

Just as it had happened with Things I don’t want know, I fell in love with this cover as soon as I saw it. The black and white picture against a vivid colour is a strong mixture of past and present that can also be lived on Levy’s writing.

Why I hadn’t bought it before? I have no idea. But I knew I would read them and I knew I would buy them the very first time I saw them. So how did I finally come across the decision of finally giving it a change? In Man Booker 50 Festival. It was the very first talk on Sunday, 11 o’clock and as usual I am great with faces and names, separately. With my notebook on my hand, my eyes try to adjust to the darkness and scrabbling the panel’s names. My awe rises with all the mental connections I am making, between books and authors. I remember thinking, ‘this panel could not be better’. I also remember thinking how strong Deborah Levy’s presence on stage was, even before realizing who she was. Which, let’s be honest was quite late. I probably stared for awhile because she smiled at me, right on the second row. The way she talked about her work was marvellous and her tone revealed her devotion to what she is accomplishing- constructing a female character that does not exist yet. That is real. That is her. I also remember her pearls. And all of these details turn out to be important when I first encounter her words in The Cost of Living.

After the talk I was supposed to run to my creative writing workshop with Kamila Shamsie on ‘How to set a scene’. Yet, I could not loose the opportunity of buy The Sellout and have it sign. And it’s in the queue that I realize whose Deborah we have been talking about for an hour in the darkness. I take her book instantly, a beautiful yellow hardcover. Immediately I want to buy the blue one as well, but it’s not available. When I take the books to sign I tremble with excitement and nerves. I believe I’ve never been as close to an author, to a high praised author before. After the autograph I only have time to tell her, ‘please keep this amazing job. We need it’.

After reading the book I am happy for having chosen the right words. We do need the construction of a real female character. And that is Deborah Levy.

Her divorce and leaving her house is placed as the beginning of this second yellowish part. A woman who has been taking care of her family and now still has to in a small apartment with particular corridors, which she names ‘Corridors of Love’.

The small daily details and how she gets through them run away from the expected cycle the writer tries to follow. In fact, it seems to me an autobiography that does not follow any rule. It follows a woman real life and struggle step by step. A 21st century novel, with a simple and direct message and a recognisable main character.

The lightness of Levy’s writing contrasts directly to the heavy experiences she is able to share with the reader. And the pearls, the bike, the flat and the meaningful yellow on the cover are elements, which I can guarantee, she presented on that stage.

It is a small and easy-to-read book, which I recommend to everyone who is going through a harsh time.

A Girl is a half-formed thing

Rating: ★★★★☆

The title does leave little for wonders. My first questions when I first saw this title were quite focused on a feminist perspective: why is she a half-formed thing? Because she is a female? Because she is not a woman yet, but a young girl? Or because she needs someone or something to be a girl? Or a female? Or a woman?

Then I started reading it. And from a half-formed thing perspective the reader is pushed into a whole difficult world. Her world. Her reality. Sometimes we are lost. We wonder with her. This girl that leaves her name outside. That takes us into her intimacy without answering the question we first ask, when we meet someone: what’s your name?

But this she does not know. She does not know how to enter the world itself. She does not know anything but her love for her brother. A love which is not always recognisable.

And even though I high rated it, I would still advice you not to read. It cracks something in us. Something I can not explain. It makes us feel unsteady, uncomfortable. With a knot in the stomach. As if we knew we should reveal her secret. We must! But we can not. We can not tell because there is no name attached. We can not feel destroyed because it is fiction. We can not… We can not help her, nor all the other half-formed things in our world. Because, we are half-formed as well. Just like this girl, we just became complete when our story ends. When we close the cycle. But it is shocking how as soon as we open it, we can not stop reading it.

Just Kids

 

Rating: ★★★★★

I knew before hand this book would have me, it would own me as literally as I would own it. These pages hold something that is also mine, a shared story which I could never live without. A story that sooner or later will eternally live by its own. From my hand to the world, based in a special request.

I also knew that books that have my tears on its foreword or prologue eternally stay. It became personal before it became an assessment, a challenge before a choice. It wasn’t fiction. It wasn’t a romance. But it was for sure a love story. The one I am most keen of.

When I first started the novel, the lighted word in my bedroom’s parapet shone brightness into its pages. Love was between the words both in a physical and literary sense. It was strengthening its meaning, becoming a mark in my own story.

Lost and found in her art, Patti resembles my written self. What I build through these small posts. What I admire and how I get inspiration from it. What I look for. She even compares herself to Wendy and shows her strong belief in Neverland.

When I got closer to the expected end, I knew I had to finish it somewhere special.  I asked for a Caramel Machiatto in my favourite place of the University. Charles Dickens’s words surrounding me. And I cried. Never my sweet sweet latte felt so bitter. I couldn’t help but feel in Patti’s words the painful moment of Robert’s death. I couldn’t help but feel for Patti.

As usual I tried to find a message. But page after page I would find more and more exposed messages, I knew I would not recall them all together in the end. I knew I would read it over and over again. As if it was the first time, an uncanny taste of familiarity. Right now, with tears salting the last bit of my Machiatto, these are the ones I recall. The dreams that walk hand in hand. That make us wave at each other and write prose in our lonely time. And those marvellous paths that cross and certainly will cross again… Later on, I will look for their blue star and remember them. Wishing I had known us in their time, wishing they could see themselves in ours.

 

Down and Out in Paris and London

Rating: ★★★★☆

Orwell was always one of my favourites. For his imagery, for his irony, for his effort to change the real-life-problems by writing them and giving them to read. While everyone was crazy about 1984, my life changed with the reading of Animal Farm. I was presented to politics just like that, through the animals’ voice.

This book is different, being no different. It’s different in its theme, it’s quite the same in its approach, in its goal.

Homeless are a serious matter in big cities. London is no exception. It is not a new subject of debate. It reached George Orwell’s eyes and writing, it reaches our hearts nowadays.

Orwell’s vision of poverty is from “the inside”. The real world we lived in, and those who walk slowly enough through these two cities are capable of finding most of the “characters” in our streets. Terribly real, simply told, absolutely brilliant.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time

Classificação:★★★★☆

Cinco anos e duas línguas diferentes separam as duas edições. Tenho também de separar a mesma pessoa que as leu, por mais que contem a mesma história. Hoje começo pela review em português, porque foi essa a língua em que me estreei neste mundo de Christopher Boone.

Antes de detalhar a minha opinião sobre esta obra, e como sei que foi fortemente criticada por quem vive de perto com o Síndrome de Aspergers, relembro que Mark Haddon escreve FICÇÃO. Como ele próprio sublinha numa entrevista ao The Guardian em 2004, no auge da popularidade que se perpetua até aos dias de hoje, The Curious Incident não deve ser visto como um manual. Essa nunca foi a sua intenção. O que nos leva então a perguntar: qual era a sua verdadeira intenção?

O simples facto de ser pouco usual escrever um livro “policial” na primeira pessoa, transporta-nos imediatamente para a vida do protagonista. Somos pela primeira vez obrigados a limitar a nossa visão e a maneira como pensamos, através da posição de Christopher. Mas o que eu acho absolutamente mágico, é a forma como a escrita de Haddon nos permite ser o leitor e o Christopher ao mesmo tempo. Christopher diz que um policial é um puzzle e se este for bom, o leitor consegue descobrir o verdadeiro assassino/criminoso mesmo antes deste ser revelado. Haddon transforma o que as personagens dizem na realidade do que o leitor tem nas mãos. Em vez de permanecer dentro da regra de escrita que nos obriga a mostrar em vez de simplesmente dizer, o autor adapta-a conseguindo alcançar um espectro de idades fascinante.

É um livro que nos transporta do racional ao irracional em segundos. Que acima de tudo nos faz sorrir.

Sorrir sonhadoramente perante a inocência de Christopher, sorrir de pena pela nossa limitação em percebê-la.

The Handmaid’s Tale

Without knowing the popularity it would reach in a few weeks, Margaret Atwood’s book awaited me on the reading list for semester two. I did not like the book cover, I still don’t. (The new Vintage version is pretty though). For several days I complained about the title and the need to read something I couldn’t even understand. Then I finally sat down to start reading it. I still did not understand, but it intrigued me. And that made me keep going, until I loved it. The language is simple, the writing opens the real possibility of that scenario happening and the narrator/main character has a solid personality which every reader can relate to. For the facts mentioned above and the usual changes from paper to screen, I was very apprehensive about the series. Again, I was wrong, because now I love it too. And God, how it feels good to be wrong about this… I am usually against changes, because they might damage the narrative. But in this case, every added detail was perfectly well thought. It brought out the best of the action Atwood primarily wrote. The scenarios as well as the their connection with the lights and its lack are amazing and formidable. I hope one day I can personally congratulate everyone who was involved in this. As a reader, I felt that you respected the narrative, I felt that every change was actually on the book. And the season finale of season one is its best example.

I also understand now why it is used as a smart weapon against the US politics’ system, just as 1984, George Orwell. And every time you do not understand how powerful words either in speeches, quotes, films or novels can be remember this example. And learn that maybe if these two novels, or other important books, were widely read before the elections the impact could have been different. Never underestimate the power of words.

London Revisited: Bookshops I

We’re on divergence. Number 12. Road words, the motorist says. On the road, moving, I see my reflexion on the bus’ window. Serious. On the glassy buildings we pass. We’re using Embankment instead of Whitehall. Embankment, my first memory of London. I’m on my way to the biggest bookshop of the city. I need to see books, touch them. The reason I came here. London. The biggest Waterstones of the city.

There is silence among words. As if it is a praying place. A new author comes in, his book on display. I notice he is received with coldness. No one knows him.

When I first enter I can listen Portuguese whispering. I try not to look around.

It’s even before I do all the stairs to the first floor that my heart speeds up, like never before. Air arrives to my lungs all of a sudden. Awe, that’s the word.

The place where everything can be said. Titles display rude, sexual, classical words. No author is afraid of words, only its meanings.

As the Portuguese that runs in my blood I try to find as many translated authors as I can. One of Saramago’s books is out and I automatically smile to the presence of those two women who I listened to earlier. I touch it as if I could connect to the person who touched it before. Who left it out as a sign of patriarchy and pride. Perhaps it isn’t Portuguese at all.

I’m still looking at the classics. The cloth ones. The hardback ones. The ones I have at home. Complete collections that I will never be able to complete.

For a few names of the bottom shelf I put myself on my knees. I smile. I take one or two to read their back. I think how that version is ugly. How lucky I am to have found the prettiest.

A few people sit down, reading books. Talking about books. No one tells them to go. And I want to stay.

We’re on divergence. Number 12. Road works, the motorist says. My reflection is still out there. On the books I touched, on the glassy buildings I look at. This time I can see it with a smile.