El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan, by Jorge Luis Borges

21401849English title: The Garden of Forking Paths

Yu Tsun is living in the UK during World War I and he is a spy for the German Empire. He has just discovered the location of a new British artillery park and wishes to convey that knowledge to his German handlers before he is captured by Richard Madden, a British spy. Tsun boards a train, narrowly avoiding Captain Madden at the train station. He has a little advantage over his hunter, and he goes to the house of Doctor Stephen Albert, an eminent Sinologist. As he walks up the road to Doctor Albert’s house, Tsun reflects on his great ancestor, Ts’ui Pên, a man that was famous for pursuing two things: to write a vast and intricate novel, and to construct an equally vast and intricate labyrinth. At his death, what he wrote was a “contradictory jumble of irresolute drafts” that made no sense and the labyrinth was never found. Tsun arrives at the house of Doctor Albert, who is deeply excited to have met a descendant of Ts’ui Pên. Albert explains excitedly that he has solved both mysteries—the chaotic and jumbled nature of Ts’ui Pên’s unfinished book and the mystery of his lost labyrinth.

This is a really short story, so if you want to know how it ends, you’ll have to read it! 😉 (it’s easily found online).

I had to read this short story for college. I usually enjoy this kind of writing from Borges, so I don’t know why I never read an entire book by him.

Attachments, by Rainbow Rowell

8909152“Hi, I’m the guy who reads your e-mail, and also, I love you . . . “

Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder know that somebody is monitoring their work e-mail. (Everybody in the newsroom knows. It’s company policy.) But they can’t quite bring themselves to take it seriously. They go on sending each other endless and endlessly hilarious e-mails, discussing every aspect of their personal lives.

Meanwhile, Lincoln O’Neill can’t believe this is his job now- reading other people’s e-mail. When he applied to be “internet security officer,” he pictured himself building firewalls and crushing hackers- not writing up a report every time a sports reporter forwards a dirty joke.

When Lincoln comes across Beth’s and Jennifer’s messages, he knows he should turn them in. But he can’t help being entertained-and captivated-by their stories.

By the time Lincoln realizes he’s falling for Beth, it’s way too late to introduce himself.

What would he say . . . ? (from Goodreads)

I believe this is Rowell’s first novel and, just like the other works I read from her, is beautifully written and hard to put down. If I’d started earlier in the day, I would have read it in one sitting.

What I liked about it:

  • I love epistolary novels, and although this is not exactly one, it’s almost like that. Instead of letters, we read Jenn and Beth’s emails, which are actually more like a chat, and remind me of the long chat conversations I used to have (who am I kidding, I still have) with my best friends, talking all kinds of crazy things + real life and serious talking. The novel, however, it’s not entirely told by emails, because when we read about Lincoln, is just regular writing.
  • There are no bad guys. Only some annoying characters, just like in real life, but that at the end there are not even that annoying.
  • Characters felt believable and like real people.

What I didn’t love about it:

  • I can’t help but wonder how would I react if something like this would happen to me. Some guy at work falls in love with me while reading personal and private emails I wrote to a friend. And he lures around my cubicle when I’m not there. Lincoln doesn’t feel good about it and all that, and really tries to stop the creep in him, but still… Nowadays, social media allows all kind of stalkery behaviour, but maybe it was different in the 90s, when the story is setted? Doesn’t the fact that I love epistolary novels means that I like to read other people’s mail too? Is this something we all like to do, despite knowing is wrong? Is that why epistolary novels exist?

Anyway, the novel is really enjoyable and recommendable.

Un beso de Dick, by Fernando Molano Vargas

16076882English title: Dick’s Kiss

Un beso de Dick was written by Colombian author Fernando Molano Vargas in 1990. I read it in Spanish, but it has been translated to English as Dick’s kiss and published by University Press of the South in 2005. It’s not an easy book to find (not even in Spanish), but I assure you is definitely worth the search.

It’s a coming-of-age novel about teenage love, narrated entirely by Felipe, a sixteen year-old boy. We have access to his inner monologues, we’re literally reading his mind. We see the world through his eyes: his school life, his relationships with his classmates and friends, his family and, mostly, his subject of desire: Leonardo. They start as comrades, they’re in the same class and same group of friends, and share a lot of time playing football (soccer) (and in the showers, as well). We know almost from the start the deep feelings that Felipe has for Leonardo. He can’t stop thinking about him, he can’t stop staring at him. Luckily for him, things escalate quickly and in a party they declare their attraction to each other, and we become witnesses of their incipient -and secret- relationship.

I absolutely loved this book. I knew about it from a podcast I listen to, so I didn’t get to it blindfolded, I knew where I was going, but I didn’t expect to like it this much. The characters, specially the kids, are so endearing! It’s lovely to read Felipe’s thoughts and see how he can barely contain all the love he has for Leonardo. Just like Felipe’s aunt says: their love makes one envious of not being sixteen to fell in love being sixteen.

Unlike other YA novels I read, this story and its characters felt more real to me. Felipe at one point says (thinks) something like he doesn’t know why some people like to behave as if they were in a bad movie, unnaturally and overacting. This is how I feel about most YA books, the language the authors (or maybe the translators?) put in their characters seems unrealistic, the way they act seems forced. Sometimes is like the book is obnoxiously screaming “Make me a movie, I was born ready!”**. After reading this book I thought “WHY they haven’t made a movie ALREADY?”***. Is so candid and genuine, and asks all the right questions.

**Maybe I’m reading the wrong kind of YA

***I found out there was a play based on the book. It’s something

Little Lord Fauntleroy, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

31372989Cedric Errol is a generous, kind, and exemplary middle-class American boy who is suddenly found to be the heir of the Earl of Dorincourt. Saying loving goodbyes to his working-class friends, Cedric goes to England together with his mother to embrace his new fortune. His grandfather, the old earl, is a bitter old man ridden with gout and a foul temper, trusting no one. However the angelic boy elicits a profound transformation in the grandfather, which not only benefits the castle household but the whole populace of the earldom.

If only the old man’s heart would soften toward Cedric’s estranged mother, the family would be healed at last. And when another potential heir to the earldom makes a claim, it seems that everything is lost….

But all things are possible through a child’s innocent trust, true friendship, and unconditional love. (from Goodreads)

I wanted to read this book since I was a kid, probably after reading A Little Princes. A while ago a penpal reminded me of its existence and next time I saw it in a bookstore, I bought it.

There’s not much to say about it that GR’s synopsis hasn’t. I would have enjoyed it better if I read this when I was 10. Reading it at 26 was probably not the best idea, because I found it filled of common places and every problem that was presented to this little guy had such a predictable solution that even certain “plot-twist” was obvious. But is a nice book for young kids beginning to read, I guess

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by Jack Thorne, John Tiffany and, apparently, J. K. Rowling

29058155It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places. (from Goodreads)

I can’t discuss much about this book without spoiling it. I’m going to assume you didn’t read it and you plan to do it, so I’ll stick to generalities and superficial aspects without talking much about what actually happens. considering that there was a lot of secrecy about the plot and all that.  

  • I’m not into reading scripts, plays or anything that was written to be performed. I wanted to read this, however, because duh, Harry Potter. So one of the better things about it is that is a very straightforward reading, and I read it in just one sitting. One of the bad things about it is, obviously, that lacks of any writing apart from dialogues and few indications of place, time and scenography. I guess this last thing is where one misses the most Rowling’s work.
  • I liked what they did with the Malfoys and the relationship between Albus and Scorpius… I was about to write a little about the other characters, but I think I hate everybody else. I never really liked Harry, not even during the books, so that stays the same. Ginny is good as a mother, I guess. They didn’t get Ron. Albus is pure teenage-angst during the entire thing, a lot like Harry in the 5th book. Scorpius was my fave.
  • Certain particular new character and it’s backstory is pure bananas and it was predictable and I hate it.
  • Mostly, it was a constant state of WTF.

I can’t say I liked it but I can’t either say that I didn’t. It was enjoyable, I guess, in the way fan fiction is enjoyable: it fills a whole, but very loosely.

I hope the play was good.

Pot Luck, by Émile Zola

31297058This is the 10th book in the Rougon-Macquart series, and occurs in a Parisian apartment building. The main character, Octave*, a young man, moves to this building where, according with its concierge, only respectable families live. The truth is, behind closed-doors, every single one of these families have a lot of dirty secrets. Octave himself is only seeking to seduce any upper-class or bourgeois lady he could find. He tries to seduce his landlord’s daughter-in-law and fails; then he goes after his boss’ wife, Mme. Hédouin, and fails again, so he quits his job at “The Ladies’ Paradise”. He has to settle with Mme. Pichon, his floor neighbor, for a while, until he finally manages to get Berthe, his landlord’s newest daughter-in-law and the wife of his new boss. In the meantime, one gets to know the rest of the families and their comings and goings between unhappy marriages, arranged weddings, reunions and “hidden” mistresses. No one in this building has a clean record, except, perhaps, that mysterious happy family that the concierge despises so much basically because they always minded their own business and payed no-attention to the other “so morally respectable tenants”.

A special word deserve the maids and cooks, who made fun of their patrons in the kitchens, take advantage of them and, in occasions, satisfy their sexual appetites. In this last matter, one of my favorite characters was Trublot, a young man who was always after the maids, despising the bourgeois ladies, and trying to convince Octave into his taste in women.

For being a naturalistic novel, it had quite an ok ending. Not bitter-sweet as usual, but, if you consider Octave’s fate, quite promising. It has an immediate sequel in The Ladies’ Paradise, the 11th book in the series. BUT, we’re going to have a break from Zola, so who knows when that will come. 

*The only “sane” son of Francois and Marthe Mouret. It astonished me, however, how at certain point he’s asked about his parents, and he answers that they’re fine. Was he lying? He didn’t know yet? Did the story happen before the other’s book debacle?

The Conquest of Plassans, by Émile Zola

20161215_183126‘Abbe Faujas has arrived!’

The arrival of Abbe Faujas in the provincial town of Plassans has profound consequences for the community, and for the family of Francois Mouret in particular. Faujas and his mother come to lodge with Francois, his wife Marthe, and their three children, and Marthe quickly falls under the influence of the priest. Ambitious and unscrupulous, Faujas gradually infiltrates into all quarters of the town, intent on political as well as religious conquest. Intrigue, slander, and insinuation tear the townsfolk apart, creating suspicion and distrust, and driving the Mourets to ever more extreme actions.

The fourth novel in Zola’s Rougon-Macquart sequence, The Conquest of Plassans returns to the fictional Provencal town from which the family sprang in The Fortune of the Rougons. In one of the most psychological of his novels, Zola links small-town politics to the greater political and national dramas of the Second Empire.  (from Goodreads)

This book was so hard to read, not because it was boring or anything like that, but because one is introduced to a well-functioning family (in appearance, at least… it worked for them, I guess), that falls completely apart throughout the book and it’s devastating and frustrating to witness.

One of the main subjects in Zola’s novels is how heredity and environment worked on members of one family. Many of the characters in this novel were introduced in The Fortune of the Rougons, so we know which is their ancestry and what we could expect of that (it is well reminded early in the book, as well). Francois and Marthe (nee Rougon) Mouret are first cousins, but they’re so alike physically that could easily pass as siblings (creepy, I know). Marthe is introduced as very submissive and quiet, while Francois is very outgoing and quite a babbler. They got their physical appearance from their grandmother Adelaide Fouque, from which it seems they inherited their mental instability too. This is first seen in Marthe, as told by herself, very early, as well in their children Desirée and Serge. Francois develops his insanity along the story develops.

Francois was for me a very unpleasant character, but as long as the story went, I couldn’t help but pitty him and really root for him. Abbe Faujas was despicable from the start, although he didn’t show his true colors at first, but I was always suspicious of him. I was glad to see Félicité (Marthe’s mother) again. She’s always cunning and using everybody for her own gain, but despite all that, she’s such a strong character, pulling all the cords and making everything work just the way she wants to, that I can’t help but admire her assertive personality.

The secondary characters, as usual, introduce most of the “comic relief”, they root the characters in a realistic town-ish environment making everything more interesting and real.