Be impressed…. I’m returning to the Penguin Moderns very promptly, mainly because I enjoyed the last two so much and because the authors of these two are drawing me to them like a magnet. Well, maybe a little nervously when it comes to Shirley Jackson – but let’s see how I get on…. 😉

Penguin Modern 19 – I have more souls than one by Fernando Pessoa

Template:Cavalão [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Give me some more wine, because life is nothing.

I’ve wanted to read Pessoa for sooooo long; he’s best known as the author of “The Book of Disquiet” which exists in multiple forms (I own at least two unread copies) and I wondered what this volume would contain? It turns out he was also a poet and a number of his verses are featured here; however, this being Pessoa, nothing is straightforward…. Because Pessoa wrote poems under four different names, all of which are showcased!

I have no ambitions or wants.
To be a poet is no ambition of mine.
It is my way of staying alone.

In his poetry as well as his prose, Pessoa is a man with multiple voices and a slippery persona, applying layers between himself and his readers. He writes in the four distinct poetic voices included in this Penguin Modern, which makes for a fascinating sampler of his verse works. However, how do we know which is his *true* voice? Which should we take most seriously? Is each a facet of a very complex personality? Truly, Pessoa is a man who raises more questions that give answers!

To those for whom happiness is
Their sun, night comes round.
But to one who hopes for nothing
All that comes is grateful.

As for the works, well I’m not well versed enough (ha!) in the terminology of poetry to give these styles labels, but they *are* all very individual, and so kudos to translator Jonathan Griffin for capturing these distinctive voices. If I had to pick a favourite, I would say that the poems under Pessoa’s own name were the ones which spoke to me most directly, emotionally and strongly – “There was a moment” is particularly beautiful. But all were intriguing, and I’m definitely drawn to pick up “The Book of Disquiet” sooner rather than later – if I could only decide which version to read….

Penguin Modern 20 – The Missing Girl by Shirley Jackson

As I think I’ve mentioned before, my only encounter with Shirley Jackson is in the form of her notorious short story “The Lottery”; it nearly scarred me for life and I’ve actually never been near her writing since. However, I steeled myself, and read this one in daylight!

The book contains three short stories and fortunately they’re less obviously horrible than “The Lottery”. Instead, it’s words like unsettling and disturbing which come to mind. For example, in the title story, a teenage girl does indeed go missing, from some kind of summer camp. However, her presence in the place (and indeed life) seems so insubstantial that everyone begins to doubt she was actually there. Journey with a Lady tells of a nine year old boy’s first trip on his own to his grandfather’s. He encounters an enigmatic woman on the train who is not quite what she seems and they form an unlikely bond. And the final story, Nightmare, does indeed have the air of one, with a woman apparently pursued around New York by a weird advertising promotion – but is she really the Miss X people are to look out for? The denouement is suitably nebulous…

Well, I am delighted to reveal that Shirley and I are reconciled. I enjoyed these stories very much and read them with something bordering on a sense of relief. They’re marvellously constructed, compelling, clever and yes, very unnerving but impossible to put down. Jackson excels in portraying unease, particularly in the final story where poor Miss Morgan seems to be stalked by the media promotion. If her novels are like this I think I’ll really like them; I really was rattled by “The Lottery”, but on the evidence of these works I can and I will read more Shirley Jackson!

So two completely different but both excellent Penguin Moderns – and yay! I’m reading more poetry! That’s one of the things I’m most pleased about in the collection, actually – because as they’re bite-sized books I get the chance to explore new poets without being fazed by a massive volume of collected works. Here’s to more small books! 😀

*****

Saramago and Pessoa – including my beloved Death at Intervals….

As an aside, I’m looking for a little reading advice… As I mentioned above, I’ve still to read “The Book of Disquiet” but I also have sitting on the stacks “The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis” by Jose Saramago, which I’m itching to pick up. Saramago’s book is about one of Pessoa literary aliases (so this is going to be meta-metafiction by the sound of it!) but I wonder whether it’s best read after “Disquiet”? Is there anyone out there who’s read both and is in a position to offer a sensible suggestion??? 🙂

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