Acts of Infidelity by Lena Andersson (transl. Saskia Vogel): Balancing the emotional books

Cover imageI reviewed Lena Andersson’s sharply observed, witty novella Wilful Disregard here a couple of years ago. It’s a study in obsession that has you squirming in your seat. Acts of Infidelity sees its main protagonist, Ester Nillson, once again in the grips of monomania, this time for Olof who is performing in her play, Threesome, about a man trapped in an unhappy marriage who becomes involved with another woman. Given the novel’s title, it doesn’t take much to work out how things will play between Ester and Olof.

Ester meets Olof at the first read-through of her play, experiencing a familiar tingling of attraction towards him. She’s a highly accomplished writer: a poet, playwright and intellectual. Intensely cerebral, she’s given to analysing the tiniest detail of their affair, balancing one interpretation against another yet choosing the one which fits her delusion no matter how outlandish or detrimental to herself. Olof is initially quiet about his marriage, blowing hot and cold with Ester, insisting that he and she are not in a relationship long after they have slept together. This is their particular dance: he breaks things off then one of them – often Ester – contacts the other and Olof carries on as if nothing has happened while Ester remains steadfast in her belief that he is on the brink of leaving his wife despite his frequent insistence that this will never happen. As the years roll past – three and a half of them – Ester’s friends become increasingly frantic in their advice, then weary, until one day she takes a decision.

While infused with a sly humour, Acts of Infidelity is altogether more sombre than Wilful Disregard. There’s the odd passing reference to Hugo Rask, the previous object of Ester’s obsession, but it’s clear she’s learned nothing from that experience. Andersson shows no mercy in skewering Ester’s self-deluded conviction that Olof is as besotted with her as she is with him while ‘Let’s get out of here’, Olof said, and proceeded to take a seat in an armchair neatly sums up Olof’s exasperatingly contradictory behaviour throughout their affair. The ‘girlfriend chorus’ listens as patiently as they did in Wilful Disregard, becoming less so as time wears on. This may sound like a rerun, then, but the difference is that sombre tone which makes Act of Infidelity sadly credible. Most of us have known friends in this kind of predicament, although perhaps not quite so extreme as Ester’s. The ending is a relief. Andersson refuses to put the blame squarely on the mistress’ shoulders as society so often does, offering instead – as you’d expect from Ester – a more complicated, nuanced interpretation.

America is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo: Home is not necessarily where the heart is

Cover imagePerhaps because I’ve only lived in one country, I’m perennially attracted to the immigrant experience in fiction which is why Elaine Castillo’s debut caught my eye. Set in the Californian city of Milpitas in the early ‘90s, it’s about a Filipino community and I’m ashamed to say that before I read it I knew next to nothing about the Philippines’ troubled history. Castillo explores that history through the story of Hero who comes to live with her uncle and aunt after being released from a prison camp.

Hero hasn’t spoken to her parents since 1976 when she dropped out of medical school and became involved with the New People’s Army. Never part of their guerrilla attacks, Hero patched up her comrades until she was snatched and incarcerated for two years, leaving her with badly broken hands. Her favourite uncle offers her a home in the States where she’s an illegal and unable to work. Instead, she looks after her sassy seven-year-old niece Roni of whom she becomes increasingly fond. Her aunt is not so welcoming. Paz takes as many nursing shifts as she can, stubbornly intent on Roni’s betterment while Pol works as a security guard, his impeccable surgical reputation useless without accreditation. Paz and Pol come from very different backgrounds: he’s from a wealthy family with connections to President Marcos; she’s from a dirt poor, hardscrabble home. Their mother tongues are not the same; their food preferences differ widely; despite her training Paz holds firm to the old superstitions. Paz proudly stood her ground against the womanising Pol for a long time but he was determined. Now their marriage seems unequal. This is the strained household into which Hero must fit herself, made easier when she meets Rosalyn and finds a second home.

America is Not the Heart is a big, sometimes baggy novel that draws you in after a slowish start. Castillo deftly weaves the benighted history of the Philippines into Hero’s story both through flashbacks and family history. Pol and Paz neatly personify the archipelago’s intensely stratified society, a chasm between their ethnic, social and economic backgrounds which seems impossible to bridge although it’s Paz who’s the breadwinner in their American household. Castillo captures the insularity of a community in which the many signals of where each member sits in Filipino society are present and correct, evoking it particularly vividly in Rosalyn’s fury at her own ignorance when she contemplates moving out of Milpitas. The characterisation is strong – Hero and Rosalyn are polar opposites yet their relationship feels entirely credible. And Castillo writes about sex well, unafraid to use a bit of humour – not an easy feat to pull off as winners of the Bad Sex Award will no doubt tell you. Just one criticism, I could have done with a glossary. Lots of googling interrupted the reading flow for me. That said, Castillo’s debut is entertaining, engrossing and enlightening. Can’t say better than that.

Paperbacks to Look Out for in June 2018: Part One

Cover imageFewer paperbacks than I’d expected for June, which may come as a relief to some of you, but still rather too many to keep to just one post. I’ll start with André Alexis’ The Hidden Keys, a funny, clever and intricately plotted piece of storytelling full of puzzles within puzzles involving an honourable thief, a rich beyond imagining junkie and a treasure hunt. It’s a hugely enjoyable novel, a good old-fashioned caper which twists and turns in a baroque fashion as its many conundrums unfold. Highly recommended, particularly for fans of Robin Sloan’s Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore and Scarlett Thomas’ The Seed Collectors.

Back in 2001, I was very taken with a novel called Pages for You by Sylvia Brownrigg. It was a love story, telling of the intense almost visceral affair between seventeen-year-old Flannery and her teacher Anne, ten years her lover’s senior. Pages for Her is its sequel written sixteen years later in which Flannery is married to a bombastic, self-centred yet affable sculptor. She’s surprised to be invited to a conference on women’s writing but as soon as she sees Anne’s name on the schedule, she’s determined to accept. What will happen when these two women meet after so many years? While not as riveting as its precursor, Pages for Her is well worth a read.

Phil Harrison’s The First Day is also about an intense affair beginning when pastor and family man Samuel Orr meets Anna, a young Beckett scholar. When Anna becomes pregnant their affair is made public with disastrous results. Thirty years later their son lives in New York, turning his back on his childhood and family until ‘the past crashes inevitably into the present, and Sam is forced to confront the fears he has kept close for decades’ according to the blurb. That New York lure is undeniable but it’s also an attractive premise.

The past also comes back to haunt in Elanor Dymott’s Silver and Salt, apparently. Ruthie’s father has Cover imagerecently died, prompting her return to his remote Greek villa from which she has been excluded for fifteen years. She and her elder sister settle into a sort of happiness, putting their dark childhoods behind them until the arrival of an English family and their daughter ’triggers a chain of events that will plunge both women back into the past, with shocking and fatal consequences. Devastating in its razor-sharp exploration of a tragic family legacy, Silver and Salt is the story of two sisters, bound by their history and driven to repeat it’ according to the publisher aiming it squarely at the summer reading market with that jacket.

That’s it for the first part of June’s paperback preview. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis for The First Day and Silver and Salt, and to my review for the other two should any of them take your fancy. If you’d like to catch up with June’s new titles they’re here and here. Second batch soon…

Five Novels I’ve Read About Food

Cover imageFood features prominently on my agenda of pleasures in life, often overlapping neatly with travel, another priority for me. Naturally, I’ve spent many hours ogling cookery books with their gorgeous pictures of artfully arranged meals but I’m not averse to word pictures of food in fiction either. Here are five favourites which should get you salivating if you have a similar predilection. All but one have links to longer reviews if your appetite’s been whetted.

Kim Thuy’s slim, beautifully expressed Mãn is a love story, a work of aching nostalgia and a glorious celebration of language and food. It’s about a young woman who leaves Vietnam for Montreal to marry a man she doesn’t know – a match made for security rather than love. Her husband is older than her, a cafe owner who serves up soup and breakfast to émigrés longing for their families and a taste of home. Quietly and carefully Mãn introduces more dishes until the café becomes a restaurant, growing into a cookery school, then a book is published and a TV show made. She finds herself fêted, a quiet celebrity not only in Canada but in France where the Parisians eagerly attend her book signings. The powerful link between food and memory runs throughout this lovely novella. It’s a quiet triumph – the kind of book that can be read and re-read many times. Kudos to Sheila Fischman for such a sensitive translation of a book in which the nuance of language is paramount.

With its gentle prose and quietly lyrical evocations of food, Mãn reminded me of Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt. The story of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas’ Vietnamese cook, it’s a very different book but it shares the same lightness of touch and gorgeous delicacy in its use of language. In 1934 Binh is faced with a choice: accompany his employers to America, remain in France where he’s cooked for his ‘Mesdames’ for five years or return to Vietnam from which he fled in disgrace. Deliciously vivid descriptions of food are threaded through Binh’s thoughts and memories as he tries to decide what he should do, unfolding both his own story and that of the two eccentric women whose literary salon is about to be disbandedCover image

N. M. Kelby’s White Truffles in Winter keeps us in Paris with the story of the last days of the celebrated chef Escoffier who died the year after Binh was faced with his decision. It’s an affectionate portrayal of a man dedicated to the pursuit of perfection but who knows how to make chicken taste like sole when the fishmonger fails to turn up. At the end of his life – his wife desperate to have a dish named after her as the great man has done for so many others – Escoffier is still obsessed with Sarah Bernhardt with whom he has enjoyed a long intimacy, willing to teach the sassy Sabine how to cook for the resemblance she bares to Bernhardt alone. Kelby’s novel recounts the trials and errors of the quest for a dish worthy of the wife Escoffier has adored for decades despite his passion for another woman.

In Jonathan Grimwood’s The Last Banquet, we first meet the orphaned five-year-old Jean-Marie in 1723 enthusiastically eating stag beetles, analysing their taste and describing it to himself. He’s rescued by the Duc d’Orléans who introduces him to the delights of Roquefort and sets him on a path which takes him to the military academy where he meets friends who will remain influential throughout his life. He’s the embodiment of Enlightenment values – he corresponds with Voltaire and writes the Corsican entry for Diderot’s Encyclopédie, he’s a deist fascinated by science and his enlightened ideas extend to the way he runs his estate. Despite his many interests and responsibilities, he never loses his culinary curiosity. For Jean-Marie, the whole world’s a pantry and continues to be so throughout his long life during which he consumes an astonishing variety of things, from flamingo’s tongues to well, you’ll have to read it to find out what the last banquet is.

Cover imageIt was a toss-up between Merritt Tierce’s Love Me Back and Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter for my fifth foodie title, both excellent novels set in restaurants. In the end, I plumped for Danler’s book, a twenty-first century Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Tess begins her training in what her roommate calls the best restaurant in New York, subjected to endless snipey backchat, given the dirtiest jobs and expected to know everything without being told. Eventually she’s singled out by Simone, revered for her esoteric knowledge and expertise. Tess also has her eye on Jake, aloof and well-known for his promiscuity, but finds herself drawn into the orbit of these two and their dangerous games. Danler writes beautifully about food in this thoroughly engrossing, acutely perceptive portrait of a young woman whose idealism is stripped from her.

Any novels about food you’d like to recommend?

El Hacho by Luis Carrasco: A Spanish fable

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I’m always a little wary when small publishers approach me to review a book, and époque press is tiny. If a book from a large conglomerate turns out not to suit that’s one thing but for a press as small as this one it’s entirely different. Sporting a ringing endorsement from Jon McGregor on it’s beautiful jacket, Luis Carrasco’s El Hacho is the first book époque have published. Set in the mountains above Ronda in Andalucia, Carrasco’s slim novella – barely more than a hundred pages – reads like a fable deeply rooted in the landscape of southern Spain.

Curro was born and raised on the olive farm his father and his father’s father cultivated for years. He remembers his father courteously rebuffing approaches to buy their ancestral land, twice offering a man from Malaga a handful of home-grown almonds and sending him on his way. Curro lives in the old family home with his wife Carmen, farming the land alongside his brother who comes up from the village at the foot of the mountain each day. This year the south is in the grip of an autumnal drought. As Curro and Jean-Marie labour in the searing heat, Marie complains while Curro placates. It’s clear that Curro sees himself as the guardian of this mountain grove where both his parents are buried while Marie has his sights set on an easier life. When Marie fails to appear for several days, Curro takes himself off to the village, visiting the bar where he knows his brother will inevitably show his face. They come to an arrangement that will cost Curro dear. Not long after, the drought finally breaks in a storm which is biblical in its ferocity.

Written in simple, clean prose from which vividly evocative descriptions sing out, this is a remarkable debut both for its author and publisher. Carrasco’s writing is strikingly poetic at times, stripped of ornament and all the better for it:

Without these trees I’m just a man, which is nothing much to be Curro’s father tells the man from Malaga

The olives hung weakly on their stalks, unresponsive to the touch and sad like rickety children observes Curro

We’re all spokes on the same wheel Marie. We turn together declares Curro of their community

There’s a timelessness about Carrasco’s novella. Despite the lure of the modern world, Curro remains quietly loyal to his family and to his neighbours while his brother succumbs to the temptations of what he thinks money can buy. Tuck this one into your case if you’re off to Spain for your holiday, or anywhere really. I wish I had, although the Spain of Madrid and Toledo is very different from Curro’s.

Books to Look Out for in June 2018: Part Two

Cover imageWhereas there was no contest for my first June selection’s lead title, two novels jostle for that position in the second. Tim Winton wins by a whisker with The Shepherd’s Hut. Jaxie Clackton has long since put home behind him when a dramatic event leaves him with nothing, catapulting him into a journey across the arid Western Australian wilderness. ‘Fierce and lyrical, The Shepherd’s Hut is a story of survival, solitude and unlikely friendship. Most of all it is about what it takes to keep hope alive in a parched and brutal world’ say the publishers. A new book from Winton is always something to look forward to for me.

Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City met with tidal waves of critical acclaim in 2016 and deservedly so. Crudo is her much-tweeted-about first novel. Just turned forty, Kathy is coming to terms with the idea of a lifelong commitment against a backdrop of mad Trump tweets and post-referendum Britain, wondering if it’s worth the effort. ‘A Goodbye to Berlin for the 21st century, Crudo charts in real time what it was like to live and love in the horrifying summer of 2017, from the perspective of a commitment-phobic peripatetic artist who may or may not be Kathy Acker . . .’ say the publishers somewhat intriguingly given that Acker died in 1997.Cover image

The protagonist of Caoilinn Hughes’ debut Orchid and the Wasp also seems to be dealing with personal and global crises. The daughter of a wealthy dysfunctional family, Gael is finding her way around the London club scene and New York’s art world as the Occupy movement gains momentum. ‘Written in heart-stoppingly vivid prose, Orchid & the Wasp is a modern-day Bildungsroman that chews through sexuality, class and contemporary politics and crackles with joyful fury and anarchic gall’ say the publishers which sounds a little frenetic. Hughes is an award-winning poet which is always a lure for me.

Winding back to the scorching Los Angeles summer of 1965, A. G. Lombardo’s Graffiti Palace follows African-American graffiti artist Americo Monk as he tries to make his way home through the race riots sparked by the arrest of Marquette Frye. Monk maps his route using the intricately depicted identity tags on the streets, recorded in a notebook that both cops and gangs are eager to get their hands on. ‘Bursting at the seams with memorable characters – including Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, sewer-dwelling crack dealers and a legendary Mexican graffiti artist no-one’s even sure exists – Graffiti Palace conjures into being a fantastical, living, breathing portrait of Los Angeles in 1965’ say the publishers a little dramatically but perhaps justifiably so.

Cover imageI’m rounding off this selection of June titles as it began with another author whose books I’ve enjoyed. Rupert Thomson’s Never Anyone but You is based on the true story of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore who meet and fall in love in early twentieth-century small town France. Moving to Paris, they immerse themselves in the world of Hemingway and Dali, producing a series of avant-garde photographs. On the eve of war, they flee to Jersey where their anti-Nazi propaganda puts their lives in danger. ‘Never Anyone but You explores the gripping true story of two extraordinary women who challenged gender boundaries, redefining what it means to be a woman, and ultimately risked their lives in the fight against oppression. Theirs is a story that has been hidden in the margins of history’ according to the publishers which sounds fascinating.

That’s it for June’s new titles. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more and if you missed the first instalment it’s here. Paperbacks soon…

 

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones: Love in the balance

Cover imageI’d heard nothing about An American Marriage before it arrived, its cover adorned with an Oprah’s Book Club selection tag which always reminds me of Jonathan Franzen’s pompous refusal to have anything to do with Winfrey’s endorsement of The Corrections, considering himself to be part of the ‘high art literary tradition‘. Well, la di da. Anyway, it certainly didn’t put me off nor Michael Chabon who also rated it highly as did Amy Bloom, one of my favourite writers. Tayari Jones’ novel lays bare a marriage in the first flush of love when the husband is wrongfully imprisoned.

Roy and Celestial are visiting his parents in small town Louisiana. They met briefly when she visited her best friend Andre in college but their relationship began properly four years later. Roy is a publishing rep, easy, charming and very successful at what he does while Celestial is a doll maker whose work is just beginning to catch the art world’s eye. They’re an attractive young couple, bright successful and in love, part of Atlanta’s growing black middle class. Celestial is a little nervous about the visit, never feeling she quite measures up to her mother-in-law’s exacting eye. Roy has booked them into a local hotel much to her relief. When he meets a woman at the ice machine, her arm in a cast, they briefly chat and he helps her to her room, opening her door for her before returning to Celestial. In the early hours of the morning, the police burst into their room, hauling Roy off to the station where he is accused of rape and later sentenced to twelve years in prison. Jones’ novel explores the fallout of this awful calamity.

Jones unfolds her story from both Roy and Celestial’s points of view with occasional interpolations from Andre. Married for just eighteen months, they’re still very much caught up in each other. Roy is a confident, slightly brash young man from a respectable blue-collar background while Celestial has enjoyed the privileges of a wealth, a divide captured well by Jones in their very different voices, particularly Roy’s: If my childhood were a sandwich, there would be no meat hanging off the bread. Racism, class and marriage come under the microscope as do absent fathers and attitudes towards women which may sound a little ambitious but it’s all tightly controlled and smoothly executed in this powerful novel which avoids the saccharine. Lots to talk about here for book groups – I’m not surprised Oprah plumped for it and I’m sure Jones was more than happy that she did.

White Houses by Amy Bloom: An American love story

Cover imageI’ve yet to read anything by Amy Bloom that I’ve not loved. Her writing is both deft and empathetic, pressing all my literary buttons. Hopes were extraordinarily high, then, for White Houses but they were surpassed to the extent that this post is in danger of degenerating into one long gush. Spanning a weekend in April 1945, shortly after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Bloom’s novella tells the story of his wife Eleanor and Lorena Hickok, the woman who joined them in the White House.

Hick waits at Eleanor’s New York apartment on Washington Square just three days after Roosevelt’s death. Once caught up in a passionate affair, these two women still love each other dearly. It’s to Hick that Eleanor turns for comfort, solace and help with the sacks stuffed with condolence letters. Wary of accusations of bias, Hick gave up a promising career as a White House reporter when she took up residence, instead traveling the country and reporting to Federal Emergency Relief Administration on the desperate conditions wrought by the Depression. She’s no stranger to poverty but what she saw appalled her. Both Hick and Eleanor share memories of a childhood marked by the loss of their mothers but whereas Eleanor’s was cushioned by privilege, Hick’s was scarred by negligence and worse, bowdlerised to spare Eleanor’s sensitivity. When Roosevelt was elected, Hick joined them in her own spartan apartment  – Eleanor tacitly accepting her husband’s mistresses while he returned the favour. Hick remains long after their ardour has cooled. Theirs is a deep and lasting love which continues until Eleanor dies in 1962.

Bloom narrates this elegantly spare novella through Hick’s dry, earthy sometimes humorous voice, painting a picture of ‘30s and early ’40s America through the lens of her experience. Both Hick and Eleanor are vividly drawn: Hick’s sharp-eyed view of Eleanor’s need for approbation and moral probity – so hard for those around her to match and at times, so exasperating – contrast with her passion and tenderness for her lover. The storytelling is engrossing and evocative – Hick’s description of her brief time with a travelling freak show is a particular delight. It’s an extraordinarily intimate portrait, both of the two women and of Roosevelt’s presidency, and the writing is sublime, often conveying a great deal in a couple of well-chosen words. I could fill this post with quotes but here are just a few favourites:

Eleanor’s love was like some shabby old footstool. Everyone used it without wanting it and no one ever gave it a moment’s thought

I wouldn’t call it nagging. It was like having the Statue of Liberty watch you have one beer too many

Sometimes, I love her more when I don’t even see her

He was the greatest president of my lifetime and he was a son of a bitch every day… …He broke hearts and ambitions across his knee like bits of kindling, and then dusted off his hands and said, Who’s for cocktails?

From its brief opening sentence to its gloriously poetic, heart-wrenching final paragraph, this is an extraordinarily accomplished piece of fiction. Bring on all the prizes.

Books to Look Out for in June 2018: Part One

Cover imageIt’s often tricky to decide which title should lead these previews but not this time. Written when she knew her death was imminent, Helen Dunmore’s gorgeously jacketed short story collection Girl Balancing, and Other Stories explores family ties, motherhood friendship and grief. ‘Capturing the passion, joy, loss, longing and loneliness we encounter as we navigate our way through life, each story sets out on a journey, of adventure, new beginnings, reflection and contemplation. With her extraordinary imagination and masterful storytelling, Girl, Balancing & Other Stories offers us a deep insight into the human condition and our place in history’ say the publishers and I’ve no doubt they’re right. Dunmore’s characteristic empathy and perception shone through her quietly graceful writing.

Hard to follow that but I’ve chosen a writer whose work I think Dunmore may have enjoyed, although it’s very different from her own. In Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion a young student is taken up by a prominent feminist and finds herself treading a very different path from the one she’d expected to be on. ‘Expansive and wise, compassionate and witty, The Female Persuasion is about the spark we all believe is flickering inside us, waiting to be seen and fanned by the right person at the right time, and the desire within all of us to be pulled into the light’ say the publishers, promisingly. I’ve long been a fan of Wolitzer’s novels, reviewing The Interestings here way back in 2013. Cover image

Kenji Tanabe, the protagonist of Thomas Bourke’s The Consolation of Maps, also finds himself on a surprising path by the sound of it. Tenabe sells antique maps in a prestigious Tokyo gallery but is presented with an unexpected offer of a job in America working for a woman who has never recovered from the death of her lover. ‘Moving across countries and cultures, The Consolation of Maps charts an attempt to understand the tide of history, the geography of people and the boundless territory of loss’ say the publishers which sounds interesting if a little woolly.

Quite a brave move to make your first novel a fictionalised account of Truman Capote’s career, focussing on the ‘literary grenade’ he threw into the circle of  socialite confidantes who had entrusted him with their gossip and secrets but that’s what Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott has done in Swan Song. ‘A dazzling debut about the line between gossip and slander, self-creation and self-preservation, SWAN SONG is the tragic story of the literary icon of his age and the beautiful, wealthy, vulnerable women he called his Swans’ say the publishers confidently although Paula at BookJotter begs to differ.

I’m bookending this first batch of June titles with a second collection of short stories, also with a splendid cover. This one comes from Joseph O’Neill, author of the much-lauded Neverland. Good Trouble’s characters are brought face to face with both who they are and who they will never be, apparently. ‘Packed with O’Neill’s trademark acerbic humour, Good Trouble explores the maddening and secretly political space between thoughts and deeds’ say the publishers, whetting my appetite.

That’s it for the first batch of June goodies. As ever, a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you be interested. Second selection soon…

 

Six Degrees of Separation – from The Poisonwood Bible to The Eyre Affair #6Degrees

Six Degrees of Separation is a meme hosted by Kate over at Books Are My Favourite and Best. It works like this: each month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the others on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month we’re starting with Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. Drawing on her own childhood experiences with her missionary family in Africa, it’s the book that made her name but I much prefer her earlier novels.

Another Barbara whose novels I’ve enjoyed is Barbara Trapido whose Noah’s Ark is about a scatty single mother who falls for Noah, her polar opposite, but a decade later finds herself drawn back into her complicated past. I’m not entirely sure it would stand up to a second reading.

Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark became Schindler’s List for Stephen Spielberg’s blockbusting adaptation. I was told by the publisher’s rep that Americans did not know what an ark was hence the renaming which sounds a wee bit far-fetched not to mention insulting to me.

Sophie’s Choice by William Styron takes a somewhat starker view of the Holocaust with the story of a Polish concentration camp survivor married to a Jewish intellectual in Brooklyn and haunted by a dreadful secret.

The eponymous fourteen-year-old in Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World is led through a history of Western philosophy by a mysterious mentor and a multitude of postcards posing riddles in this international bestseller which was one of the first crossovers between young adult and adult book buyers that I remember from my bookselling days.

A description that could also be applied to Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time about fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone who has Asperger’s syndrome and whose world is thrown into chaos by the discovery of his neighbour’s murdered dog.

The Boone family live in Swindon as does Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next, detective extraordinaire, who first made her appearance in The Eyre Affair which sees Thursday determined to get a whole series of literary characters back on their rightful pages. One of those books that has you constantly sniggering, annoying everyone within earshot.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from missionary work in Belgian Congo to fantastical literary conundrums in Swindon. Part of the fun of this meme is comparing the very different routes other bloggers take from each month’s starting point. If you’re interested, you can follow it on Twitter with the hashtag #6Degrees, check out the links over at Kate’s blog or perhaps even join in.