Six Degrees of Separation – from A Gentleman in Moscow to Dancer

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.

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This month we’re starting with Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow which I was looking forward to very much having loved Rules of Civility but I’m afraid I gave it up although not before I’d worked out that it was about an aristocrat under house arrest at Moscow’s Hotel Metropol in 1922.

Sebastian Barry’s A Temporary Gentleman is about an Irishman from the other end of the class spectrum whose commission with the British army elevates his status for a time.

Sebastian Faulks’ Human Traces is about two psychiatrists and their attempts to understand the human mind which takes them all over the world. This was my last Faulks. The story barely stood up under the weight of his research.

I felt much the same about E. Annie Proulx’s Accordion Crimes. Somewhere in there was a great story about migrants to America told through their music, buried beneath a mound of accordion lore.

Howard Norman’s The Bird Artist was published around the same time as Proulx’s bestselling The Shipping News here in the UK, both set in Newfoundland. One dominated the bestselling lists for months, the other sank without trace. I preferred the Norman.

I’d not heard of Len Howard before I read Eva Meijer’s delightful fictionalisation of her life, Bird Cottage, earlier this year. Aged forty, Howard threw up her life as a violinist in London and took herself off to Sussex to research the bird habits. In her time Howard’s books – Birds as Individuals and Living with Birds – were very well known and translated into many languages

Which takes me to another fictionalised life, and back to Russia, with Colm McCann’s Dancer, the story of celebrated ballet dancer Rudolf Nuryev who famously defected to the West.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from a count under house arrest in 1920s Moscow to the fictionalised life of a celebrated Russian ballet dancer. 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.

32 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation – from A Gentleman in Moscow to Dancer

  1. Helen

    Great chain! I loved A Gentleman in Moscow, so I’m sorry it wasn’t a success for you, especially as you’d been looking forward to it. I enjoyed The Temporary Gentleman too, although it’s not one of my favourite Sebastian Barry books.

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      thanks, Helen. I wonder if Rules of Civility might have set the bar too high for me. Perhaps I should try again. Yes, I’d agree about The Temporary Gentleman – I much preferred The Secret Scripture.

      Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Oh, I did like it – I realise that I’ve given the impression that I didn’t. I was just sorry that the poor Bird Artist sat on the shelves of the bookshop where I worked largely ignored.

      Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      It’s a treat, Liz. Howard was such an eccentric, determined to pursue her passion. It’s so interesting that this is actually a translated novel, such was the reach of her popularity during her day.

      Reply
  2. stargazer

    ‘Dancer’ sounds intriguing, Rudolf Nuryev must have had such an interesting life. I am sorry you didn’t get far in ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’, I absolutely loved it!

    Reply
  3. Kate W

    A clever circle 🙂

    I wonder if I’ll feel the same as you about Gentleman in Moscow when I eventually get to it – my book group was very divided in the end.

    Based on blurb alone, the Barry and the Norman both appeal – sounds like I should start with the Norman (I have been a little put off bird stories after reading The Birdman’s Wife by Melissa Astley last year – too many hisfic flourishes for my liking).

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Thank you, Kate. A complete fluke! I can’t quite remember why I didn’t continue with the Towles but I think it was just a case of not being able to get into it. Interesting that far from everyone in your book group liked it.

      Loved The Bird Artist although I’m not sure how easy it is to track down these days.

      Reply

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