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 others to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the titles on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.
Happy New Year! We’re starting 2021 with Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet which won last year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. I’ve yet to read it but I do know it’s the reimagined life of William Shakespeare’s son who died in childhood.
The first novel with Shakespearean connections that springs to mind is Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres, a retelling of King Lear set on a twentieth-century Iowan family farm.
Long, long ago King Lear was one of my A Level set texts as was Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham which reminded me of Anthony Burgess’ Earthly Powers, allegedly based on Maugham’s life, probably because of my recent post on memorable opening lines.
Burgess had a reputation for being prolific, happy to fire off introductions and reviews for whoever commissioned him. Tim Parks has a similarly prodigious output, writing travelogues, novels and journalism. In Teach Us to Sit Still he discusses his many attempts to find a way to stop himself working, finally settling on meditation.
Parks also translates from Italian, a language with which Jhumpa Lahri fell in love to the extent that she moved from the US to Italy to immerse herself in it as she recounts in her memoir, In Other Words, originally written in Italian then translated by Ann Goldstein into the author’s native language.
Another twist in the usual translation process is Danish writer Jens Christian Grøndahl’s Often I Am Happy, originally written in Danish then translated by the author into English. It’s the story of a marriage told after the death of the narrator’s husband, a marriage in which she’s always felt second best.
Which leads me to another account of a marriage: Ann Patchett’s This is the Story of a Happy Marriage which is made up of a set of autobiographical essays about how she sets about her work as well how she came to finally marry.
This month’s Six Degrees has taken me from the reimagined life of a famous playwright’s son to the story of a writer’s marriage and her craft. 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.