Six Degrees of Separation – From Shuggie Bain to 1984

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.

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This month we’re starting with Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain which follows the eponymous Shuggie over a decade from the age of five, devoted to his alcoholic mother and ceaselessly bullied for his fastidious ways. Given its themes, you might think this is a story of unremitting misery but Stuart leavens the pathos with a great deal of sharp, dry wit. I was thrilled when it won last year’s Booker Prize.

Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda is my all-time favourite Booker Prize winner. Gawky, misfit Oscar Hopkins meets fellow gambler Lucinda Leplastrier – equally the misfit and unexpectedly in possession of a large fortune – on board a ship sailing to Australia where both wager their futures on the construction of a fantastical glass church.

Gail Jones’ The Death of Noah Glass follows an art historian’s children trying to cope with their estranged father’s death. His son takes off for Sicily where Noah had spent three months shortly before his death, ostensibly to investigate the implication of Noah’s involvement in an art theft but desperate to try to understand the man he feels he hardly knew.

Which leads me to Peter Robb’s Midnight in Sicily, an exploration of art history, politics and culture intertwined with the influence of the Mafia in all areas of public life.

Tobias Jones’ fascinating Dark Heart of Italy draws on his four years living in the country, pulling no punches about Italian corruption. I remember a bookseller in the sleepy Dorset town of Sherborne telling me about the armed security detail accompanying Jones at an event in the shop thanks his book’s revelations.

I also remember that happening when Salman Rushdie, author of the notorious The Satanic Verses, did a short signing at my branch of Waterstones.

Very few of those protesting against The Satanic Verses had read even a page of it which led me to check books readers claim to have read but often haven’t. Much to my surprise, quite a few lists feature George Orwell’s 1984.

This month’s Six Degrees has taken me from last year’s poignant, funny Booker Prize winner about a son and his beloved alcoholic mother to a dystopian classic. 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.

28 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation – From Shuggie Bain to 1984”

  1. Well, I HAVE read 1984 and it scared me stiff! But then… 2016-2020 happened and I felt like Orwell must be turning in his grave, wishing he could tell people that his book wasn’t an instruction manual! I haven’t read Satanic Verses, but I’ve read two other of his books, and my sister loves his Midnight’s Children.

    1. Ha! I’m sure you’re right about Orwell’s horror. I had a feeling that all those who’d confessed to not having read it but claiming they had probably used study notes rather than reading their set text.

  2. Another person who went with a Booker Prize winner like I did! But so far, we’ve all chosen different ones. Mine was far from my favourite, but was one I’d read since blogging and that I don’t think I’ve used in a chain, at least, not recently. I agree with you that Oscar and Lucinda is great read. I’d happily read it again. I’ve also read 1984, and want to read Death of Noah Glass.

    1. Delighted to hear that, Annabel. I’d go as far as to compare The Death of Noah Glass with Siri Hustvedt’s What I Loved and I can’t give a book higher praise than that!

  3. I’m glad you mentioned the wit in Shuggie – it seems to be getting overlooked in all the misery. Such a memorable character and one that will stay with me for a long time.

    1. I think it would have been unbearable without that wit. There’s a line that I used for my review heading – ‘I’d do anything for you’ – which wrings my heart every time I see it.

  4. Good to hear your high opinion of Shuggie Bain – I’ve heard of several readers having to DNF and I’m not sure it is for me either. Oscar and Lucinda, on the other hand, sounds intriguing. Oh, and I can’t believe there are lists of books, people claim to have read, but haven’t. For the record, I have read 1984, honestly.

    1. I believe you! It was an idle Google moment which turned up lists for all manner of things. I hope you give Shuggie a go. I circled around it for ages before getting stuck in.

  5. “…which led me to check books readers claim to have read but often haven’t. Much to my surprise, quite a few lists feature George Orwell’s 1984.” Really? Yeah, I guess it’s one of those Top 100 Bucket-List Books, so many readers claim they’ve read it. And poor Rushdie still has a death threat hanging on his head for that book, so I can imagine the armed security about.

    1. The whole idea of that list seems strange but the internet is a weird and sometimes wonderful place. Poor Rushdie, indeed. I’m sure he knew it would be provocative but neither he nor his publishers could ever have imagined what ensued.

  6. I haven’t dared to approach Shuggie Bain yet, as negligent mothers is something I find really difficult to read about… I was tempted to start with the Booker Prize link but decided to do something a little different. My post should be up a little later today.

  7. I’ve read 1984 three times… one of my favourite books. I also ADORE Oscar and Lucinda. I have a bit of a love / hate relationship with Carey, but I love this one. I’ve read quite a lot of Gail Jones’ novels but not this one… I must rectify that.

      1. Agreed about A Guide to Berlin. I recently read her new one, Our Shadows, and thought it very good. Not sure if it is published in UK yet.

  8. Wow, what an epic chain Susan! I am compelled to add Oscar and Lucinda to my TBR, as well as your three Italian-linked titles, which all sound intriguing.

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