Category Archives: Six Degrees of Separation

Six Degrees of Separation – From Stasiland to The A B C Murders

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, in what feels like an entirely different world from the one we were living in last month, we’re starting with Stasiland, Anna Funder’s clear-eyed, empathetic testament to the dreadful consequences of totalitarianism in which people tell their stories of life in the GDR and the opening of the Stasi’s files.

Which leads me to Red Love, Maxim Leo’s memoir of his years growing up in East Berlin. A fascinating portrait of a privileged family, well-connected within the GDR establishment.

Kapka Kassakova’s riveting Border explores the border zone between Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece, rumoured to be an easier crossing point into the West than the Berlin Wall in the Cold War years.

Set in the same area Miroslav Penkov’s sprawling Stork Mountain is narrated by a young man who left Bulgaria, aged eight, a couple of years after the Wall fell, returning to Klisura whose roofs are home to many storks’ nests.

Plenty of birds, although no storks, in Eva Meijer’s delightful Bird Cottage, a fictionalised biography of Len Howard who threw up her life as a violinist in London and took herself off to Sussex to pursue her lifelong passion for birds.

Jill Dawson’s novels often take the form of fictionalised biography, including The Crime Writer about Patricia Highsmith’s sojourn in a Suffolk cottage, hoping her lover will join her.

John Malkovich played a suitably chilling Ripley in the film adaptation of Highsmith’s Ripley’s Game. He turned up, slightly disconcertingly, as Poirot in the BBC’s 2018 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The A B C Murders which features a murderer whose victims’ names follow an alphabetic sequence, an early outing for contemporary crime fiction’s staple character – the serial killer.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from an investigation of the Stasi’s files after they were opened to the public to a crime fiction classic set in the South East of England. 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.

Six Degrees of Separation – From Wolfe Island to The Satanic Verses

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.

Cover images

This month we’re starting with Lucy Treolar’s Wolfe Island which I haven’t read but I gather from the blurb is about a woman whose life lived alone on the eponymous island is disrupted by the arrival of her granddaughter together with two refugees fleeing persecution.

I’m taking a phonetic leap, losing the ‘e’ and landing in Tünde Farrand’s Wolf Country, a dystopian tale set in a world in the grips of rampant consumerism. All too plausible.

Wolf Country’s jacket bears a startling resemblance to Francine Toon’s Pine, a slice of modern Scottish gothic that I’m keen to read.

Toon is an editor turned novelist as was William Maxwell, author of So Long, See You Tomorrow, one of my favourite novels, about a friendship between two boys which turns sour

Picking up the theme of male friendship, which seems much rarer that the female variety in fiction, A. D. Miller’s The Faithful Couple is about two men whose twenty-year friendship is overshadowed by a dubious moral act committed in college.

Staying with authors who eschew their full name in favour of initials leads me to Water Music, my favourite novel by T. C. Boyle. Based on Mungo Park’s compulsive quest to find the source of the Niger, it’s packed with extraordinary characters who never seem to have a dull moment.

On the front of its current jacket, Salman Rushdie exhorts readers of Water Music to ‘gulp it down, it beats getting drunk’ which leads me to Rushdie’s notorious The Satanic Verses, the publication of which had all sorts of repercussions that neither its author nor publisher could ever have imagined.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from a woman living alone on remote island to a hugely controversial novel which led to its author living in an undisclosed location surrounded by armed guards. 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.

Six Degrees of Separation – From Fleishman is in Trouble to Oh Pure and Radiant Heart

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 Fleishman is in Trouble which many in my neck of the Twitter woods were raving about last year. I’ve yet to read it but the blurb tells me it’s about a man looking forward to his new-found freedom whose ex-wife disappears.

Which reminded me of Katie Kitamura’s unnamed narrator in A Separation called in by her ex-partner’s parents to help find their son who has disappeared while on holiday in Greece.

Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk sees Sofia, also on an enforced holiday, this time in Spain where her mother is seeking help from the mysterious Dr Gomez for an illness which defies diagnosis.

A holiday turns sour then becomes an adventure for Vendela Vida’s protagonist in The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty when she’s mistakenly handed someone else’s identical backpack.

Vida’s novel is narrated in the second person which took some getting used to for me but I enjoyed it very much once I was accustomed to it. The same goes for TaraShea Nesbitt’s The Wives of Los Alamos which is narrated in the first person plural. It’s an ambitious impressive debut about the wives of the scientists who developed the atomic bomb.

Much more conventional in style, Joseph Kanon’s thoroughly enjoyable thriller, Los Alamos, is set during the same period and features an intelligence officer who falls in love with one of the scientist’s wives.

Lydia Millet’s Oh Pure and Radiant Lives begins with the first mushroom cloud in the New Mexican desert which sees the scientists responsible catapulted into 2003 where they try to adjust to a very different America. I loved this funny, original novel.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from a bestselling satire about modern marriage to a set of time-traveling scientists. 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.

Six Degrees of Separation – from Daisy and the Six to Eucalyptus

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 Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Daisy Jones and the Six which I haven’t read although it’s on my TBR list. I do know it’s about a ‘70s rock band which implodes at the height of its fame.

Leading me to Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments, set in working-class Dublin, which sees two friends put a band together singing ‘60s soul numbers. Despite their success on the Dublin circuit, tensions run high and the band splits. A very funny book which was made into a thoroughly enjoyable film.

Not at all funny but also set in Dublin, Belinda McKeon’s lovely novel, Tender, follows the story of a young woman who falls in love with her gay male friend.

Ann Patchett’s The Magician’s Assistant is about Sabine, married to a man she’s always known to be gay, trying to cope with her grief after his death and finding comfort in an unexpected place.

Ann Patchett runs a bookshop in Nashville – Parnassus Books – and I have to say it looks wonderful. Fellow author Jeanette Winterson also turned her hand to retailing with a delicatessen, no longer open, which also sold fruit and vegetables. Her debut Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit tells the semi-autobiographical story of growing up in an evangelical household.

That title leads me to Kathryn Harrison’s eighteenth-century set A Thousand Orange Trees, which sees Louis XIV’s niece abandoning the trees she’d hoped to take to Spain whose king she’s to marry.

Murray Bail’s Eucalyptus, features another sort of tree, collected by the father of a beautiful young woman whose hand in marriage he plans to give to the first man who can name each of the five hundred eucalypts in his collection.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from hedonistic LA in the ‘70s to an isolated New South Wales estate and a rather unusual competition. 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.

Six Degrees of Separation – from Sanditon to The Corrections

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.

Cover images

This month we’re starting with Jane Austen’s Sanditon, recently televised in the UK which must have been something of a challenge given that the novel’s unfinished.

John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman has three different endings making it well nigh unfilmable, you’d think, but Harold Pinter did an excellent job with the screenplay for the 1981 movie starring Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep.

The title of Fowles’ book leads me to French Exit, Patrick deWitt’s caustic caricature of the wealthy upper classes, which takes its readers from New York City to Paris in the company of Frances Price, her son Malcolm and Small Frank, their ancient cat – once met never forgotten.

Small Frank would no doubt have sneered at the hairless therapy cat supposedly helping Jay get over what he sees as his mother’s desertion when he was a child in Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s Harmless Like You.

Nathan Hill’s The Nix explores American politics through the relationship between another mother and the son she left when he was eleven years old, reunited when she finds herself in the spotlight over two decades later

The Nix sounds very much like the name of a famous New York basketball team although it’s spelt Knicks. I know next to nothing about sport but I did enjoy Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland which sees a Dutchman take up cricket in New York City. When President Obama declared his love for the book, sales must have spiked way beyond O’Neill’s wildest dreams.

Not quite in Obama’s league, although it was once rumoured that she might stand for president, an endorsement from Oprah Winfrey must have been the stuff of dreams for authors when she was in her heyday. Not for Jonathan Franzen, though, who refused to have anything to do with her book club rather snottily declaring his novel, The Corrections, to be high art and therefore, presumably not for the Winfrey-watching hoi polloi.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from an unfinished nineteenth century novel to the story of a supremely dysfunctional family by a rather pleased-with-himself author. 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.

Six Degrees of Separation – from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to Seven White Gates

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.

This month we’re starting with Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a book I’ve read many times as a child and as an adult.

Both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking-Glass are stuffed with riddles, puzzles, wordplay and a multitude of allusions which Martin Gardner helps elucidate in The Annotated Alice

I’m distinctly unkeen on annotations in novels but Jonathan Coe’s footnotes in The House of Sleep had me in hysterics.

Coe is best known for his state of the nation novels, a sub-genre I find hard to resist. A recent favourite was Amanda Craig’s The Lie of the Land which looks at the divisions between town and country through the story of Lottie, furious with the philandering Quentin but too broke to divorce him.

A particularly grisly murder brought Stella Gibbon’s Cold Comfort Farm to mind for me while reading Craig’s novel. A couple of pages later she pleasingly tips her hat to Gibbons with a quote.

Gibbons’ comic novel is widely acknowledged as a parody of the floridly romantic historical style epitomised by Mary Webb’s Precious Bane, set in Shropshire during the Napoleonic Wars.

Shropshire is the location for one of my childhood favourites, Malcolm Saville’s Seven White Gates which has some wonderfully atmospheric scenes on the Long Mynd.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from Alice’s adventures down a rabbit hole to a childhood favourite set in Shropshire. 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.

Six Degrees of Separation – from Three Women to Flying Finish

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 Lisa Taddeo’s’ Three Women which has been all over my Twitter feed for months. I haven’t read it but I know it’s about female desire.

As is Nancy Friday’s My Secret Garden, a catalogue of female sexual fantasies, very popular years ago when I was a bookseller. Copies used to turn up all over the shop, furtively shoved on to inappropriate shelves when shy browsers felt on the verge of being discovered, I imagine

Friday’s book is not to be confused with The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson-Burnett, a much-loved children’s classic in which a lonely little girl’s life is transformed when she finds the key to a locked garden.

Taking the garden link a step further, after a tour of the world’s miseries Voltaire’s eighteenth-century satire, Candide, ends with an exhortation to tend your garden.

Candide is regarded as a seminal Enlightenment text. Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ Les Liasons Dangereuses, about the corruption of a young girl, was also published during the Enlightenment. Renamed Dangerous Liasons, it was made into a film starring Glenn Close.

As was Meg Woltizer’s The Wife which features a celebrated male author whose spouse is the real star of the literary show, a part Close played beautifully.

Which leads me to Dick Francis’ Flying Finish. Francis’ wife did a great deal of the research for his novels, learning to fly for this one, apparently. Unlike Wolitzer’s character, Francis was only too happy to credit his wife’s contribution, describing them as a team

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from a book which explores female desire to transporting race horses. 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.

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.

Cover images

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.

Six Degrees of Separation – from The Tiger in the Tiger Pit to And the Wind Sees All

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.

Cover images

Kate has set us something a little different this month. We’re all starting from the point at which each of us ended last month. For me that was Janette Turner Hospital’s The Tiger in the Tiger Pit which I had to confess I’d read so long ago I could barely remember it but Google came to the rescue reminding me that it’s about a fraught family celebration.

I’m using the author’s unusual last name as my jumping off point, linking to Austin Duffy’s This Living and Immortal Thing, which is set in a hospital, about a clinical researcher brought uncomfortably face-to-face with the disease he’s studying.

Workplaces rarely seem to feature in fiction although I’ve read several novels set in restaurants including Merrett Tierce’s Love Me Back narrated by Marie – smart, professional and hard-working on the outside – who makes her living waiting tables at a classy Dallas steakhouse.

Kim Thúy’s lovely Mãn also features a restaurant, owned by the husband of a Vietnamese woman who has left her homeland to marry him without ever having met him, a match made for security rather than love.

Which leads me to The Refugees written by Viet Thanh Nguyen, who fled with his parents from Vietnam to America in 1975. Written over twenty years, Nguyen’s stories explore the consequences of leaving one’s country under the most difficult of circumstances and its legacy.

From there it’s a very short leap to Olumide Popoola and Annie Holmes’ breach, a collection of stories based on interviews with residents of the Calais refugee camp which came to be known as the Jungle, now disbanded.

breach is published by Peirene Press who produce just a handful of books a year, one of which was Guđmundur Andri Thorsson’s And the Wind Sees All in 2018. It takes place over the brief bicycle ride that Kata takes to the village hall in preparation for the evening’s concert, taking in the stories of the villagers who catch sight of her out of the corner of their eyes

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from the familiar fictional territory of family reunions, secrets and lies to a two-minute bicycle ride around an Icelandic village. Part of the fun of this meme is comparing the routes other bloggers take from each month’s jumping off point, although this month we’ll be starting from entirely different places. 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.

Six Degrees of Separation – from Where the Wild Things Are to The Tiger in the Tiger Pit #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.

We’re starting this month with Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, a much-loved children’s picture book in which Max is sent to bed with no supper but finds an adventure awaits him.

Which takes me to Julia Donaldson’s Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book, illustrated by Axel Scheffler, a picture book all about books that my bookselling friend’s daughter loved so much it fell to bits.

It’s a small leap from there to Charlie Hill’s Books which lampoons everyone in the book trade, from publishers to booksellers, literary editors to authors, bloggers (how dare he!) to publicists and adds a swipe at performance artists for good measure.

I’ve always loved the title of the tenth volume of Anthony Powell’s ‘Dance to the Music of Time’ series, Books Do Furnish a Room, although I didn’t get much beyond the second instalment, I’m afraid

No books as I recall in Emma Donoghue’s bestselling Room in which a young woman and her five-year-old son manage to keep sane despite their incarceration in a tiny space.

Donoghue also wrote Frog Music leading me to Lorrie Moore’s collection Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? which I read long before I learned to enjoy short stories and so failed to appreciate it as much as I should have.

I read Janette Turner Hospital’s The Tiger in the Tiger Pit so long ago I can barely remember it but a quick google reminds me that it’s about a fraught family celebration.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from a children’s picture book classic to the familiar fictional territory of family reunions, secrets and lies. 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.