Category Archives: Six Degrees of Separation

Six Degrees of Separation – from The Arsonist to Ghost Moth

Back from lovely Lille – more of which later in the week – and it’s time for my favourite meme. Six Degrees of Separation is 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 Chloe Hooper’s The Arsonist which I haven’t read but which I know from Kate’s review is about an appalling conflagration which took place in Australia in 2009 and the man who set some of the fires which contributed to it.

For obvious reasons my first link is to Sue Miller’s The Arsonist about the burning down of summer houses in a small New Hampshire town.

One of the characters in Miller’s novel is called Frankie which leads me to Barbara Trapido’s Frankie and Stankie whose main protagonist flees South Africa’s apartheid regime in the ‘60s to live in the UK.

South Africa shares a border with Zimbabwe, the setting for Petina Gappah’s The Book of Memory in which the eponymous narrator tells her story from death row, imprisoned for the murder of the white man she’s been living with since she was nine.

Edgeworth Bess shares a similar predicament, telling her story via Billy Archer as she awaits sentencing for the possession of stolen goods in The Fatal Tree, Jake Arnott’s rollicking tale of eighteenth-century thieves and whores.

In Emily Woof’s The Lightning Tree a girl from one side of the tracks – comfy, middle-class, leftie activist parents – meet a boy from the other side – council estate, working-class, Thatcherite mum and dad – they fall in love, the girl heads off to India, the boy to Oxford and then we see what happens, following them into their thirties.

Emily Woof is an actor, a profession she shares with Michèle Forbes who wrote Ghost Moth, set in Northern Ireland, which tells the story of a marriage in alternating narratives, twenty years apart.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from an investigation of a devastating fire in Australia to a Northern Irish love story, and this time I’ve read all but our starting point. 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 Fight Club to The Virgins

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 imagesThis month we’re starting with Chuck Palahniuk’s The Fight Club which I confess I haven’t read but I gather it’s about an underground club where young men fight each other although I’m sure there’s more to it than that.

Taking my cue from the title Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club is altogether gentler. It’s about four recent Chinese immigrants to the US who meet once a week to play mahjong , exchange stories about home and hopes about their daughters’ futures.

Given my liking for stories about immigrants I though one of those would pop into my head but instead it was Alex Comfort’s The Joy of Sex which became a bestseller in the 1970s.

Which leads me to Meg Wolitzer’s The Position about the offspring of parents who wrote a bestselling book about their own sex life but whose marriage might not be as idyllic as everyone assumed.

Meg Wolitzer is also the author of The Wife, about a woman whose husband, a celebrated author, owes his partner a great deal more than he lets on which brings to mind Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Brown revealed that his own wife provided the expert research for his megaseller when a couple of authors accused him of plagiarism. And, no, I haven’t read it.

The Da Vinci Code was the most donated novel to UK charity shops in its heyday as was E. L. James’ Fifty Shade of Grey which I also haven’t read but I do know that Anastasia Steele tells Christian Grey that she’s a virgin

Which brings me to Pamela Erens’ The Virgins set in a New England prep school about two students whose passionate relationship might not be quite what it seems.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from an underground fighting club to a New England prep school by way of some surprising books. 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 French Lieutenant’s Woman to The Tax Inspector #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.

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This month we’re starting with John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman. I’m sorry to say that I remember the film, starring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons, rather than the book which is set in Lyme Regis, one of my favourite seaside towns, and explores the position of women in nineteenth century society.

Taking my lead from Fowles’ title, Patrick deWitt’s French Exit is a 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

Small Frank is one of the most memorable literary cats I’ve come across, only rivalled by the hairless therapy cat all done up in its ‘festive jumper’ in Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s Harmless Like You in which a mother leaves her family when he’s a little boy.

Another son wrestles with his resentment at the mother who he believes deserted him when he was a child in Nathan Hill’s The Nix, a panoramic view of American politics from the ‘60s onwards, in which Samuel is forced to come to Faye’s aid when she is accused of being a terrorist.

Russell Banks’ The Darling also explores the fallout from the radical politics of the ’60s and ‘70s together with the machinations of American foreign policy through Hannah Musgrave who has been in hiding after taking part in acts of terror many years ago.

The Larkins in H. E. Bates’ The Darling Buds of May couldn’t be further from such goings on although they do manage to seduce a tax inspector away from his official duties with the joys of rustic life.

Which brings me neatly to Peter Carey’s The Tax Inspector which I have to confess I haven’t read but I gather it’s about a dodgy family business facing an audit.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from an early postmodern novel set in Dorset to a second-hand car dealers’ just outside Sydney. 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 Christmas Carol to The Bird Artist

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, appropriately enough, with Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol which is about generosity of spirit. I’m all for that but I’m still a bit bah humbug about Christmas after so many years in bookselling which left me a wee bit cynical about the whole thing.

Patricia Highsmith’s Carol was first published with the title The Price of Salt and renamed for the film starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. It’s the semi-autobiographical story of a tragic love affair. I’ve yet to read the book but the film was superb.

Jill Dawson’s The Crime Writer is an homage to Highsmith, a brilliant piece of literary fan fiction. She takes the writer’s time at Bridge Cottage in Suffolk and weaves it into a story which constantly pulls the rug from under her readers’ feet.

Dawson often tells the stories of real people in her fiction. Sean Michaels takes the same tack in Us, Conductors, his fictionalised story of the inventor of the theremin, a weird and wonderful musical instrument. If you want to hear it, pop over to YouTube where you’ll find a demonstration by Leon Theremin the subject of Michaels’ book.

Much to my surprise I read another novel about the theremin, shortly after Us, Conductors. Tracy Farr’s The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt tells the story of a fictional virtuoso theremin player and has a cameo from its inventor.

Continuing the musical instrument theme, Annie Proulx’ Accordion Crimes tells the story of immigration through the accordion, an instrument dear to many nations’ hearts so it seems. I like the idea of this very much but learned – and have since forgotten – far more about accordions than I ever wanted to know.

Annie Proulx’ The Shipping News is set on Newfoundland as is Howard Norman’s The Bird Artist which was published around the same time as Proulx’ bestseller in the UK. I enjoyed The Shipping News but much preferred Howard’s lyrical, poetic novel, stuffed full of eccentric characters

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from a nineteenth-century tale of Christmas cheer (eventually) set in London to a tale of betrayal and revenge in Newfoundland. 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 Vanity Fair to The Mountain Can Wait #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.

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This month we’re starting with William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair which tells the salutary story of Becky Sharp, the opportunistic social climber who comes to a sticky end, so memorably portrayed by Natasha Little in Andrew Davies’ 1998 adaptation.

Andrew Davies also adapted Alan Hollinghurst’s portrayal of ‘80s excess and politics, The Line of Beauty, which left me cold, and Karen at Bookertalk agrees with me.

Quite the opposite feeling to my childhood love of Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, which led me to beg my parents to take me to Doone Valley every time we were anywhere near Exmoor.

Daphne du Maurier’s celebrated Rebecca is set in Cornwall, which is generally where we were off to as I watched the signs to Doone Valley flash past. At least two authors – Susan Hill and Sally Beauman – were confident enough to pen ‘sequels’ to Rebecca.

Leading me to Scarlett, Alexandra Ripley’s follow-up to Gone with the Wind which picks up our heroine’s story after the funeral of Melanie Wilkes, her old flame Ashley’s wife.

Based on his family history, Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain shares the American Civil War backdrop, following a Confederate soldier home to the wife he married just before he enlisted four years before. Inman travels through a country as changed as he is – farms in ruins, terrible poverty, lawlessness and degradation.

With its striking sense of place and gorgeous prose, Sarah Leipciger’s The Mountain Can Wait was one of my favourite novels of 2015. It’s about a father whose need to protect the son who’s run away from a crime clashes with his own morality which, in a way, takes me back to the beginning of this post.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from a nineteenth-century morality tale to a twenty-first century version. 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 Outsiders to Wise Children #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 S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders which I’ve not read but I know this story of teenage rebellion is considered to be a classic of young adult fiction.

Albert Camus’ The Outsider is also thought of as a classic. It’s about Meursault who refuses to conform to society’s expectations showing no emotion when his mother dies or remorse at an act of violence he commits.

The Outsider is also translated as The Stranger which takes me to Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger set in a crumbling, haunted mansion lived in by the same family for two centuries. Not my favourite Waters. I much prefer Fingersmith for its brilliant twist.

Which leads me to Steven Galloway’s The Confabulist about a man fascinated by magic and illusion who is convinced he’s responsible for Houdini’s death. It’s such a clever book, a magnificent illusion in itself, whose final twist is kept under wraps until the very end.

Steven Galloway also wrote The Cellist of Sarajevo leading me to Patrick Gale’s Take Nothing with You which I’ve yet to read but I know it’s about a young boy who finds a passion for the cello when his mother signs him up for lessons with a glamorous teacher.

Patrick Gale’s father was governor of HM Prison Camp Hill on the Isle of Wight. Patrick McGrath grew up close to another secure institution: Broadmoor Hospital where his father was the medical superintendent. His novels often explores madness, of which The Wardrobe Mistress set against the backdrop of the London theatre, is one of my favourites.

Angela Carter’s Wise Children shares a theatrical backdrop with The Wardrobe Mistress. It’s a tale of unacknowledged paternity, mistaken identities, twins at every turn, Shakespeare, Hollywood, music hall, discarded wives, glorious love and rollicking good times. A wonderful novel packed with Shakespearean references, a plot worthy of one of the Comedies and written in language which is earthy, vivid and memorable

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from a teen classic to a tale of theatrical dynasty. 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 Where Am I Now? True stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame to An Unquiet Mind #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.

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This month we’re starting with Mara Wilson’s Where Am I Now?: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame which I’ve not read but I gather is about Wilson’s experiences of being a child star in movies such as Mrs Doubtfire, Miracle on 34th Street and Matilda. She grew up to become a writer but continued her acting work as part of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast team whose fabulous show I’ve seen on stage. I know – it’s a podcast – but trust me it works.

Emma Tennant’s Girlitude is about a protracted girlhood, covering the early years of Tennant’s life from 1955 when she became a debutante and entered the ‘marriage market’. Tennant departed from the straight and narrow with a turbulent love affair, briefly getting back on track with her marriage to Henry Green’s son before taking up a semi-nomadic life, frequently attracted to unsuitable men.

Later in life Tennant penned a series of successful ‘tributes’ to Jane Austen’s novels, although not to Mansfield Park in which Fanny Price is taken in by her wealthy cousins eager to remind her of the poverty of her origins. With the arrival of the frivolous Crawfords it soon becomes clear that Fanny’s morals are infinitely superior to her cousins’.

I read Katherine Mansfield’s The Garden Party and Other Stories many years ago, long before I’d learned to savour a collection of short stories rather than inhaling the entire book in one go. As a result, I remember very little about them apart from an impression of fine writing

Katherine Mansfield was a New Zealander as is C. K. Stead whose The Necessary Angel I read and very much enjoyed earlier in the year. Set in Paris in 2014, it’s about a professor at the Sorbonne and the three women who play significant parts in his life during the year the novel spans. Polished, witty and intelligent, it manages to be both cerebral and thoroughly entertaining.

Janet Frame’s autobiographical trilogy, An Angel at My Table, is more sobering than entertaining although it does have a happy ending. Frame was misdiagnosed with schizophrenia as a young woman and confined to an asylum from which she was liberated after winning a national literary prize.

Kay Redfield Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind is also an account of mental illness. Jameson’s bipolarity afflicted her as a young medical student and continued to do so for most of her adult life. After years of struggling with vivid but destructive manic episodes followed by paralysing depressions, Jamison sought help and went on to become one of the foremost American practitioners in its treatment.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from a child actor’s memoir to a striking account of mental illness. 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 Atonement to Oscar and Lucinda #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.

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This month we’re starting with Ian McEwan’s Atonement which is about thirteen-year-old Briony who misconstrues an event she witnesses one scorching summer day in 1935 leading her to make an accusation she will regret for the rest of her life.

Atonement reminded me very much of L P Hartley’s The Go-Between in which young boy becomes caught up in the relationship between a young man and woman and is irreparably damaged by it.

Julie Christie played a starring role in the film adaptation of The Go-Between just as she did in Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd which I’m unable to watch without snivelling. Even the music starts me off.

There’s a scene in Hardy’s novel involving sheep which makes me cry all the harder unlike the one in Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir’s very funny Butterflies in November in which a dead sheep is wrestled into a car’s passenger seat.

Butterflies in November is set in Iceland where the novelist Sarah Moss spent a year as a visiting academic. She writes about what it’s like to be a foreigner in a country so small that everyone seems to know each other in her entertaining memoir, Names for the Sea.

Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea is set nowhere near Iceland and I can remember very little about it having read it a very long time ago but I do know that it won what was then called the Booker Prize.

As did Oscar and Lucinda which is my all-time favourite winner (so far). 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. Set against the backdrop of nineteenth-century colonialism it’s a wonderfully witty, vibrant pastiche of a Victorian novel.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from an English summer’s day in 1935 to nineteenth-century Australia. 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 Tales of the City to The Book of Salt #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.Cover images

 

 

This month we’re starting with Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, the first in a series of books beginning in the ‘70s about a group of young people – some gay, some straight – and their adventures living on Barbary Lane in San Francisco under the wing of the wonderful Mrs Madrigal, just the kind of landlady you’d want. I’ve read the whole series many times. It’s a joyous treat although it becomes darker as AIDs rears its ugly head. It was Tales of the City that made me determined to go to San Francisco which I did in 1995.

Simon Mawer’s The Glass Room also played a part in my holiday plans when we went on our central European railway jaunt a couple of years ago. It’s about the construction of very beautiful modernist house in the Czech Republic town of Brno, and the families who live in it.

Rebecca Makkai’s The Hundred-year House also tells the story of a house and its inhabitants, working backwards through its century long history. I enjoyed it but not as much as Makkai’s debut The Borrower which is about a librarian and a little boy she takes on the run.

Hard to imagine Sophie Divry’s slightly waspish librarian in The Library of Unrequited Love extending her hand to a ten-year-old. When she finds a young man who has been locked in overnight she treats him to a passionate soliloquy about her colleagues, the Dewey Decimal system and bookish conspiracies while unwittingly spilling the beans about her yearning for a young researcher.

Divry is also the author of Madame Bovary of the Suburbs, a tribute to a much-loved classic as is Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible, a modern take on Pride and Prejudice. I’ve yet to read it but given the acute observation and acerbic wit on show in her recent short story collection You Think It, I’ll Say It, I’m sure she’s a fitting writer to take on the task.

Sittenfeld wrote American Wife based loosely on Laura Bush. Amy Bloom’s White Houses also features an American First Lady telling the story of Eleanor Roosevelt’s affair with Hick, a journalist who came to live in the White House, giving up her job as a Washington reporter.

Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt is also about a lesbian relationship between two historical characters, this time Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Troung tells her story through the voice of their Vietnamese cook who regales us with descriptions of the delectable food he serves to them in their Parisian apartment.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from San Francisco in the ‘70s to Paris in the ‘30s. 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 Tipping Point to Killing Me Softly #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 Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point which I’ve never read but I do know that he’s also the author of Blink.

Which leads me to Jean-Dominque Bauby’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Bauby was struck down by a massive stroke which left him able to communicate only by blinking. His book is a testament to his absolute determination.

It took me a long time to get around to reading Lucy Wood’s beautifully crafted collection Diving Belles despite having enjoyed Weathering so much. Sometimes whimsical, sometimes unsettling these stories are all about the sea in one way or another.

Charles Kingsley’s The Water-Babies was a favourite book when I was a child. I’m sure I had no idea at the time that Kingsley had intended it to be a satire on Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

The same can be said of Charles Dickens’ Hard Times which turned out to be a dig at James Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism in its depiction of a schoolmaster with no time for anything but drumming facts into his pupils’ heads. Way beyond my eleven-year-old grasp, although I remember not enjoying it one bit.

James Stuart Mill wrote The Subjection of Women which put forward ideas developed with his wife Harriet Taylor Mill and was published after her death. It argued the case for equality between the sexes, a controversial idea midway through the nineteenth century.

Killing Me Softly is by another husband and wife team but of a very different kind. Nicci French is the name under which Nicci Gerrard and Sean French publish their very successful series of thrillers. I read this when it came out for work but can remember nothing about it. A quick shufti at the publisher’s blurb tells me that ‘it’s a terrifying journey into the heart of obsession’. I’ll have to take their word for that.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from the small change in circumstance that can precipitate our decisions to a thriller about obsession. 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.