Tag Archives: Francine Toon

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.

Books to Look Out For in January 2020: Part Two

The second part of January’s preview begins with a novel whose jacket seduced me when it appeared on Twitter, way back when. Francine Toon’s Pine is set in a remote Highlands village in the middle of a forest where Lauren lives with her father. When a woman stumbles in front of their pickup at Halloween, Niall takes her back to their house but by morning she’s gone. She’s not the first woman to have disappeared in this place where people keep their secrets to themselves, nor is she the last, apparently. ‘Francine Toon captures the wildness of rural childhood and the intensity of small-town claustrophobia. In a place that can feel like the edge of the word, she unites the chill of the modern gothic with the pulse of a thriller’ according to the publishers. I do like a nice bit of gothic at this time of year.

I reviewed Timur Vermes very funny satire, Look Who’s Back, five years ago having loved its take on Hitler’s return as a media star. The Hungry and the Fat takes a swipe at Europe’s handling of the refugee crisis by the sound of it. After Europe closes her borders, a young refugee spots an opportunity to grab the media spotlight when a German reality TV star visits their camp, organizing a televised march which grips viewers in their comfy living rooms as the refugees head their way. ‘A devastating, close-to-the-knuckle satire about the haves and have-nots in our divided world by one of Europe’s finest and most perceptive writers, in which an outlandish conceit follows a kind of impeccable logic to a devastating conclusion’ say the publishers. I’m expecting it to be squirmingly good.

Rodaan Al Galididi approaches a similar theme from a different perspective in Two Blankets Three Sheets, following Samir Karim who requests asylum after flying into Amsterdam from Vietnam in 1998. He’s been wandering around Asia for seven years, evading conscription into Saddam Hussein’s army, then spends the next nine years entangled in Dutch bureaucracy. ‘Told with compassion and a unique sense of humor, this is an inspiring tale of survival, a close-up view into the hidden world of refugees and human smugglers, and a sobering reflection of our times’ according to the publishers. I suspect this one has a touch of autofiction about it.

I’m finishing this preview with a collection of short stories by Billy O’Callaghan whose My Coney Island Baby I enjoyed so much earlier this year. The Boatman and Other Stories comprises twelve Cover imagepieces which span a century and two continents, apparently. ‘Ranging from the elegiac to the brutally confrontational, these densely layered tales reveal the quiet heroism and gentle dignity of ordinary life. O’Callaghan is a master celebrant of the smallness of the human flame against the dark: its strength, and its steady brightness’ say the publishers. I’m hoping for more of the beautifully restrained writing which characterised his novel.

That’s it for January’s new novels. A click on any title that’s snagged your attention will take you to a more detailed synopsis and If you’d like to catch up with the first part of January’s preview it’s here.

To those of you looking forward to Christmas, I hope you have a lovely time. If, as it is for many, it’s a more complicated time of the year for you, I hope it passes as painlessly as possible. And for those of you who’ve been working your socks off in retail, catering or any other Christmas-driven occupation – I hope you get some rest before you start all over again. I’ll be back at the end of the week, hoping to tempt you with some January paperbacks.