Tag Archives: John Irving

Six Degrees of Separation – from The Beauty Myth to Waiting for Robert Capa #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 Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth which I remember reading when it was first published. It encapsulated my own views about the way in which women pursue an impossible ideal of beauty and the money made from that pursuit. Sadly, it seems to me that this has only got worse and can now be extended to include young men. Not the kind of equality I want to see.

Lightening the tone a little, the beauty industry is closely linked to fashion which takes me to Lauren Weisberger’s bestseller The Devil Wears Prada set in the offices of a fashion magazine. I haven’t read the book but I have seen Meryl Streep’s star turn as the magazine’s editor hell-bent on keeping her staff in their places.

Glen David Gold’s Carter Beats the Devil was one of my favourite books the year it was published. Set in 1920s America, it’s a tale of daring and loneliness as the magician Charles Carter takes ever greater risks on stage. When the President dies shortly after seeing Carter’s act, the performer becomes the object of Secret Service attention. Riveting stuff!

I have to admit that I haven’t read Ted Lewis’ gangster caper Get Carter but my crime-reading partner says it’s great. I have seen the film which stars Michael Caine as the eponymous hero, though.

Caine appeared in an entirely different role in Lasse Hallström’s excellent adaptation of John Irving’s compassionate novel The Cider House Rules. Set in an orphanage where unmarried women come to have their babies, it’s about Homer Wells who learns the founder’s secret and finds himself reluctantly continuing it when Wilbur no longer can.

Leaping from New England to Gloucesteshire for Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie which many UK readers will have read at school. Lee’s colourful memoir of his childhood and early manhood in the Cotswold village of Slad probably needs to be taken with a pinch of salt but it’s thoroughly enjoyable nevertheless.

Lee also wrote about his experiences in the Spanish Civil War in A Moment of War. The Hungarian photographer and founder member of the Magnum photographic co-operative Robert Capa made his name recording the Civil War. In her novel, Waiting for Robert Capa, Susana Fortes writes about his affair with Gerda Taro who died in the war. Taro’s photographic talents were sadly overlooked, barely acknowledged at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Centre I visited in Budapest.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from a feminist analysis of the beauty industry to a woman photographer in the Spanish Civil War. 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 2016: Part 2

Cover imageThis second January batch roams around the world much as I’d like to myself in January, escaping the dullness of the British winter. John Irving is a writer whose novels I’ve loved but who seems to have become distinctly hit and miss to me. I’d all but given up on him before Last Night in Twisted River which saw a return to the good old-fashioned storytelling that is his forte. I’m not entirely convinced about Avenue of Mysteries which follows an ageing man to the Philippines where the vivid events of his Mexican childhood and adolescence ‘collide with his future’, as the publishers put it. Worth trying but my hopes aren’t particularly high for this one. Irving seems to be much better on home territory than when he ventures overseas.

Moving a little further west, Janice Y. K. Lee’s The Expatriates is set in Hong Kong. It interweaves the experiences of three American women, all living in the same expat community, each dealing with difficult circumstances: Mercy can’t seem to recover from a devastating event in her past; Margaret has suffered a terrible loss and Hilary is desperate to have a child. Each of them struggles to find a way to cope in a world where they find themselves questioning their own identities. I didn’t read Lee’s bestselling The Piano Teacher but this sounds like fertile ground for fiction and well worth a try. Cover image

Tahar Ben Jelloun’s The Happy Marriage takes us to Morocco for this story of a marriage seen from both parties’ points of view. The husband has been paralysed by a stroke and is convinced that his marriage is to blame, keeping a secret record of its many failures as he sees them. When his wife finds his notebook, she rebuts his version point by point. Always an interesting structure, the novel’s context makes it particularly so set as it is ‘in a society where marriage remains a sacrosanct institution, but where there’s also a growing awareness of women’s rights’ as the publishers put it.

Rachel B. Glaser’s Paulina & Fran sees two very different young women meet at a party near their New England art school. Soon they’re bosom buddies, busy slagging off their fellow students while bolstering their own egos until things go horribly wrong and friendship turns to enmity. Student days over, both have to contend with adulthood and all its disappointments. ‘Written with wit and brio, dancing between razor-sharp satire and a tender portrait of unrequited love, Paulina & Fran is a beguiling whirl of a novel from a writer of immense talent’ say the publishers and it does sound appealing.

Cover imageRachel Cantor’s Good on Paper sees a frustrated young woman with a few published short stories under her belt, stuck in the temping world. Her life is about to be transformed when a Nobel Prize winning author offers her the opportunity to translate his book. Unfortunately, as instalments of the manuscript roll in, it seems that the book is untranslatable. ‘A deft, funny, and big-hearted novel about second chances, Good on Paper is a grand novel of family, friendship, and possibility.’ Which sounds like rather a nice way to start off the reading year.

As ever, a click on a title will whisk you off to a more detailed synopsis and if you’d like to catch up with part one of January’s goodies they’re here.