Tag Archives: Kathryn Harrison

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.

Blasts from the Past: The Seal Wife by Kathryn Harrison (2002)

This is the latest in a series of occasional posts featuring books I read years ago about which I was wildly enthusiastic at the time, wanting to press a copy into as many hands as I could.

There was a time when it was hard to get away from Kathryn Harrison’s name in the books pages. Her memoir about her estranged father, with whom she had an affair when she met him for the first time as an adult, made sure of that but I first came across her via Exposure about a woman whose sexually explicit photographs, taken of her as a child, are about to be made public. I’ve read several more of her books but the one that stands out for me is The Seal Wife which explores the nature of erotic obsession and its near-hypnotic power.

In 1915 a twenty-six-year-old meteorologist finds himself posted to the new settlement of Anchorage, Alaska. While picking up supplies, he spies an Aleut woman: self-possessed, silent and intriguing. Bigelow follows her to her house and is soon in the grips of an obsession. Mere physical gratification cannot satisfy his desperate urge to possess this strange, unyielding woman. When she leaves the town, Bigelow is desolate, his only consolation the building of a kite large enough to track the northern storms. Trying to fill the emotional chasm left by the Aleut woman, he finds himself first robbed by a female pickpocket then tricked by the local storeowner and his daughter. When the Aleut woman reappears, a small hope springs in Bigelow and eventually a hard-won but still silent agreement is reached.

I found this book captivating, not a word I tend to use very often. Its spare yet vivid descriptive writing took me to another world entirely. I haven’t come across anything by Harrison for quite some time although when writing this post I found that she’d published a novel six years ago. It seems she’s no longer flavour of the literary month.

What about you, any blasts from the past you’d like to share?