Tag Archives: Riddley Walker

Six Degrees of Separation – from Less Than Zero to The Yellow Wallpaper

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 Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero whose title may trigger an earworm if you’re an Elvis Costello fan. I read Ellis’ novel when it was published back in 1985 and so my memories are pretty sketchy but I do know there’s lots of sex, drugs and probably rock n’ roll. It’s become that thing that publishers love – a cult classic.

Which takes me to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, another cult classic, which I read when I was a teenager but didn’t enjoy as much as I thought I was supposed to, put off by Kerouac’s sexist portrayal of women.

I started Cormac McCarthy’s dystopian The Road about a father and his son walking through a blasted American landscape, gun at the ready to fend off attackers, and admired the writing but it was so bleak I gave it up.

Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker is set against a similarly blasted landscape this time in England where twelve-year-old Riddley finds himself trying to make sense of the power struggle resulting from his father’s death. Ridley’s language is fractured and often difficult to follow but patience pays dividends with this one.

Hoban was a children’s author as well as a successful adult novelist. J K Rowling also made the leap to adult fiction with what was to be the first in a series of crime novels, The Cuckoo’s Calling. I have to confess I haven’t read the book but the recent BBC TV series was a Sunday evening treat.

Rowling published her Strike series under the name Robert Galbraith in the hopes that it would be judged on its own merits, although predictably it was a secret not kept for long. Doris Lessing also submitted a manuscript under another name as a challenge to publishers who she thought weren’t giving unknown writers a chance. The book was The Diary of a Good Neighbour, rejected several times under the pseudonym Jane Somers but later published under Lessing’s name together with If the Old Could as The Diaries of Jane Somers.

Lessing was the author of the chunky feminist classic The Golden Notebook which I have read although I found it something of a trudge unlike the slim The Yellow Wallpaper, another feminist novel which is frankly terrifying. Based on Charlotte Perkins Gilmer’s own experience it tells of a woman confined to her bedroom after giving birth, driven mad by her isolation.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from a hedonistic coming of age novel set in the ‘80s to a late nineteenth-century classic feminist novella. 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.

Next month’s starting point is Stephen King’s It. Given that I’m not a fan of being scared witless, I might struggle with that one.

Well-worn themes

Cover imageA few years ago when I was running the reviews section of a magazine which included children’s books, YA novels were awash with vampires. Then suddenly dystopian fiction seemed to be the thing – as if teens don’t have enough to angst about. It seems that publishers find bandwagons hard to get off, no matter how overcrowded they become. Two current well-trodden paths in adult fiction are post apocalypse (closely related to dystopian) and the demented protagonist.

The first has a long history – lots of it around in the Cold War years, for instance, including what’s now come to be a classic of the genre: Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road seemed to spark off a new post apocalyptic trend with the likes of  Jim Crace’s The Pesthouse not far behind and now we have Sandra Newman’s The Country of Ice Cream Star and Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven, both longlisted for the Baileys. Cover image

The first example I can remember of the dementia theme is Mordecai Richler’s Barney’s Version. Then there’s Samantha Harvey’s The Wilderness, and more recently Sue Peeble’s Snake Road,  Emma Healey’s Elizabeth is Missing, Fiona MacFarlanes’s The Night Guest, Lisa Genova’s Still Alice and Matthew Thomas’ We Are Not Ourselves.

Not hard to see what’s triggered either of these trends – climate change and the financial crash seem to have contributed to the first while we’re all terrified of the dementia spectre – but they feel a little over-exposed to me. I’m sure you can think of other well-worn themes, not to mention many books I’ve failed to include. Let me know what your pet likes or dislikes are.