Tag Archives: Six Degrees of Separation

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.

Cover images

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 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.

Six Degrees of Separation – from The Poisonwood Bible to The Eyre Affair #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 Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. Drawing on her own childhood experiences with her missionary family in Africa, it’s the book that made her name but I much prefer her earlier novels.

Another Barbara whose novels I’ve enjoyed is Barbara Trapido whose Noah’s Ark is about a scatty single mother who falls for Noah, her polar opposite, but a decade later finds herself drawn back into her complicated past. I’m not entirely sure it would stand up to a second reading.

Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark became Schindler’s List for Stephen Spielberg’s blockbusting adaptation. I was told by the publisher’s rep that Americans did not know what an ark was hence the renaming which sounds a wee bit far-fetched not to mention insulting to me.

Sophie’s Choice by William Styron takes a somewhat starker view of the Holocaust with the story of a Polish concentration camp survivor married to a Jewish intellectual in Brooklyn and haunted by a dreadful secret.

The eponymous fourteen-year-old in Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World is led through a history of Western philosophy by a mysterious mentor and a multitude of postcards posing riddles in this international bestseller which was one of the first crossovers between young adult and adult book buyers that I remember from my bookselling days.

A description that could also be applied to Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time about fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone who has Asperger’s syndrome and whose world is thrown into chaos by the discovery of his neighbour’s murdered dog.

The Boone family live in Swindon as does Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next, detective extraordinaire, who first made her appearance in The Eyre Affair which sees Thursday determined to get a whole series of literary characters back on their rightful pages. One of those books that has you constantly sniggering, annoying everyone within earshot.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from missionary work in Belgian Congo to fantastical literary conundrums in Swindon. 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 No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency to Prodigal Summer #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 Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, yet another book I haven’t read but I know it’s set in Botswana and that’s its author was born in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia).

As was Petina Gappah, author of The Book of Memory in which a young black albino woman tells her story from the prison in which she’s detained for a brutal murder she insists she didn’t commit.

The title of which leads me to Margaret Forster’s The Memory Box about a woman whose mother died when she was a baby leaving her a box of mementos – clues as to who her mother really was. Naturally, dark secrets are revealed

Randal Keynes’ Annie’s Box is the story of Charles Darwin’s eldest daughter who died aged ten. The eponymous box contains keepsakes from Annie’s short life, shedding light on Darwin, his work and his family.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s first novel, The Signature of All Things, tells the story of Alma Whittaker, a botanist, and her relationship with Alfred Russel Wallace who published a paper on evolutionary theory with Darwin in 1858. While Whittaker was a figment of Gilbert’s imagination, Wallace was not, although his achievement has been eclipsed by Darwin’s reputation.

Gilbert wrote a book about her struggle to accept the idea of marriage despite being deeply in love with her partner. Ann Patchett wrote of a similar experience in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage which is very much more than that. It’s made up of a set of essays, an album of vivid snapshots of Patchett’s life and how she sets about her work as well how she came to finally marry.

Patchett wrote what you might call an eco-novel, State of Wonder, set largely in the Amazonian rainforest. Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer could also fall into that bracket. It follows a park ranger, a recently widowed entomologist and an old man hoping to find a way to bring an extinct American Chestnut tree back to life. Not one of her best for me – I preferred The Bean Trees and Pigs in Heaven – but worth a read.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from a Zimbabwean prison to small-town Appalachia. 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 Wild Swans to The Invisible Woman #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 Wild Swans. Subtitled ‘Three Daughters of China’, it’s Jung Chang’s family history, beginning before the arrival of Communism with her grandmother. I sold shedloads of this when I was a bookseller. It was hugely popular and not an easy read, either. The sight of its original cover still catapults me back to those days.

Which leads me to Eli Goldstone’s Strange Heart Beating, published earlier in the year adorned with one of the most striking covers I’ve seen for some time. One look at it tells you that the myth of Leda and the Swan has to be in there somewhere. The novel explores grief, love and secrets through the recently widowed Seb who takes himself off to Latvia, the birthplace of his beautiful wife Leda where he finds he hardly knew her at all.

The theme of Leda and the Swan takes me to Angela Carter’s The Magic Toyshop in which Melanie’s puppeteer uncle stages a performance of the myth with his niece playing the part of Leda, assaulted by a monstrous mechanical swan. It’s a vividly memorable scene, both in the book and in the TV adaptation which starred Tom Bell as a terrifying Uncle Philip.

Carter died well before her time as did her close friend Lorna Sage whose memoir Bad Blood came close to Wild Swans in its popularity. Sexually alluring yet desperately naïve, Sage became pregnant at sixteen. Determined to continue with her studies, she took her A-levels shortly after giving birth to her daughter. She won a scholarship to Durham University where both she and her teenage husband gained Firsts.

Which leads me to Helen Oyeyemi who also managed to secure a university place despite producing her first novel while studying for her A-levels. The Icarus Girl, in which a little girl has a particularly malicious imaginary friend, is quite possibly the most terrifying piece of fiction I’ve ever read. Admittedly, I’m a coward but Lesley Glaister, no slouch at putting the frighteners on her readers, described it as ‘the most haunting and disturbing novel I’ve ever read’.

Oyeyemi’s novels leads me to Michael Frayn’s Headlong whose narrator convinces himself that he’s found a missing work by Pieter Bruegel, the celebrated artist who painted The Fall of Icarus. I’m not a huge fan of Frayn’s writing but Headlong combines erudition with high farce, a cast of entertaining characters and a page-turning pace.

Frayn is married to the award-winning biographer Claire Tomalin whose book about Ellen Ternan, Dicken’s mistress, I loved. The Invisible Woman puts the man regarded by many as a national treasure in an altogether unflattering light while illuminating the plight of nineteenth-century women through Ternan.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from a bestselling family history about three generations of women in China to a biography of a celebrated nineteenth-century British author’s mistress. 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 Pride and Prejudice to Under the Visible Life #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 Pride and Prejudice. It would have taken a very determined person to avoid Jane Austen’s sharply observed, elegantly expressed novel on love and marriage among the English bourgeoisie over the last couple of decades. There have been a multitude of tributes paid to it, not least the BBC TV series featuring a wet-shirted Colin Firth emerging from a lake after a swim. Not sure what Austen would have made of that.

Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary is surely the best known of those tributes, all about a young woman’s trials trying to find the man of her dreams when he’s practically under her nose. He’s even called Darcy which might have given her a clue. In a clever bit of casting, the much-ogled Firth played Darcy in the Bridget Jones films which may even have eclipsed the books in terms of their success.

Bridget Jones began life in a newspaper column in the now defunct print version of the Independent which leads me to Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series, originally a San Francisco Chronicle column, also all about relationships with a good deal of product placement and outlandish adventure thrown in. I loved them but not the TV adaptation which failed to capture the charm of the books for me.

Which leads me to another TV adaptation, this time a successful one. I posted an entry in my Blasts from the Past series recently on Jake Arnott’s tale of 1960s East End gangsterism, The Long Firm, which prompted me to seek out the DVD of the BBC’s excellent dramatisation, It turned out to be just as good as I remembered – Mark Strong fits the part of Arnott’s complex Harry Starks perfectly.

When I passed Arnott’s novel onto H, my resident contemporary historian, he was struck by the accuracy of its period detail. The only other novel I can think of that fits this exacting bill is Jonathan Coe’s The Rotters’ Club, so good H included it on his undergraduate reading list for the period. It’s about four school friends growing up ’70s Birmingham and facing strikes, IRA bombs and appalling fashion trends.

Coe wrote a book called Expo ’58 set in the same year as Roddy Doyle, author of The Commitments, was born. Doyle’ s funny, touching novel is set in working class Dublin and follows a group of disparate people who form a band, belting out classic soul numbers. While some of the members are there for lack of anything else to do its the camaraderie of making music that keeps them together despite their many falling outs.

Which brings me to my last book, one which I’ll grab any chance to write about – Kim Echlin’s Under the Visible Life about two very different women bound together by their love of music in a friendship that endures through love lost and won; marriage, arranged and otherwise; and raising children in the most difficult circumstances. Music is the breath of life to Katherine and Mahsa, running through their story like a constant yet ever-changing refrain. A memorable, beautifully written novel

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from an early nineteenth century classic about love and marriage to a novel about friendship and a shared love of music. 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 Picnic at Hanging Rock to A Vindication of the Rights of Women #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’s starting point is Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock chosen by Brona. I’m pretty sure I’ve read the book but what really sticks in my mind is Peter Weir’s mesmeric film adaptation which I must have seen at least four times. Those inappropriately clad young ladies, all white muslin dresses and black boots, climbing Hanging Rock in blistering heat then disappearing without trace made a striking image on the big screen. It’s rare for me to think that a film adaptation either matches or eclipses the book but very occasionally it does happen which leads me to my second book.

I’m not a huge fan of Virginia Woolf but I have read and enjoyed Orlando, although not as many times as I’ve seen Sally Potter’s sumptuous film adaptation which *whisper it* I prefer. In the book the eponymous protagonist begins as a young nobleman in Elizabethan England and ends as a young woman in 1928, the year women were enfranchised; the movie takes her up to the 1990s. Archly comic, the film is full of gorgeous tableaux with Tilda Swinton as a fabulous Orlando, charmingly gauche and suitably androgynous, seamlessly changing gender after a century or so.

One of Woolf’s best known novels follows a day in the life of an upper-class woman in post-First World War England which leads me to John Lanchester’s Mr Phillips who puts on his suit, packs his briefcase and leaves his South London house one warm July Monday morning. He’s worked as an accountant for over thirty years and has been made redundant but can’t quite bring himself to tell Mrs Phillips. So begins a day on which Mr Phillips will chat with a pornographer, visit the Tate Gallery and become caught up in one of the biggest dramas of his life. Strewn with coincidences, this take on Mrs Dalloway gets under the skin of middle-aged suburbia in a funny yet poignant portrayal of a man a little lost in the world.

John Lanchester wrote a post-financial crash novel called Capital, dramatized for TV last year, as did Alex Preston. This Bleeding City is about a hedge fund trader, freshly graduated, who becomes distracted by a beautiful woman and a non-stop, drug-fuelled culture of excess. I have to confess that although I’ve read this I had to sneak a quick look at Goodreads to remind myself of it. What did stay with me was the knowledge that Preston’s previous career was as a City trader. Presumably he’s a changed man as  he’s recently collaborated with Neil Gower on what looks like a gorgeously illustrated book about nature, due to be published soon, called As Kingfishers Catch Fire.

Which takes me to Kathleen Jamie one of my favourite nature writers. In Findings she tracks the elusive corncrake on the island of Coll, contemplates salmon jumping on a Highland river and experiences the joy of a rare and strange sighting of a crane flying in the Scottish sky. Her writing is both beautiful and down to earth. Hard to resist a writer who starts her chapter: ‘I hacked off the gannet’s head with my penknife, which turned into one of those jobs you wish you’d never started’. It was already dead, by the way.

Jamie is an acclaimed poet as was the late Helen Dunmore one of my favourite authors and much mourned. Her last novel, Birdcage Walk, is the story of a young woman caught up in her passion for a man, many years her senior, intent on fulfilling his ambition of building a grand terrace overlooking the Avon Gorge. Politics, both national and domestic, runs through Dunmore’s novel, all wrapped up in an expert bit of storytelling with a thread of suspense. Brought up to believe ‘that a woman must not be weak, but instead learn to fend for herself’, Lizzie has been made dependent on her husband by the law which prevents married women from owning property. Much of the action in Birdcage Walk takes place in 1792, the French Revolution a worrying spectre across the channel, which takes me to my next book.

I’m sure it’s no coincidence that Dunmore set her novel in the year that Mary Wollstonecraft’s seminal work A Vindication of the Rights of Women was published. The book is a powerful critique both of women’s education and the assumptions surrounding marriage and family life, and was very much a product of Wollstonecraft’s enthusiasm for the French Revolution, tempered by her disappointment at the failure to take up the cause of women’s rights. It’s at once optimistic, passionate and angry.

So ends my second Six Degrees of Separation which has taken me from the mysterious disappearance of a group of Australian schoolgirls to a passionate argument for women’s rights. I think I’m hooked on this now. If you like the idea, you can follow this meme on Twitter with the hashtag #6Degrees or perhaps even join in.