Tag Archives: The Master

Six Degrees of Separation – from Lincoln in the Bardo to Villette #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 the 2017 Man Booker-winning Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders set against the backdrop of the America Civil War with the president grief stricken by the loss of his son. I still haven’t got around to reading it.

The titular bardo is a Buddhist term for the transitional state between death and rebirth.  Siddartha, the title of Herman Hesse’s retelling of the Buddha’s story, is often pronounced ‘Sid Arthur’ which provided a challenge in my very early days as a bookseller. I’ve also hear The Glass Bead Game referred to as The Glass Bidet, but that’s another story.

The eponymous Arthur in Julian Barnes’ novel Arthur and George is Arthur Conan Doyle whose path crossed with George Edjali’s, a Birmingham solicitor convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. Conan Doyle became determined to clear Edjali’s name and ensure that the true culprit was brought to justice.

Which brings me to Sherlock Holmes by my old friend and colleague Nick Rennison who took on the challenge of writing the biography of one of his favourite fictional characters cleverly blending fact with fiction at great risk to himself given the many Holmes fans with very strong views about their hero.

Colm Tóibin’s The Master also blends fact with fiction in a fictionalised account of a period in Henry James’ life. In the final years of the nineteenth-century James retreated to Rye, crushed by the humiliation of his failure as a playwright and his inability to embrace intimacy. Tóibin’s novel explores the writer’s mental turmoil.

James’ gothic novella, Turn of the Screw, is one of the most polished ghost stories I’ve read. It’s about a governess who becomes determined to save the two children in her charge from their apparent possession. Renamed The Innocents, it was made into a terrifying film starring Deborah Kerr.

Charlotte Brontë’s Villette is about another governess who finds herself in trouble. Lucy Snowe travels to Belgium where she struggles to control her pupils and becomes embroiled in her feelings for a dictatorial teacher. Brontë drew on her own difficult experience as a governess in Brussels for this novel which was an A Level text for me, more years ago than I care to remember. I have to admit that I haven’t read it since

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from a bereaved American president to a troubled governess in a Belgian city but kept me, mostly, in the nineteenth-century. 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.