Six Degrees of Separation in October

Our starting point for this month’s Six Degrees of Separation Challenge is The Turn of the Screw by  Henry James. Our job as participants is to show how one book leads to another, each link taking us further and further from the original (maybe).

I’m linking Turn of the Screw with a detective story set in present-day Venice.  Bear with me.  I’m a big fan of Commissario Brunetti  who lives there with his family.  Enjoying the moments that Brunetti spends at home or ranging round the city he loves for all its faults are a real reason for reading Donna Leon’s books.  Brunetti’s wife Paola teaches at the university, and she’s a big fan of Henry James’ writing.  I’ll put Trace Elements into the mix, as it’s the last Donna Leon I read.

Brunetti’s Venice: often seen from a Police launch while speeding to the scene of crime (Gabriele Diwald, Unsplash)

I like Leon’s writing because she summons up Venice and day-to-day life there so vividly.  Graham Hurley has a similar talent.  His detective, Joe Faraday, lives in Portsmouth, as I once did. Faraday’s life is one of juggling crime, endless paperwork, a bitty personal life, and birdwatching.  It feels very real. Turnstone is the first, but by no means the only one of his books that I’ve read.

Gulls seen from a cross-channel ferry – probably Faraday spotted them too.

Birdwatching had me remembering A Shadow Above. The author, Joe Shute loves ravens. Part natural history; part history; part an exploration of the many legends that this bird has fostered; part investigative journalism; part personal history, this is an engaging, immersive read that goes a long way towards explaining why ravens have a special place in our history.

One of the tame ravens often to be seen near Knaresborough Castle, North Yorkshire.

And so to another author who’s immersed in the natural world – Melissa Harrison. The first book of hers that I read was a novel: At Hawthorn Time.  Even more than the involving story following the lives of a couple with a dissolving marriage newly arrived at the village; a near-vagrant and a disaffected young man, I relished her descriptions of the countryside, whether observations of plant and bird life or a litter strewn roadside edge. Her characters rang true, as well as her clear-eyed descriptions of village life.

What else but hawthorn blossom?

This reminded me of a non-fiction book, a real good read: A Buzz in the Meadow: the Natural History of a French Farm, by Dave Goulson. This is a delight.  The catalyst for writing it is his home in the Charente, bought so he could provide home, in the form of an extensive meadow, to a huge variety of wildlife, specifically insects.  This is no Aga-saga of a Brit in France, but a mixture of reminiscence, hard scientific fact, vivid stories of his own experiments and research, and the work of others.  It’s a page turner and a tale well told with humour, and an eye for the telling detail.  I’m no scientist, but I was absorbed from start to finish.

This praying mantis was spotted not in France, but in Spain, during a family holiday in Catalonia.

Goulson knows his home patch intimately.  Lara Maiklem knows the London Thames intimately.  She’s a mudlarker, who scours the banks of the river looking for its hidden history whenever she can.  World War weaponry, Victorian toys, Georgian clay pipes, Tudor buttons, Roman pottery, even Neolithic flints are all there, waiting to be found.  In Mudlarking, Maiklem writes  an entertaining account of her finds and adventures, stitching them into a readable history of London itself: the growth of the city and its changing fortunes. 

Mudlarking territory along the Thames shoreline.

So there we have it.  Six books following no kind of theme.  But they’re the kinds of book I’ve liked and have enjoyed over the last year or so.


Six Degrees of Separation

October Squares: #Kinda Square


Author: margaret21

I'm retired and living in North Yorkshire, where I walk as often as I can, write, volunteer, and travel as often as I can.

76 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation in October”

      1. Shame! I won’t tell you about the glorious day here. Back from t’ai chi and just debating with our neighbour whether she has time for a lovely lunch before she heads for the airport home. 🤣💕

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  1. I hadn’t picked up on this challenge before, Margaret. A great idea and I loved your links. Especially with the Donna Leon in there. I’m a big fan and she may become a more frequent companion of mine as we trudge through winter. The mud larking one is tempting me too – I often watch them along the Thames, and have had a good chat with some of them.

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    1. I had a schoolfriend – not close one – who was a regular mudlarker. I wish I’d taken more interest at the time. Yes, Guido and Paula are a very great comfort in times of trouble, aren’t they?


  2. This was brilliant. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that particular cover for Henry James. And ravens, I love ravens myself ever since I read Edgar Poe’s poetry on them. Mudlarking sounds awesome too — how small things can signify so many great themes. Just like #6Degrees

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  3. Your post was very dangerous, it made me add 3 books to my TBR!
    I’m curious about this Portsmouth setting. I visited the city several times. I’ll never forget the first time. I had just had 1 year of English at school (France), but I was pretty good, and I was spending a Summer month with a family who could only speak English. They lived not far from Portsmouth, so of course they took me to visit HMS Victory. I couldn’t understand anything that the guide was saying, so the woman in the family had to repeat everything to me in her English. I asked after why I couldn’t understand him, and that it sounded more German than English to me, she said he was actually Scottish!!

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    1. We were in Scotland last week and talked about how impenetrable the accent must be to foreigners. Especially Glaswegian. You seem to have survived and perfected your understanding!


  4. A very unusual chain, with some books I’ve been meaning to rad (the Harrison) and the Buzz in the Meadow one sounds very much up my street. France and agriculture (especially bees), what could be nicer?

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  5. Such a change from all the goblins, ghosts and ghouls of the common associations with gothic horror.
    And talking of mudlarks – I was just reading about the originals in ‘London Labour and the London Poor’ by Henry Mayhew – the original mudlarks were mostly barefoot ragged children on the bottom rung of the scavenger economy.

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  6. That’s an interesting whirl of connections. Mudlarking – once helped out with a group of Walworth primary school children on a visit to the Southwark shoreline at low tide. Fun, if a little challenging.

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  7. That’s a great theme in itself for a chain! Years ago I read a couple of the Donna Leon books! Need to get back to her one day. Or perhaps start again. One or the other!

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