Six Degrees of Separation: February

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It’s Six Degrees of Separation time again, and this time I’ve struggled to put my list together. Put it down to Lockdown Lassitude. But I got there in the end.

I like Ann Tyler. I really should read the first book in this month’s chain, Redhead by the Side of the Road which features Micah, a creature of habit, whose routines are blasted uncomfortably away when someone who claims to be his son …

Clare Morrall’s The Last of the Greenwoods features two elderly brothers, long in the habit of loathing and ignoring each other, despite living in adjacent converted railway carriages: and a letter from a sister, supposedly murdered fifty years before.  There’s also a young women postal worker who hasn’t lived up to her early promise and a railway restoration project to add spice to the mix. Morrall is a good writer, who tells a good tale. . It should have absorbed me, had me eagerly turning the page. But it didn’t. It hung heavy, and it took me well over a week to finish it.

One of the brother’s railway carriages? (Unsplash: Marjan Blan)

Unrelated, often lonely lives intermesh in Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain by Barney Norris.  This book, set around Salisbury, is written in five voices, each one involved to a greater or lesser degree with a thoroughly nasty car crash in the town. There’s the self-deluded and foul-mouthed flower seller; the soon to be bereaved schoolboy who’s an odd mixture of articulate beyond his years and immature; the widower, mourning both the death of his wife, and the end a long and happy marriage; the lonely army wife, desperately seeking some purpose in this, the latest of her husband’s postings (he’s now been sent on to Afghanistan); and the highly over-qualified young security guard.  This is a satisfying, humane, perceptive read about ordinary people, ordinary lives, often poetic in the way it examines the reality of our everyday existence.

Salisbury: (Wilimedia Commons)

Love after Love, by Ingrid Persaud is set among the Indian community of Trinidad. There’s Betty, lone parent to Solo after the death of her violent husband. There’s lodger Mr. Chetan: friend to everyone but with secrets that are hard to live with. And there’s Solo himself, who discovers how his father died, and draws painful conclusions. The narrative swings between these three characters over the years in which the story plays out. Extraordinary, ordinary lives, often steeped in loneliness. Here are three characters looking for love, for understanding, for acceptance. Written in lilting, poetic Trinidadian patois, this is a powerful, absorbing and compelling story.

Trinidad street scene (Unsplash, Falco Negenman)

Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners, written in a form of Caribbean English  details the journey from isolation and loneliness to acceptance for the young men who came alone from the Caribbean to 1950s London. It paints a picture of a city which, for all the difficulties of dead-end jobs, unsatisfactory housing and dismal food and shows how the immigrants’ new lives could be exhilarating and exciting: offering relationships with young European girls also finding their feet in England, the freedom of the dance floor and an escape from the not always welcome traditions of the homeland.

21st century high-rise London wasn’t the city the Windrush generation would have recognised on their arrival.

And now for something completely different, though this is a tale of resilience too.  Sun-mi Hwang’s The Hen who Dreamed she could Fly is a disarming fairy tale for our times, featuring Sprout, the hen who dreams of rearing her very own chick from her very own egg. That never happens, but this indomitable bird has a way of making her dream come partly true in a satisfying, charmingly written clarion call for independence, motherhood and resilience.

One of our neighbour’s five hens, and not at all alone

And finally, another loner, more birds.  Away with the Penguins by Hazel Prior. At first, I was quite prepared to abandon this book. I thought it was going to irritate me beyond measure, in the way that Leonard and Hungry Paul did. I expected it to be Heartwarming and all that, which I can’t stand. In the end, there was enough grit in this tale to salvage it, and this impossible tale of a little old lady who visits a research station in the Antarctic to visit the penguins had me turning the pages in the end. But it won’t make my Top Ten of the Year.

Snow in Andorra, not Antarctica

It turns out that this chain encircles the world – Baltimore USA to England, to Trinidad and back to England: over to Korea and finally Antarctica. That’s the beauty of a book. It can take you anywhere.

32 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: February

  1. I like Anne Tyler too and nor have I. None of your other books would have me pouncing on them but I’d probably enjoy them once I got going. I’m a much slower reader and go in fits and starts depending on the weather and how engrossed i am in the book. How do you make your selection? 🙂 🙂

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    1. Erm. Partly what’s stuck in my mind, and if stuck I go through my Goodreads pages, where I write a short review of every book I read. I also wriggle to get certain books in. I’ve just finished Love after Love and absolutely loved it. Highly recommended.

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    2. Erm. Partly what’s stuck in my mind, and if stuck I go through my Goodreads pages, where I write a short review of every book I read. I also wriggle to get certain books in. I’ve just finished Love after Love and absolutely loved it. Highly recommended. Who are your kind of authors?

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  2. You certainly get around the world in your reading! Nice idea to add photo illustrations of the locations as well. I haven’t read any of the books, but I am intrigued by The Hen who Dreamed she could Fly.

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      1. Nah… I just have very large wish lists on sites like Book Depository. I don’t put anything on my Goodreads TBR list until I actually have a copy of it, so the list doesn’t look that bad!

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  3. I like your ‘quite prepared to abandon’ comment. Does this mean you’d feel guilty about it? I don’t know about you, but I was brought up to feel I should finish a book I’d started in a similar way to finishing all the food on my plate. It is only in the last five years or so that I can abandon and not care.

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    1. It isn’t that exact, Agnes. The trick is knowing when to give up. I have known books which were an incredibly slow burn for me at first turn into winners – eventually. But yes, if it’s not offering a single thing, binning early is clearly the thing to do.

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  4. For someone who was ‘struggling’ with this your chain is fantastic! But I know what you mean, sometimes inspiration just won’t come, and I had several false starts with this one. The last book I read took me far longer than it should have, but that was partly because I thought it was awful – I am one of the people who need to learn to bin a book if I really don’t rate it.

    Love After Love sounds very interesting and I will add it to my list. I know next to nothing about ‘real’ life in the West Indies.

    The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly looks great. I felt exactly the same as you about Away with the Penguins. I have actually read a couple of ‘feelgood’ books recently that I unexpectedly enjoyed, but this one just looks too twee, so it was good to have your thoughts.

    My chain went off, as chains do, in an entirely different direction: https://sconesandchaiseslongues.blogspot.com/

    I remember seeing a programme a while ago, in which Suggs read parts of The Lonely Londoners while travelling on a London bus. He made it sound fascinating and I promised myself I’d read it….of course I still haven’t, but now perhaps I will.

    Thank you for some interesting ideas.

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  5. I suspect I would enjoy every book in your chain. There’s a lot of loneliness running through it – lockdown has a lot to answer for. Sadly, no six degrees for me again this month. Indeed, no blogging at all. More problems, just when we thought we had things on an even keel… But hopefully I’ll be reading along here even if I’m not commenting.

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