It’s time for Six Degrees of Separation … in August

Blogging challenges, Books and reading

‘On the first Saturday of every month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. Readers and bloggers are invited to join in by creating their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book’.

Six Degrees of Separation: Kate W

I was pretty stumped by the book starting this chain: Postcards from the Edge by Carrie Fisher.  The story of a Hollywood actor’s struggle with drugs didn’t appeal to me.

I settled on Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn. Here is a cast list of utterly blemished characters, with the narrator, Camille Preaker, as the lead. Fresh from psychiatric hospital, this Chicago-based reporter is sent to her long-left home town to comment on a couple of nasty and unsolved murders. We meet her damaged mother, her unreliable sister, and a host of others. This is an engrossing but troubling story which in the end rather exhausted me.  I was glad to turn the last page, feeling that both characters and the town in which the book is set are caricatures, rather than living entities. 

Wind Gap, the town on which the story is centred, was based on Barnesville , Georgia- here’s its City Hall ( Wikimedia Commons, Michael Rivera)

Now to an autobiography of someone who could have been damaged beyond repair, but isn’t. My Name is Why. Lemn Sissay: Chancellor of Manchester University: official poet to the London Olympics: broadcaster and advocate for the rights of children in care. A successful life.  It was not always so. His Ethiopian mother, briefly in England to study, gave birth to him in a home for unmarried mothers and was forced to give him up.  Initially fostered, he became estranged from his foster family. and aged twelve, began a distressing journey through several children’s homes. His descent from bright, happy and popular child to uncooperative social misfit is shown in a series of dry reports from social workers and officials with whom he had contact. The book is an indictment of the care system. That he survived such a system and has since prospered is no thanks to it.

Lemn Sissay (Philosphy Football via Wikimedia Commons)

And so to Blonde Roots by Bernadine Evaristo. Here is a world turned upside down. Black people are in charge, whites are their slaves. Feudal Britain, eighteenth and nineteenth century worlds, the modern age and a dystopian future all combine in this world of toil and trouble in which Doris, kidnapped from her home into slavery, finds herself.  There’s much to enjoy and admire in this early novel from Evaristo: the playful place names such as Londolo: details such as the efforts of whyte women to achieve the curly Aphro looks of their former masters. The speech patterns of the slaves, rooted in those of their black masters didn’t work for me, and overall, this was an only partially successful attempt to demonstrate that tyranny rules when we begin to regard others as inferior to ourselves.

Evaristo plays with the idea of a world in which history is up-ended (Unsplash: Ivana Cajina)

There are two contrasting worlds in my next book:  The Communist’s Daughter, by Aroa Moreno Durán, Katia, the daughter of Spanish refugees from the Civil War was raised in East Berlin with all its difficulties and privations. She saw the wall go up, experienced the limitations of the life they were obliged to leave. And she left, with all the difficulties and dangers her leaving represented. But what had she gained? And what might her family have lost? A sparely written, thought provoking and unsettling book.

The Berlin Wall: but not as Katia knew it

From one social outcast to another very different one: Diary of a Somebody by Brian Bilston. This is a quirky read, to be enjoyed for the oddball poems which are at its heart.  Nobody could take the fictional Bilston seriously.  He’s hopeless at his job, socially inept, useless at time and money management.  But he writes off-beat verses, using anything from great literature or the day’s puzzle page in a newspaper as his catalyst.  A book to read when the New Normal is getting you down.

Brian Bilston ( Smithsonian Magazine: no copyright infringement is intended)

One unexpected character leads to another.  Meet Dr. Yvonne Carmichael in Louise Doughty’s Apple Tree Yard. However did she, a respected  and happily married academic, end up on trial for a murder she didn’t commit? And how is it that her co-accused is a man about whom she knows so very little, despite their having been lovers for months? In this book, we dodge between courtroom and back-story, learning how Yvonne allows herself to tumble into assignations with a man whose name we are told only late on in the narrative. I’m not sure I totally believed in Yvonne Carmichael, or in the beginnings of her affair. But I was sucked into the drama, had no idea how the book would end (slightly disappointingly actually, in my opinion), but it certainly fulfilled its can’t-put-it-down hype.

Westminster: a central character in Apple Tree Yard.

I’d like to end with a character who, though fictional, I totally believed in, encountered in Anne Griffin’s When All is Said.  Maurice Hanigan, now widowed, and aged 84, sits in a bar and raises a toast, one by one, to the most influential people he’s met.  We learn about his life, from his spectacularly unsuccessful school career, to his spectacularly successful career as an entrepreneur.  We grow to hear about his complicated relationship with the family that first employed him while he was still at school, the Dollards.  And his complicated relationship with a unique Edward VIII sovereign, which belonged to the Dollards, and which Maurice – er – found.  It has a legacy, and bears a curse.  This is an engaging, compassionate man, who’s well aware of his failings and of the stereotypes he lives up to.  Each toast, each story is a stand-alone which weaves together into a narrative of the life of a man both wily and mean, loving and grudging for whom in the end, I felt a great deal of understanding. Best of all, you can’t help but read this story in a strong Irish accent.

Farmland in Ireland ( Unsplash: Elisabeth Arnold)

So there we have it. Six Books. Six characters, all shaped and perhaps damaged by the environment in which they grew up.

61 thoughts on “It’s time for Six Degrees of Separation … in August

  1. You always make interesting choices. I like the sound of the last one and the communist’s daughter. Running myself ragged in organisational twirls, Margaret. Isn’t the testing system a pain, and why do my friends live in so many different directions? Ho hum! Have a great weekend!

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  2. Ouf, they all sound exhausting bar the last one, I don’t think I have the stamina for such reads! You have reminded me of the last one, which I meant to read a year ago…must get it

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  3. I saw Appletree Yard on television, and I hadn’t realized that it was based on a book. The Communists Daughter sounds good. I’ve been on a bit of a binge of reading Spanish Civil War books recently and it sounds a good ‘what happened next’ sort of book.

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    1. Whereas I didn’t realise till later that Appletree Yard had been on TV! The Communist’s Daughter is a thoughtful book, which will enhance your understanding of the situation as it was in Germany – but not that in Spain. I really enjoyed it.

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  4. I always look forward to your Six Degrees posts. These are a little off my beaten track but I have made a note of the last one which has found an able publicist in you.

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  5. There are a few notable and heavy reads on your link this month Margaret. Sharp Objects was really good, but rather disturbing in the same breath.

    Hope you are well and that you will have a good August!

    Elza Reads

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  6. Great chain. I read Diary of a Somebody last year and loved it! I’ve also read Apple Tree Yard, a really intriguing mystery set in some very-familiar-places to me in London. The TV adaptation is also very good.

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  7. Great chain! It can be difficult to get started when the first book doesn’t appeal. I haven’t read any of those but I think they all sound interesting, particularly The Communist’s Daughter and Apple Tree Yard.

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  8. Lemn Sissay’s journey is truly remarkable, but I must steel myself to read his book. I quite liked Apple Tree Yard, but I read it more as a woman’s midlife crisis rather than the thriller it has been touted as…

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  9. Such an interesting list, but I think you’ve squeezed in a 7th book. I went looking for the pic of Diary of a somebody which sounded intriguing, but it’s not imaged in your bunch of images. AND YET there are 6 books in your bunch of images. Are you trying to cheat – haha!

    Seriously, I don’t know any of these books but I have read another Evaristo, and do know of Flynn. Of your links though it’s probably The communist’s daughter that I’d most go for.

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    1. Gosh, you’re right! Maths never was my strong point. I’m not cheating – just going for Added Value! Yes, The Communist’s Daughter is definitely worth adding to a TBR list, I think.

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      1. Haha Margaret. My first ones were one short because I counted the starting book. And I think I’ve snuck in an extra one once. I only noticed because I was looking for the book cover. But shh … I won’t tell anyone if you won’t!!

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  10. This is a great chain, with a biography/ life story in hindsight perspective. And while I worry about the more sombre tones of When All is Said, it seems like a wonderful way to look back in time and remember the people who have crossed paths with you. You’ve made me look forward to this book, and also to Diary of a Somebody. Thanks!

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    1. Actually, I found When all is Said was written with a very light touch, and it didn’t feel sombre to me. But you could always cheer yourself up with Diary of a Somebody!

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  11. Such an interesting list. I think I would love to read Blonde Roots, The Communist’s Daughter, and When All is Said. They sound just like the kind of books I love.

    Thanks for visiting my Six Degrees of Separation earlier which led me via a few other books about language to
    Santa Lucia
    by Nobel Prize Winner Selma Lagerlöf.

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  12. What an interesting book list and windy road your books take you. I have one book I am hoping to finish reading it before school begins next week, it’s a matter of making the choice to read rather than something else. Enjoy your Sunday.

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  13. My Name is Why, Blonde Roots and The Communist’s Daughter all appeal. I love Lemn Sissay. I’ve only read Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other and really want to read more by her. And I am fascinated by the separation of Germany and what it did to people and their relationships.

    I found Apple Tree Yard a mixed bag. I found Mr X cartoonish and Dr Y mundane, and the horrific misogyny that changes everything made me very angry. I wasn’t convinced by the ending, either.

    An interesting chain, thanks Margaret.

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    1. Yes, Apple Tree Yard and the Gillian Flynn were probably the least successful of my choices this month. And as I wrote about The Communist’s Daughter, I thought of you. I think it’s one you’d appreciate..

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      1. How lovely to be thought of! I added it to my wishlist straight away.

        I read Gone Girl and decided not to read another Gillian Flynn novel. I felt the same about Louise Doughty after Apple Tree Yard. Sometimes I really enjoy these kinds of ‘departure lounge’ books, other times I feel cheated of my time by them!

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  14. An interesting selection and like ‘residentjudge’ I’d seen Apple Tree Yard on telly and hadn’t known it was an adaptation from a novel. Thought it was average and didn’t feel authentic to me and once you know the plot can’t see the point in reading this type of tale. The Communist’s Daughter sounds an interesting read though, thanks for the review, I will keep an eye out for it on my audible account.

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  15. As my own chain is scheduled now, I can allow myself to read yours (and others of course). I’m very pleased I waited as I suspect my own would have found its way to the recycling bin otherwise! This is a brilliant chain, Margaret but very dark. At least it feels that way to me, probably because I’ve read none of them and indeed haven’t heard of the majority. I do have Apple Tree Yard here but probably won’t get around to it; it was downloaded in a frenzy after the early episodes of the tv version. My enthusiasm to read it faded as the series went on. On the other hand, When All is Said sounds just my sort of thing. Onto the list it goes, sneaking in quite near the top…

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  16. Well done on getting such a lot out of a starter title that didn’t appeal.

    Just as we all produce such different chains from the same root, so we all seem to find different starter books ‘easy’ or ‘difficult’ – I have found the previous few months’ books almost impossible, but this one seemed easy (although only because I went off on a tangent – I certainly didn’t want to think of lots of books similar to Postcards!)

    I find it hard to read unhappy books these days. I do, however, like the sound of When All is Said, I will look that up.

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    1. I think we’re all finding ‘unhappy’ difficult just now. When All is Said has definitely appealed to most people who’ve read my chain. I loved it, so I hope you’ll try it and agree.

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