Six Degrees of Separation: from Passages to Night Crawling

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.

Kate W: Books are my favourite and best https://booksaremyfavouriteandbest.com/2023/03/04/six-degrees-of-separation-from-passages-to-soundings/

The full title of Passages, this month’s starter book, describes it as being about ‘predictable crises of adult life’  Gail Sheehy’s road map of adult life shows the inevitable personality and sexual changes we go through in our 20s, 30s, 40s, and beyond.  And I haven’t read it. 

But I have read a book whose female heroine is forced into adapting to a life for which she had been totally unprepared, and for which there was no self-help manual: A room made of leaves, by Kate Grenville.  This is an involving story based on the lives of John Macarthur, who has a bit part in Australian history, and his wife Elizabeth, who hasn’t, but who, through her amanuensis Kate Grenville, wrote this book. It’s 1788. After an unwise liaison with a hot-headed and unbalanced soldier, John Macarthur which results in her pregnancy, she is forced to make a new life in Australia where her husband has duties guarding the penal colony in New South Wales. Isolated in this unfamiliar terrain, she has to develop strategies and find strength to navigate her new life and her impetuous and unpredictable husband. This book beautifully evokes the landscape of this part of Australia, and the tough life shared by army personnel, prisoners, and the original Aboriginal population, for whom, unlike most of her fellow countrymen, she develops respect and sympathy. An evocative and poignant story.

Another book had me reading about a woman who also couldn’t have read Passages:  Free Love by Tessa Hadley. We are in the 1960s, and are introduced to Phyl, a middle class housewife with a husband in the Foreign Office and two children. The family is prosperous and content. Then Nick, the son of old friends comes for a meal, and everything changes as Phyl makes choices which up-end this happy and conventional family.  I was immediately immersed in this story, where first one twist, then another interposed itself in the narrative. Extraordinary as these twists were, the sixties setting gave them the ring of authenticity, and I had little difficulty in being totally sucked into the worlds which Phyl and her various connections inhabited. I found it a real page-turner.

The next two women also had little control over how their lives unfolded:, as told in The Lace Weaver by Lauren Chater. Estonia, 1941. The country is in the grip of a savage conquest and occupation by Russia. Increasingly deprived of a means of scrabbling a livelihood together, for the women of the town where young Kati lives, hanging on to their heritage tradition of shawl-weaving in delicate lacy patterns becomes a way of asserting their commitment to their country.  Moscow, 1941. Lydia, a privileged young woman of Kati’s age discovers some unwelcome facts about her parentage and resolves to escape. After several heart-stopping adventures, she finds herself in the same refugee camp as Kati.The two young women tell their stories in alternating chapters, with the leitmotif of the shawl being the device that threads their stories together: stories of danger, love, brutal deaths and the importance of all the women’s support of one another as their men fight the Russian occupiers in under-the-radar resistance groups. Although I found that difficulties were sometimes too slickly resolved, nevertheless the story emphasised the fragility of life, the strength of the human spirit.

We’ll go back to the 12th century now, to read about a woman who at first had little control over her life- until she learnt how to assume it:  Lauren Groff’s Matrix.  I expected to enjoy this book far more than I actually did. The hero, Marie de France, is someone known to have existed, but very little of her history is known. Which pretty much gave Lauren Groff carte blanche to write her story as she chose. In short, Marie, a bastard of noble birth, is big and ungainly. Sent as a prioress to an impoverished and unimportant abbey, she successfully devotes her whole life to making it large, beautiful, and extraordinarily wealthy. Groff’s research is impressive: she clearly understands the mediaeval religious life well. Her writing is striking, luminous. But I was entirely uninvested in the life of Marie de France and in the lives of her fellow-nuns. Dramas were quickly resolved: whole years, or even a decade or so passed in a single sentence. I didn’t care for Marie a great deal – for her visions and her acquisitiveness – apparently for the glory of God. And really, it was a matter of some indifference to me whether I finished the book: I did – for the quality of the prose, rather than the uninvolving narrative.

Another woman – in fact The hero of this book is the subject of Elizabeth McCracken’s story.  Apparently it’s her mother, but actually it’s auto-fiction, which is fictionalised autobiography. A book that is curiously hard to describe or pigeon hole. The author – American – is playing the tourist in London, re-exploring the haunts she and her recently deceased mother enjoyed together. She moves seamlessly, but never inappropriately between her London adventures, her mother’s life as a woman with life-affecting health issues, and the need to sell the unwieldy and neglected house that was her parents’ last home. Her father also died not too long ago, but he plays no more than a bit part in this story.  McCracken’s mother was wilful and opinionated, witty and optimistic – and great fun, despite her very real mobility difficulties. McCracken herself vacillates between protecting her mother’s privacy and wanting to cherish her memories. She wants to write a book that’s like ‘David Copperfield except Jewish, and disabled, and female, and an American wiseacre, but there’s too much I don’t know and I can’t bear to make up.’  This is a funny, unsentimental and vivid book which is impossible to characterise – or to put down.

I seem to have a chain which is all about women, so here’s my last one, and so different from any previous choices. Night crawling by Leila Mottley.  17 year old Kiara’s father, always in and out of jail, is dead, her mother is in a halfway house, and her older brother chases unrealistic dreams of becoming the next big name in the music industry. She’s in charge of their home, and de-facto of her friend and neighbour’s 9 year old child, whom she loves unconditionally. Under-educated and with no training, she has no means of paying the rent and eviction looms. Sex-working provides an answer, but soon she falls into the clutches of a ring of sex-seeking cops from whose grip she has little chance of escape. This is her story: that of a feisty young woman making the best of the rotten hand that life has dealt her. Told in her own words, Kiara paints a picture of a world where racism and poverty and lack of choice are normal and where the choices she must make are impossible. It’s inspired by a true story of corruption in the police department. Kiara is bold, witty and tough, and Mottley gives her a rhythmic, new and exciting langage. An energising read.

Six women, roughly fashioned into this month’s chain. Where will next month’s take us? It’s Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography Born to Run.

PS. Away from home, I am finishing this post off on my phone. Getting the link to Kate’s post to display in the usual way has turned out to be above my pay-grade.

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.

67 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: from Passages to Night Crawling”

  1. They all sound like very good reads, with the exception of Matrix, Margaret. I really should jot some of the titles down but I always forget, or write them somewhere that ends up lost in a drawer. Such an organised life I lead. Happy reading, darlin!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I haven’t read any of these but will be adding a couple to my ‘to read’ list – Free Love probably interests me the most as I vaguely remember the sixties in London!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Well done as usual. I really should have read Passages, then I might have avoided a lot of mistakes in my life, but probably a bit late now! A room made of leaves sounds like the sort of book I might enjoy, I had a period of reading Australian historical books and the hardships people went through to forge a life out there, and Free Love sounds interesting. I shall peruse my library – again. Thanks Margaret and I hope you are enjoying your gadabout.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Great first link Margaret. I didn’t read this because I’d recently read a bio of Macarthur but Grenville is a good writer. I’ve heard of all of the other authors (and have read a Hadley short story) except the last. I think the one that interests me most in the McCracken. I do often like auto-fiction.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I remember reading Gail Sheehy’s “Passages” when it first came out in 1976. I had signed up to a book club that would send your 1 book a month for a small sum. Passages was the first one that I received. I was in University at the time and on very limited student finances so spending money on books came just after the rent and food. I will always remember that book because of her description of university life, which was very very different from my world. I did not identify with anything in the book, but I still remember it. I was not surprised when Passages 1976 was named one of the ten most influential books of our times by the Library of Congress.

    “If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.” Gail Sheehy

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      1. I hope I didn’t dissuade you, Margaret! This book was extraordinary. And I think that I will reread it again at my age so thank you very much for introducing and reminding me about this book. Gail Sheehy wrote it at a time of transition, of societal change. She challenged me to look around at what was happening beyond myself. I had grown up in northern Manitoba. Far far from city life. I’m glad I spent the money which I really didn’t have to spend.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You’re sending a clear message that I really should read it. Though I expect that by now the ideas that then seemed radical have become to a large extent normalised. If that’s the case, it would be interesting on that basis too.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Interesting chain! I still haven’t read any Kate Grenville, but A Room Made of Leaves has been on my TBR for a few years so I’ll try to find time for it soon. The Lace Weaver also sounds like a book I might enjoy.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I am always attracted to books with a London setting and The hero of this book sounds great! Ooh, you have been reading Nightcrawling as well – my review should hopefully be up tomorrow.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve not heard of this ‘chain’ but I truly enjoyed your post. It makes me want to dig up these books…well except for Passages, which I have never had the desire to read and thus, have not. Even something about Matrix is intriguing.

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    1. I’m quite unlikely to read Passages either. But it was the given starter book, and proved quite a stimulating one for me. Yes, I even got a lot from reading Matrix, even if it wasn’t entirely enjoyable.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I haven’t read any of the books on your chain, and the one that (while might leave me a little emotional) appeals to me most is Night Crawling..

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I loved the McCracken and Mottley — I’m hoping to see both on the Women’s Prize longlist tomorrow. I’ve read other books by Grenville and Hadley but not these two. And Matrix was a DNF for me even though I’d loved Groff’s previous work. Like you, I just couldn’t get involved in the characters and action.

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    1. Grr. An error occurred when I tried to post on your blog. Here’s what I said: ‘Oh dear So sorry you’re not well: I hope you can take it easy. Your chain has Trollope and Bryson in, so all’s well with the world. In fact all the ones I haven’t yet read are already on my TBR.’ Grenville? Highly recommended, all the ones I’ve read.

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      1. I still have that same problem, Margaret. I can only comment on your blog when I go to Google Chrome instead of Firefox. There are a few blogs with that same problem, though not many, I think three in all. But at least I manage to contact you.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. And I’m glad you liked my chain so much. Thanks. Enjoy all the ones that you haven’t yet read, I know I did.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. And yes, totally irritating. At least I could solve the problem for me, hope you will find a way, too, to comment on my blog.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I’ll keep at it! The other thing is that Blogger doesn’t have a simple ‘follow’ system like WordPress. so I don’t know how to become aware of when you’ve published a post.

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      5. Well, I have to add addresses to my “follow list” and then I can see them, no matter what site they work with. And I have people who follow me via e-mail. I must see how that works.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Well, I’ve tried to do it from my end, but … no luck. It seems to be because I briefly had a Blogger blog, which I soon abandoned because I changed to WordPress. But it regards me as a current user.

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  11. I like the idea of going back to the 12th century, but it takes a skilful storyteller to give us a believable setting and characters we are interested in without imposing 21st century sensibilities on both. We don’t really know what it was truly like, but we do notice when we’re reading something that feels inauthentic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. To be fair, I think Groff had made a real effort to be authentic, even though none of us can know if she pulled it off. It was the pace of the narrative and the not entirely successful story line that I didn’t like. Have you read it?

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Free Love is the one you’ve made sound most intriguing here, although I don’t know if any of them would really be my cup of tea. I’m surprised by the subtitle of the first – ‘predictable crises’. Is predictable much of a selling point?

    Liked by 1 person

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