‘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.’
I included the starting point in this month’s chain, Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell in my own, the very first time I participated in Six Degrees, back in August last year.
This time I’ll link it with Nicola Upson’s Stanley and Elsie. Like O’Farrell, Upson re-imagines lives: those of the celebrated English painter Stanley Spencer and his family, and their live-in maid Elsie. Though this is a work of fiction, she sticks more closely to the known facts than O’Farrell. This story of love, obsession, the thought processes of a painter, the English countryside is written in a way that demands to be read, compulsively.
Another life – this time entirely fictional, entirely believable. Andrew Miller’s The Crossing has Maud at its heart. This unusual woman, very likely with Asperger’s syndrome, nevertheless has an ordinary enough life till tragedy strikes. Then it takes a different path, when Maud goes to sea … This exquisitely written book, and Maud herself, may haunt you, as they did me.
A big leap now to two fictional lives. Soldiers from Senegal often provided the French front line throughout the First World War. Alfa and Mademba are two of them. When Alfa watches his lifelong friend Madeba die in agony, unable and unwilling to kill him to end his suffering, his slow descent into madness begins. David Diop’s At Night All Blood is Black is both hypnotic and heartbreaking.
I can’t face anything else that’s dark at the moment, but I’ll remain with a West African subject, this time a Nigerian. The Girl with the Louding Voice, by Abi Daré is written in the voice of fourteen year old Adunni who is married against her will to a much older man. Written in pidgin this lively, involving and often humorous story highlights the difficulties and limitations imposed on many women in Nigeria, particularly those of limited means: forced marriage, domestic slavery. This story, however, has a positive and happy ending.
Which leads me to another book where the prospect of a forced marriage changes the main protagonist’s life: 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World, by Elif Shafak. This is the life of Tequila Leila, sex-worker, and her five very special friends, recalled in flashback just as Leila dies, and told in a vibrant, moving and engaging way. The second half puts her friends centre stage as they attempt a decent burial for their friend, and for me was less satisfactory. Read it and decide for yourself.
Let’s end with another woman’s life, an autobiography this time: Tara Westover’s Educated. I approached this book with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. But once started, I couldn’t put it down. Tara Westover comes from a large dysfunctional Mormon family. Home educated, her upbringing was tough, Her journey from a rough country childhood to the world of academia is well-told, as well as giving me some insight into the Mormons. A thought-provoking read.
With the pandemic still raging, I’m in need of uplifting reads: and with the exception of the David Diop, my choices provide positivity in varying degrees. I haven’t read next month’s starting-point-book, Ann Tyler’s Redhead by the Side of the Road. It’s very short: that’s the upside when my TBR list is so very long.
Always up for reading, and recommending good reads to others, this post is also my offering for Square Up today. But please visit the Six Degrees link to see what other readers have chosen.