Six Degrees of Separation (wild card): from ‘Academy Street’ to ‘The Dinner Guest’

Six degrees of separation logo for memeIt’s the first Saturday of the month, which means it’s time to participate in Six Degrees of Separation!

This book meme is hosted by Kate from booksaremyfavouriteandbest. Every month Kate chooses a particular book as a starting point. The idea is to create a chain by linking to six other books using common themes.

This month the starting point is a wild card — any book that’s been at the end of one of your previous chains — so I’ve gone back to June 2019 where I finished with a novella.

In honour of  Novellas in November, every book in my chain is a novella. The starting point is…

‘Academy Street’ by Mary Costello (2014)
This is a profoundly moving story about one woman’s quiet, unassuming life from her girlhood in rural Ireland to her retirement (as a nurse) in Manhattan more than half a century later. It’s written in beautiful, pared-back language and remains one of the most emotionally potent stories I’ve ever read — of loneliness, of literature, of never quite fitting in. Another story about a woman not fitting in is…

‘Memoirs of a Woman Doctor’ by Nawal El Saadawi (1960)
This fast-paced novella, which spans decades in less than 120 pages, reveals the sexism at the heart of Egyptian culture and the courage required for a woman to be accepted in a profession long dominated by men. A fiercely independent woman also features in…

‘Chasing the King of Hearts’ by Hanna Krall (2013)
Translated from the Polish, this short novel is a tribute to one woman’s amazing ability to survive everything that World War Two throws at her, including the execution of various family members, life in the Warsaw Ghetto, several stints in jail, torture by a cruel Gestapo officer and internment in Auschwitz. And that’s only the half of it. Another story about a woman fighting for survival is…

The end we start from

‘The End We Start From’ by Megan Hunter (2018)
Set some time in the future, this story follows one woman’s journey to survive the floodwaters that have engulfed London and forced its residents to seek refuge elsewhere. She has just given birth to her first child, so all her energy and focus is devoted to him. The world outside, descending into chaos, appears to be of no concern. Another book that shows the world descending into chaos is…


‘High-Rise’ by J.G. Ballard (1975)
Set in an apartment block where the floor in which you live reflects your social standing, this dystopian-like novella shows what happens when petty grievances amongst the residents are allowed to escalate unchecked. The breakdown of the building’s social order is a metaphor for society as a whole when the thin veneer of civilization is allowed to slip. It’s really a book about uncomfortable truths. Another book about uncomfortable truths is…

‘Ways of Going Home’ by Alejandro Zambra (2013)
Set in the author’s native Chile, this novella uses the devices of metafiction to explore memory, love, truth, deception, guilt, family life and political responsibility. It particularly focuses on the generation born after Pinochet came to power in 1973 and how, in young adulthood, they have had to come to terms with uncomfortable truths: that their parents were either victims or accomplices in the murderous dictatorship that lasted for 17 years. Another book dealing with the generational outfall of a deeply divisive and violent political era is…

‘The Dinner Guest’ by Gabriela Ybarra (2018)
Billed as fiction, this novella is really a mix of non-fiction, memoir and reportage as the author attempts to unravel the truth about her grandfather’s violent and untimely death in 1977, some six years before she was born. It is an intriguing story, often deeply disturbing, about inter-generational trauma and forgetting, with a particular focus on the long-lasting impact of terrorism on children and families in the Basque Country.

So that’s this month’s #6Degrees: from a story about a woman’s life lead quietly in 1950s Manhattan to a novella about the long-lasting impact of terrorism on children living in the Basque Country, via Egpyt, the Holocaust, dystopian London, a high-rise building, and modern-day Chile. Have you read any of these books? 

Please note, you can see all my other Six Degrees of Separation contributions here.

25 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation (wild card): from ‘Academy Street’ to ‘The Dinner Guest’

  1. Kim, have you read any other Ballards since 2011? He has been a major, major writer in my reading life. His early works were treated as SF – desert worlds following a nuclear apocalypse. He was held as a child in a Japanese prison camp in China and, in his mind’s eye at least, saw the bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki which marked the end of the war.
    Later works reflect on his life in London, near the Shepparton fim studios and are still surreal. Might I recommend The Kindness of Women – I have any number of his books I could lend you.

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    • Hi Bill, that’s the only Ballard I’ve read although I’ve got several lurking on my Kindle, including Empire of the Sun, the fictionalised account of his internment. I think the Kindness of Women is a continuation of that story?

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      • Empire of the Sun is amazing and central to understanding all of Ballard’s writing. I hadn’t thought of The Kindness of Women as a sequel but I see that’s how Wiki bills it.

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        • I need to read Empire of the Sun soonish… (so many books, so little time)… I remember absolutely LOVING the film. He had a rather extraordinary life by the sound of things, he was much revered by the British public.

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  2. What an interesting selection. I might give the more dystopian offerings a miss just now – my mood is low enough anyway. But Chasing the King of Hearts interests me, notwithstanding, because of my Polish ancestry Academy Street looks worth looking out for too. I need to start looking out for novellas for this month too!

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    • I love novellas and short novels. I think they’re so much better than a big, baggy novel. Chasing the King of Hearts is like a women’s own adventure story starring a fiercely independent woman, while Academy Street is about an introvert who can’t quite get the hang of grabbing life by the horns. Both are excellent.

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