6 Degrees of Separation

Six degrees of Separation: From ‘What are you Going Through’ to ‘Travelling in a Strange Land’

It’s the first Saturday of the month, which means it’s time to participate in Six Degrees of Separation (check out Kate’s blog to find out the “rules” and how to participate).

As ever, click the title to read my full review of each book.

This month the starting book is…

‘What Are You Going Through’ by Sigrid Nunez (2021)

At last! A starting book for Six Degrees that I have actually read! According to the blurb, this is a tale about two friends, one of whom asks the other to be there when she chooses to die euthanasia style, but it is so much more complex and convoluted than that. This is a story about stories — the stories we hear, the stories we write, the stories we tell ourselves. “This is the saddest story I have ever heard,” the opening line from Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, is a constant refrain…

‘The Good Soldier’ by Ford Madox Ford (1915)

Set in the Edwardian era, this novel explores the complex and intertwined relationships between two wealthy and seemingly perfect couples who meet every year at a German spa resort. But one of the men, the “good soldier” of the title, likes much younger women and takes several mistresses, while his wife turns a blind eye.

‘The Good Son’ by Paul McVeigh (2015)

This is not a story about adultery; my link is a bit more obvious — it’s simply another book with “good” in the title! It’s a coming-of-age story set in Northern Ireland during The Troubles and is narrated by a schoolboy who’s a smart kid with big dreams. When he gets caught up in events bigger than himself, he must act as the good son to save his family. It’s a really touching tale.

‘Shadows on Our Skin’ by Jennifer Johnston (1977)

The only novel by Jennifer Johnston to be nominated for the Booker Prize, this is another coming-of-age story set during The Troubles. It follows a Derry schoolboy who develops a platonic relationship with a female teacher and then discovers his world opening up…

‘The Temple House Vanishing’ by Rachel Donohue (2020)

A friendship between a teacher and student is key to the brooding mystery in this deeply atmospheric Irish novel published last year. The narrative swings backwards and forwards between the present day and the early 1990s as a journalist investigates the disappearance of a schoolgirl and her charismatic art teacher from an exclusive Irish boarding school 25 years earlier.

‘The Everlasting Sunday’ by Robert Lukins (2018)

Here’s yet another atmospheric tale set in a school in days gone by. It’s about a teenage boy banished to a reform school — based in a Shropshire manor house — because he has been “found by trouble”. Here he meets a cohort of similarly troubled boys, alliances are formed and tensions rise, culminating in a shocking denouement. Thanks to the setting — the UK’s notorious “big freeze” of 1962/63 — this book is chilling in more ways than one.

Travelling in a strange land

‘Travelling in a Strange Land’ by David Park (2018)

A “big freeze” also features in this novel which is set during a severe winter snowstorm. Wedding photographer Tom drives across the UK in treacherous conditions to rescue his son stranded in student lodgings. But that road journey is merely a metaphor for another journey Tom has recently had to make: that of a newly bereaved parent grappling with the death of his oldest son and the legacy of guilt and bewilderment and loss he now feels. It’s a beautiful, eloquent, emotional read.

So that’s this month’s #6Degrees: from a story about euthanasia to one about a parent’s bereavement, via tales about misbehaving men, young boys caught up in The Troubles, a Gothic mystery set in a boarding school and another one set in a reform school.

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: From ‘What are you Going Through’ to ‘Travelling in a Strange Land’”

    1. Oh, I find that surprising about the Park because he’s published by Bloomsbury and the title is from 2018. He’s one of those authors I mean to read more of, because I, too, liked The Light of Amsterdam and thought his novel The Truth Commissioner, about the Northern Ireland peace process, was astonishing.

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  1. The only one I’ve read is The good soldier. It was the first book I got on my Kindle. I really should post it on my blog. Otherwise, I’ve heard of some of your books and/or authors, but haven’t read any of them.

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    1. Someone got very upset re: my review of a Good Soldier when I first posted it and accused me of revealing crucial plot spoilers. Those “spoilers” are in almost every review of this book I’ve read, including 1001 Books to Read Before You Die, and were even included in the blurb of my old secondhand edition. I always find it strange the things that people can get upset by online.., 🤷🏻‍♀️

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  2. How have I not come across that David Park before now?! It’s exactly my kind of story (I’ve only read one of his, The Light of Amsterdam, and really enjoyed it).

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  3. What an interesting phrase: “found by trouble.” But I am especially taken with your introductory remark: “This is a story about stories — the stories we hear, the stories we write, the stories we tell ourselves.” That emphasis on story is exactly what drew me in and made me put Nunez’s book on my TBRS (to be read soon) list. You’ve lead very nicely into my emerging theme of Life Stories in Literature.

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    1. The entire Everlasting Sunday is written in quite old fashioned passive language like this. It kind of adds to the disquieting atmosphere of the story.

      Glad you have added the Nunez to your list. It’s an intriguing novel.

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  4. Apart from the starter book, I’m persuaded that I would enjoy all of your books. I do have The Good Soldier somewhere and thought i’d read it but I had mixed it up with Return of the Soldier.

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    1. Lol. I mixed up the Return of the Soldier with this one for years… (I haven’t read Return of the Soldier) – it’s like me and the Penelopes (Lively and Fitzgerald), I can’t tell one from another!

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