6 Degrees of Separation, Book review

Six Degrees of Separation: From ‘Our Wives Under the Sea’ to ‘English Passengers’

Six degrees of separation logo for memeThe first quarter of 2022 is over and a fresh one starts!

And because it’s the first Saturday of the month, it’s time to participate in Six Degrees of Separation, a meme hosted by Kate at booksaremyfavouriteandbest.

This time around I’m theming mine around stories set onboard ocean-going vessels. I think living close to a port — I can see the vehicles carriers and container ships in dock through my living room window as I write this — has somehow infected my subconscious!

Without further ado, here are the six books I have chosen for my chain. As ever, click the title to read my full review of each book.

This month the starting book is…

‘Our Wives Under the Sea’ by Julia Armfield (2022)

I haven’t read this book, which has only just been published in Australia. From what I can gather, it explores the aftermath of a deep-sea mission that goes wrong. This made me think of other books I have read that have involved the sea in some way, so my first link is:

‘Below Deck’ by Sophie Hardcastle (2020)

This engaging novel explores both the healing and dangerous aspects of life sailing the ocean. The 20-year-old protagonist has a controlling boyfriend, whose behaviour foreshadows her future relationships with men. When the grandfather who raised her dies, she heads out on a sailing trip with an elderly couple as a way of dealing with her grief. She ends up falling in love with the ocean and reinvents herself as a sailor, ditching her boyfriend along the way. But several years later, when onboard a trawler with an all-male crew, she discovers there are dangers other than drowning with which she must contend.

Another novel about a young woman confronting danger on board a ship is…

Atlantic Black

‘Atlantic Black’ by A.S. Patrić (2017)

In this lyrical novel, a Russian teenage girl on the verge of womanhood has her sense of freedom and bravura tested in the brief space of a day and a night. The entire story takes place on a ship mid-way across the Atlantic Ocean on New Year’s Eve 1938. Katerina, the daughter of an ambassador, is left to entertain herself when he mother falls ill. Oblivious to the personal danger she often finds herself in — mostly, it has to be said, from men who do not have her best interests at heart — the narrative takes the reader on a perilous journey of nerves and anxiety.

Another story in which a cruise ship features is…

‘French Exit’ by Patrick deWitt (2018)

In this comedy of manners, a rich, morally challenged matriarch fallen on bad times, flees Manhattan for Paris, taking her adult son and her cat (which she believes houses the spirit of her dead husband) with her. But from the moment the trio set foot on the cruise ship that takes them to Europe, a series of minor disasters befall them. And things don’t really improve when they get to France, either. It’s a funny book, with lots of laugh-out-loud moments, but when I recently tried to watch the film adaptation, I’m afraid I actually fell asleep!

Another book about travelling across the ocean to start a new life is…

‘The Cat’s Table’ by Michael Ondaatje (2011)

The first half of this deeply reflective novel is set on an ocean liner bound for England from Ceylon (before it became Sri Lanka) in the early 1950s, and the second is about the long-lasting effect that three-week journey had on an 11-year-old boy, who made the trip alone to be with the London-based mother he hadn’t seen for several years. Much of the early section is told in short chapters focusing on specific passengers — pen portraits, for want of a better description — that allow you to build up a picture of what it was like onboard and how much of an adventure it must have seemed for a young lad.

Adventure of a different type features in the next novel, which is also partly set on a cruise ship…

‘Up Above the World’ by Paul Bowles (1966)

This suspense novel, set in the mid-1960s, is essentially the story of a holiday gone wrong — in the worst and most possibly terrifying way. It’s about a married couple onboard a cruise ship bound for Central America who are taken advantage of during the trip. The pair regard themselves as travellers, not tourists, but for all their so-called worldliness and their willingness to visit places independently, their naiveté is somewhat alarming. This is a book to really quicken the pulse!

Another novel about a seafaring adventure coping with threats of a different kind is…

English passengers

‘English Passengers’ by Matthew Kneale (2000)

This brilliant seafaring romp is told through the eyes of more than 20 diverse characters. It’s a wonderful boys’ own adventure tale turned comical farce in which a Manx smuggling vessel inadvertently flees British Customs by sailing halfway around the world to Australia. To make the journey legitimate the crew brings a small expedition team with them that comprises a spiritually crazed reverend, a sinister racial-theorist doctor and a wayward botanist intent on finding the lost Garden of Eden in Tasmania.

So that’s this month’s #6Degrees: from a novel about a sea mission gone wrong via stories all set on ocean-going vessels to the final novel about a Manx smuggling vessel fleeing the authorities by travelling to the other end of the world!

Have you read any of these books? 

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

31 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: From ‘Our Wives Under the Sea’ to ‘English Passengers’”

  1. You’ve got some lovely books here: Atlantic Black didn’t get as much recognition as it deserved, I still remember it vividly after all this time. I liked English Passengers too.
    I must get a copy of Cat’s Table, I really like Ondaatje:)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think you’d like Cat’s Table. I remember not being totally enamoured of it at the time … it was my first Ondaatje and I didn’t understand his “style” but this is one of those books that has grown in my memory long after I read it.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Yes, I really enjoyed The English passengers. I remember attending an online launch of sorts for Below deck, and was really intrigued by it but I never did get to read it. I know all the other authors, but haven’t read those particular books by them. Am impressed that you could keep to one theme. Will it all be bushrangers next month?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. English Passengers would go in my Top 20 books of all time, I reckon. I really ought to read it again.

      I think I might struggle to list books about bush rangers 😆 but I do love a challenge!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I remember really enjoying The English Passengers, and some scenes stay with me even though I must have read it within a few years of its release. I have Atlantic Black too, I believe I brought it back from Australia because several of my blogging friends had really liked it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Apart from the Kneale, I’ve read none of these. They all appeal, but I think I’ll first hunt down the A. S. Patrić and the Bowles, neither of which, unfortunately, are in our library system.


    1. I think the Patrić was only ever published in Australia so I’m not surprised it’s not in your library system and the Bowles’ is probably overshadowed by his Sheltering Sky, a book I haven’t read but which is in my TBR somewhere.


  5. The only one on your list that I’ve read is English Passengers, which I loved. I’d like to read all of the others in your chain, Kim.

    I have a copy of the starting book, it was published in the UK at the start of this month. Haven’t read it yet, mind you!


  6. I’ve been hesitant about ‘English Passengers’ – humour is so hard to pull off in fiction. Or maybe its just my lack of sense of humour that gets in the way


    1. Well, it’s more a farce than straight out humour… I’m not sure the characters in English Passengers realise how stupid and outrageous their endeavours are…


  7. I would never willingly travel on a ship, but I love reading about stories based on ocean travel and all of these are new to me. I will look into all of them.


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