6 Degrees of Separation

Six Degrees of Separation: From ‘Wintering’ to ‘Dirty Tricks’

Six degrees of separation logo for memeI’m not sure where June went (I’m still trying to figure out what happened to May) and so this month’s Six Degrees of Separation — a meme hosted by Kate at booksaremyfavouriteandbest —  caught me a little unawares. But at least I remembered: last month it completely passed me by! (Did anyone notice?)

Anyway, 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…

‘Wintering’ by Katherine May (2020)

I’ve not heard of this non-fiction book before, but now having looked it up online I can see why: it holds absolutely no appeal to me. It supposedly “offers instruction on the transformative power of rest and retreat” via “a moving personal narrative shot through with lessons from literature, mythology, and the natural world”. So, given this isn’t the kind of book I would normally read, it makes it difficult to know what to link it to, so I’m going for a seasonal theme and choosing…

Minds of Winter

‘Minds of Winter’ by Ed O’Loughlin (2016)

This “wide-screen” historical novel is themed around the exploration of both polar ice-caps over two centuries and is jam-packed with everything you would ever want to know about expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctica. It also interleaves a modern-day storyline about the “Arnold 294” chronometer, an important marine timepiece, thought lost forever with Sir John Franklin’s fatal expedition in the Canadian Arctic. However, when it reappeared in Britain 150 years later disguised as a Victorian carriage clock people began to wonder when and how it had been returned…

Wanting’ by Richard Flanagan (2008)

Sir John Franklin appears in this historical novel about a young Aboriginal girl, Mathinna, who was “adopted” by the Franklins in Tasmania as a kind of experiment to prove that the “savage” could be “tamed”.  Sir John was governor of Tasmania between 1836 and 1843 before he went on his ill-fated expedition to chart and navigate the Northwest Passage. Charles Dickens, who was briefly obsessed with Arctic exploration, is also another real life character in this novel.

‘My Turn to Make the Tea’ by Monica Dickens (1951)

Monica Dickens was Charles Dickens’ great-granddaughter, and this comic novel — one of my favourites — is largely based on her time as a journalist working on an English provincial newspaper in the years after the Second World War. It reads very much like the diary of a young reporter learning the ropes and is filled with hilarious moments as Poppy tries to convince her editor that women are not a nuisance in the office. Poppy’s experience living in a boarding house ruled by a strict take-no-prisoners landlady is also very funny.

‘A Far Cry from Kensington’ by Muriel Spark (1988)

Life in a boarding house features strongly in this blackly comic novel by Muriel Spark. The story focuses on a forthright young woman who works for a struggling book publisher. She deeply offends a purple-prosed author by calling him out on his bad writing and from there, things escalate into farce.

‘Get Me Out of Here’ by Henry Sutton (2010)

Bad behaviour is the central focus of this novel, another black comedy, in which Matt, a 30-something brand-obsessed businessman, loses his grip on reality. While he’s obnoxious, self-centred and absurdly funny, Matt is not what he seems. The author scatters little clues here and there which allow you to build up a picture of the real Matt — and it isn’t exactly pretty.

‘Dirty Tricks’ by Michaele Dibdin (1999)

A troubled character who is also unreliable and unscrupulous stars in this wickedly funny novel. The unnamed narrator justifies his behaviour in outlandish ways. Initially, it’s easy to pity him but as the narrative unfurls you begin to get a better sense of his strange, skewed outlook on life. He not only has an inflated sense of his own importance, but he is also so lacking in empathy for anyone around him that he can only be described as a psychopath. His behaviour is so bad that the book is laugh-out-loud funny!

So that’s this month’s #6Degrees: from a self-help book about self-care to a black comedy about a psychopath, via novels about polar exploration, taming a “savage” in Tasmania in the 19th century, being a woman reporter on a provincial newspaper in the 1940s, life in a 1950s London boarding house and bad behaviour by a businessman in the 2000s.

Have you read any of these books? 

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

17 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: From ‘Wintering’ to ‘Dirty Tricks’”

  1. I haven’t read any of the books in your chain but I must say Minds of Winter sounds very good–I’d love to read how the Chronometer came all the way back. The Monica Dickens sounds great fun-I’ve enjoyed other books by her but not read this one.


    1. I must admit I struggled with Minds of Winter because it is such a dense read… it has so much in it and is so very detailed. It requires a lot of focus — and time — to read.
      The Dickens, on the other hand, is a delight!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have often seen Wintering recommended but have never read it—however, it’s exactly the sort of book I’d read, if well-written, which I gather it is—especially as I really dislike winter, so it would be good to find ways of using winters, real and metaphorical, for rest and renewal.
    I have read Wanting by Richard Flanagan and it’s absolutely brilliant, in fact I want to read it again. (And has anyone read his incredible earlier novel, Gould’s Book of Fish? Lesser-known than his later prize-winners and nominees.)
    So I’d be interested in the other Franklin-related book here, Minds of Winter.
    I haven’t read this particular Monica Dickens, I don’t think, but I have enjoyed others including the lesser-known No More Meadows.
    Much to admire in Muriel Spark, can’t recall if I’ve read this one or not, and haven’t read your last two.


    1. Hi Christine, thanks for commenting. I’m a Flanagan fan and have read them all (I wrote a readers guide for Penguin UK which you can view online: https://www.penguin.co.uk/articles/2016/05/the-novels-of-richard-flanagan/ ) I actually think Wanting is my least favourite but perhaps if I reread it now I might think differently. Minds of Winter is an ambitious book that tries to do a lot and as much as I admired the scope and the detail, it’s not a book I particularly enjoyed. I read it because it was shortlisted for the Giller Prize and at the time I was shadowing the prize.


  3. Wintering has no appeal for me either but your other choices are all calling to me. The Monica Dickens especially – I’d like to see how much things have changed (or not) for young female reporters by the time I got my first trainee post.


    1. I think you would love the Dickens, Karen. I thought it a really authentic and on-the-money account of working on a small newspaper and it chimed with much of my experience in the mid-1990s minus the (blatant) sexism.


  4. I’ll read a Richard Flanagan any day of the week, and I don’t know this one. It’s such a long time since I read any Muriel Spark or Monica Dickens. I should treat myself and see if I still enjoy them as much as I did as a young adult. And I’m definitely going to hunt down Minds of Winter. Thanks for a great chain – as usual.


    1. This is my least favourite Flanagan but I read it during a stressful time and I’ve often wondered if I reread it now whether my opinion would change. Minds of Winter is an ambitious novel and I thought the parts better than the whole, but I know some people have loved it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wanting broke my heart when I read about that little girl Mahinna.
        I know I’ve read something by Monica Dickens and loved it, but I can’t remember its title. It wasn’t the one you’ve chosen. Don’t you hate that, when you can’t remember the title of a book you really liked? I know it was either One Pair of Hands or One Pair of feet, but which one?!


  5. I’m sorry I didn’t visit this before. I haven’t read many of yours here – in fact, only the Flanagan. I’ve read another novel about Franklin’s arctic expedition, The voyage of the Narwhal, which I remember finding very interesting. I think you’ve mentioned this Monica Dickens before. I’ve read some of her other books, but would love to read this one too.


    1. Yes, am sure I’ve mentioned the Monica Dickens before… probably in lists about journalism novels etc. (Pretty sure I’ve mentioned the Sutton and Dibdin in previous chains, too.)

      Liked by 1 person

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