6 Degrees of Separation

Six Degrees of Separation: From ‘Ethan Frome’ to ‘Constellations’

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). I don’t generally participate in memes (they always feel like “filler” content to me), but I do like this one because it lets me explore my archive and share reviews of books that have been hidden away for a long time.

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

This month the starting book is…

‘Ethan Frome’ by Edith Wharton (1911)

I read this one back in the day I worked in the Myer Melbourne Bookstore (1990-94), then the biggest bookstore in the Southern Hemisphere (or so we were told at the time), hence there’s no review on this blog. It was around the time the Martin Scorcese film adaptation of The Age of Innocence came out (all the staff went to a preview screening so that we could then push sales of the book). I read the book and enjoyed it so much I thought I would try something else by Edith Wharton and so that’s how I came to read Ethan Frome, which I loved. It’s a heartbreaking read about a man with a limp and how he came to acquire it under bittersweet circumstances.

‘Of Human Bondage’ by W. Somerset Maugham (1915)

In this semi-autobiographical novel, the narrator, Philip Carey, has a limp because he was born with a club foot. The story charts his life from the age of 9 when his mother dies and he is sent away to be raised by his aunt and uncle in a vicarage in the countryside. This, too, is another heartbreaking read, because Philip spends so much of his adult life struggling to just get by despite being sensitive and intelligent. I adored this book and found it so affecting I never wrote a review of it, but the thing that stuck in my head so much was how brutal life was for those in poverty when there was no welfare state to offer assistance of any kind.

‘This Mournable Body’ by Tsitsi Dangarenmbga (2021)

A story about a woman fallen on hard times, this is another deeply affecting read that shows what happens when someone falls into poverty but is unable to rise above it despite having a university education and a lot of potential. I read this one last year and still occasionally think about it. There are two more novels in the trilogy which I plan on reading at some point…

Soviet Milk

‘Soviet Milk’ by Nora Ikstena (2018)

Another story about thwarted potential, this novella is set in Latvia when it is under Soviet rule. It shows the impact of an oppressive political regime on an individual’s ability to fulfil their potential and their intellectual freedom. The story also looks at the long-lasting repercussions on mothers and daughters when the bond between them is damaged.

‘A Woman’s Story’ by Annie Ernaux (1988)

Damaged mother-daughter bonds are explored in this brutally honest memoir, which became a bestseller in France upon publication in 1988.  Ernaux not only examines the fraught relationship she had with her mother, but she also charts her mother’s life from her poor upbringing in a small Normandy town to her marriage and success as a shopkeeper; from her retirement to her death in a geriatric hospital in Paris where she had been suffering from Alzheimer’s.

‘Minor Monuments’ by Ian Maleney (2019)

This collection of 12 essays explore the ways in which an entire family can be impacted when a loved one has Alzheimer’s — in this case, it was the author’s paternal grandfather. There are common themes throughout the essays — memory, sound, loss, the meaning of “home” and our connections to place — which lends the volume a strong coherence, but it is the recurring mentions of his grandfather, John Joe, a presence that looms large in almost every essay in this collection, which provides a cumulative power that is deeply affecting.

Constellations book cover

‘Constellations’ by Sinéad Gleeson (2019)

This is another essay collection revolving around a personal response to illness. It includes highly personal accounts of issues and events the author has experienced, including adolescent arthritis, leukaemia, hip replacement, motherhood, love, grief — and the disdain of male doctors. It’s a hugely readable collection themed around the body, illness and how the relationship between the two shapes our identity.

So that’s this month’s #6Degrees: from a story about a tragic accident that leaves a man with a lifelong disability to an essay collection about illness, via stories about poverty, thwarted potential and Alzheimer’s disease.

Have you read any of these books? 

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

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.

6 Degrees of Separation

Six degrees of Separation: From ‘The Lottery’ to ‘The South’

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…

‘The Lottery’ by Shirley Jackson (1948)

In this short story, which you can read online at the New Yorker magazine, a lottery is staged in a small village every year. The “prize”, which is totally shocking, is revealed right at the end. It will give you the chills…

‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ by Shirley Jackson (1962)

Another book that will give you the chills is Jackson’s last novel (she died in 1965). We have Always Lived in the Castle is a deliciously creepy tale about two sisters living in a secluded Gothic mansion with their uncle. The people of the nearest village, where they do their shopping, treat them with scorn and it’s clear they are hated. But why? Well, it’s something to do with poison… (you’ll need to read the book to find out more).

‘The Aosawa Murders’ by Riku Onda (2020)

Poison features in this complex murder mystery from Japan in which 17 members of the same family die after they consume a toxic drink at a celebratory party. The prime suspect is the family’s blind daughter, the only family member spared death, but why would she want to kill her loved ones? Again, you need to read the book to find out — although there are no neatly drawn conclusions.

In the woods by Tana Frence

‘In the Woods’ by Tana French (2008)

There are no neatly drawn conclusions in Tana French’s debut crime novel about a policeman with a secret past. When detective Rob Ryan was a young boy he was found clinging to a tree in the local woods, his shoes filled with blood, and the two friends he had been playing with are nowhere to be seen. Now, 20 years on, that event comes rushing back when a 12-year-old girl’s body is found in the same woods.

‘In the Forest’ by Edna O’Brien (2002)

Another Irish murder mystery set in the woods is this controversial novel by Edna O’Brien. Based on a real life triple murder, it is a dark and brooding book. One of the victims had set up home in a remote dilapidated cottage on the edge of the forest to concentrate on her art, unaware that there was a disturbed man living wild nearby…

‘A Line Made by Walking’ by Sara Baume (2018)

Another tale about a woman who moves to a remote house to concentrate on her art is this intriguing novel by Irish writer Sara Baume. It turns out that the young female narrator is having a kind of break down and while she’s living in the house under the guise of looking after it for her late grandmother, she is, essentially, running away from her problems.

‘The South’ by Colm Toíbín (1990)

Running away to focus on art is the central theme in Tobin’s debut novel, which is set partly in Ireland and partly in Spain in the 1950s and 60s. It’s a beautiful, languid story, which looks at history, memory, violence and trauma. I would easily add this novel to my Top 10 of all time, I adored it that much.

So that’s this month’s #6Degrees: from a creepy Gothic novel about outsiders to a luminous literary novel about art via tales about poisonings, childhood disappearances, murder and creativity in the countryside.

Have you read any of these books? 

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

6 Degrees of Separation

Six Degrees of Separation: From ‘Second Place’ to ‘Tarry Flynn’

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).

This month the starting book is…

‘Second Place’ by Rachel Cusk (2021)

Now, I don’t think it’s a secret, but I do not get on with Ms Cusk, having read two of her books in the past, so no surprise that I haven’t read this one and have no interest in doing so, Booker prize-listing or not. I understand it’s a novel about art, so I am going to link to…

‘Night Blue’ by Angela O’Keeffe (2021)

This wonderfully inventive Australian novella is about Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles, one of the most expensive paintings ever acquired by the Australian Government, and is narrated by the painting itself. I told you it was inventive!

Another book about art (and with ‘blue’ in the title) is…

‘The Blue Guitar’ by John Banville (2015)

This rather witty story is about an Irish artist by the name of Oliver Orme who conducts an affair with his best friend’s wife. It’s told from Oliver’s point of view and written in a deliciously pompous voice by a middle-aged man who has a penchant for petty thievery.

Another story about a badly behaved man carrying out an affair is…

‘A Very Scotch Affair’ by Robin Jenkins (1968)

In this classic Scottish novel, a man stuck in a miserable marriage decides to leave his wife even though she’s been diagnosed with cancer. He runs off with his lover and leaves a trail of devastation in his wake. It sounds grim, but it’s actually quite witty — and the reader knows from the start that the man is a total cad and not deserving of our sympathy.

Another novel about a cad is…

‘The Ginger Man’ by JP Donleavy (1955)

In this classic Irish novel set in Dublin, we meet Sebastian Dangerfield, a shameless boozer and womaniser, who misbehaves at every opportunity even though he has a wife and infant child at home. He is the kind of character a reader loves to hate. It’s an enormously fun, if occasionally shocking and ribald, read. It was banned in Ireland for many years.

Another book banned by the Irish Censorship Board is…

The Pilgrimage by John Broderick

‘The Pilgrimage’ by John Broderick (1961)

This gripping novel set in the 1950s is about a fine upstanding church-going woman who has a secret life: she seeks out casual encounters with strange men and has an affair with her husband’s young nephew. It’s a very dark book, one that explores what happens to ordinary men and women when the Catholic Church tries to control sex and sexuality.

Another book that revolves around the Catholic Church’s control of every aspect of Irish life…

Tarry Flynn

‘Tarry Flynn’ by Patrick Kavanagh (1948)

This is actually a rather charming and often hilarious story about a bachelor farmer in rural Ireland in the 1930s and the pressure he feels to get married and settle down when he’s really not that interested. The local priest, on the other hand, is so worried that the rural area in which the story is set is “in danger of boiling over in wild orgies of lust” that he organises a special Mission to warn parishioners about the sin of sex outside of marriage. But the Mission attracts lots of young women, of marriageable age, so the priest’s plan kind of backfires…

So that’s this month’s #6Degrees: from a literary novel about art to a gentle comedy about an Irish farmer via tales about affairs, men behaving badly and Holy Catholic Ireland.

Have you read any of these books? 

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

6 Degrees of Separation

Six Degrees of Separation: From ‘Postcards from the Edge’ to ‘Night Boat to Tangier’

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).

This month the starting book is a bestselling work of autobiographical fiction…

‘Postcards from the Edge’ by Carrie Fisher (1987)

I read this one back in the day, having been a bit of a Fisher fan (the only doll I ever owned as a girl was a Princess Leia doll, that’s how much of a fan I was — LOL). I can’t honestly remember much about the book, other than it was a tale about a woman recovering from a drug overdose and was written with a wicked sense of humour. My link is a bit tenuous, but the title reminds me of…

‘Alone in Berlin’ by Hans Fallada (1947)

This big, baggy German novel is about a pair of Nazi resisters who risk their lives by dropping postcards all over Berlin as a form of silent protest during the Second World War. The postcards, which have anti-Hitler messages scrawled upon them, are left in public buildings across the city. Another story set in Berlin is…

‘The Wall Jumper’ by Peter Schneider (1982)

This novel, which reads like reportage, is about life in the divided city before the wall came down and what risks people took to cross from one side to the other. Walls of a different kind feature in…

‘The Tortilla Curtain’ by T.C. Boyle (1997)

Set in California, this is about the illegal citizens who cross the border and live in abject poverty, while the middle-class US citizens with a fortress mentality lock themselves away in gated communities, almost too afraid to live. Another book about illegal immigrants is…

‘The Death of Murat Idrissi’ by Tommy Wieringa (2019)

Two Dutch women holidaying in Morocco agree to smuggle a man across the border into Europe with devastating consequences in this compelling novella. Another novella set in Morocco is…

‘Whitefly’ by Abdelilah Hamdouchi (2016)

In this Arabic crime story a detective investigates the death of three young men, washed up on a local beach, who are thought to be illegal immigrants who have fallen overboard en route to Spain. This brings to mind…

‘Night Boat to Tangier’ by Kevin Barry (2019)

In this brilliant black comedy, two underworld criminals from Ireland are at the Spanish port of Algeciras waiting for someone to get off the night boat from Tangier. As they sit there, passing the time, they recall the ups and downs they have weathered over the years as drug dealers with operations in Cork and Spain. It’s menacing but it’s also very funny.

So that’s this month’s #6Degrees: from a black comedy about drug addiction to a black comedy about drug dealers via tales about walls, both real and metaphorical, and illegal immigration.

Have you read any of these books? 

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

6 Degrees of Separation

Six Degrees of Separation: From Eats, Shoots & Leaves to A Far Cry from Kensington

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 (check out Kate’s blog to find out the “rules” and how to participate).

This month the starting book is a non-fiction modern classic…

‘Eats, Shoots & Leaves’ by Lynne Truss  (2003)
I read this when it was first published because I was a magazine production editor in London at the time, which meant I was the person responsible for sending pages to press and was basically the last person responsible for catching any grammatical (and legal and layout) errors that had slipped through our editing processes. This book, which is all about English language usage  (it is sub-titled “The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation”), was a hoot and showed me I wasn’t alone in being pedantic about comma usage, spellings and sentence structure (active, not passive, please!)

This brings to mind…

‘Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen’ by Mary Norris (2015)

This is the American equivalent of Eats, Shoots and Leaves, written by the long-time copy editor at The New Yorker.  It’s an entertaining read, and quite funny in places, but unfortunately, its mix of memoir and guide to grammar usage didn’t really work for me. It’s certainly not particularly helpful as a guide to the English language unless you edit American English. But I did like its insights into magazine life, which brings to mind…

‘Bright Lights, Big City’ by Jay McInerney (1985)

In this Manhattan novel, the main character is employed as a fact-checker on a prestigious magazine (thought to be The New Yorker). His life is falling apart (his glamourous wife, for instance, has left him) and he’s feeling aggrieved that he’s been passed over for promotion. He has a tenacious, demanding boss who micro-manages him, forcing him to take risky shortcuts to meet strict deadlines. You know it’s not going to end well! The novel’s mix of black humour and pathos makes it a truly memorable read, probably one of my all-time favourites, if I am honest. Some aspects of it bring to mind…

 

‘The Devil Wears Prada’ by Lauren Weisberger (2003)

This fast-paced tale about a magazine assistant working for a tyrannical boss is a real romp! Andrea, a recent college graduate, dreams of writing for the New Yorker. But she knows that hitting such heights requires some legwork and experience, so when she lands the job “that millions would die for” on a glossy fashion magazine in Manhattan she’s prepared to put in the hard graft. She just didn’t expect to work for a mean-spirited control freak.

This brings to mind…

‘Slab Rat’ by Ted Heller (2001)

This is another black comedy about magazine journalism, which is also set in New York. I read it so long ago I can’t point to a review because it was before I started this blog. The story focuses on a staffer, from the wrong side of the tracks to be working on a glitzy magazine, who does questionable things to ensure his rival doesn’t get the promotion he feels rightfully belongs to him. It’s about the underhand things you need to do to get ahead in journalism and the price some people are prepared to pay to win. Behaving in a devious manner brings to mind…

‘About the Author’ by John Colapinto (2002)

This is another story about a writer who behaves immorally to get ahead, except the main character here is a would-be novelist who steals a manuscript (written by a friend who has died an untimely death) and tries to pass it off as his own. It’s a darkly comic story that lingers in my memory almost 20 years after having read it! The book publishing aspects of it bring to mind…


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

In this tale about book publishing in the 1950s, we meet a purple-prosed writer behaving badly and his candid editor who plays him at his own game. It’s a riotously funny novel with a brilliant London setting, and it shows that even people with letters can act abhorrently!

So that’s this month’s #6Degrees: from a story about grammar usage to the fictional tale of an editor rowing with an author, via four stories about people who make their living using words, whether as fact-checkers, editorial assistants, journalists or novelists.

Have you read any of these books? 

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

6 Degrees of Separation

Six Degrees of Separation: From ‘The Bass Rock’ to ‘Breath’

Six degrees of separation logo for memeI honestly can’t believe it is June already. I know it’s a cliché to say it, but where does the time go?

Anyway, 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).

This month, the starting book is…

The Bass Rock’ by Evie Wyld (2020)
I haven’t read this novel, which won this year’s Stella Prize, though it has been lingering in my digital TBR for quite some time. I know that an element of it is historical fiction set in Scotland, which brings to mind another book with a similar background…

Elemental by Amanda Curtin

‘Elemental’ by Amanda Curtin (2016)
In this richly evocative novel by Western Australian writer Amanda Curtin, we meet Meggie Tulloch, a woman born in the late 19th century to a traditional fishing family on the north-east coast of Scotland. Spanning 1891 to 1932, Maggie shares her life story, including her time as a “herring girl” and her later marriage and emigration to the other side of the world. This brings to mind…

The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop

‘The Other Side of the World’ by Stephanie Bishop (2015)
This is a deeply melancholy novel about emigration, marriage and motherhood. It tells the story of an English woman who, together with her Anglo-Indian husband and two young children, becomes a “£10 POM” and emigrates in the early 1960s to begin a new life in Western Australia. But things don’t go according to plan and Charlotte struggles with the homesickness and dislocation that every emigrant feels. This brings to mind…

Brooklyn’ by Colm Tóibín (2009)
One of my favourite novels, Brooklyn captures the emigrant’s sense of dislocation so beautifully it made me cry. Set in the 1950s, it tells the story of Eilis Lacey, a young Irishwoman from Co. Wexford, who leaves behind her mother and devoted older sister, Rose, to immigrate to Brooklyn, USA, in search of a better life. This brings to mind…

‘Road Ends’ by Mary Lawson (2014)
Set in Canada in the 1960s, this book charts the slow disintegration of a large, dysfunctional family when the eldest daughter decides to leave home to pursue her dream of living abroad. There are three different threads to the tale, but the most evocative one (in my opinion) is that of Megan Cartwright, who moves to London and finds her dream job (after many ups and downs) running a small boutique hotel. This brings to mind…

‘Hotel Iris’ by Yoko Ogawa (2011)
In this strangely beautiful Japanese novel, we meet 17-year-old Mari, who helps run a hotel on the coast with her overbearing mother. Late one evening two hotel guests, a screaming woman and her male companion, are ejected from the premises. Later, Mari, who is alarmingly young and naive, strikes up a friendship with the man — more than 50 years her senior — that morphs into a rather deviant sexual affair. This brings to mind…

‘Breath’ by Tim Winton (2009)
This gentle, occasionally heart-breaking, story is about a boy growing up on the Western Australian coast in the 1970s. Bruce Pike, better known as “Pikelet”, is a bit of an outsider, but he develops a bond with “Loonie”, the town’s wild child, and everything changes. The pair fall in with an older surfer, Sando, who challenges them to try surfing in often dangerous and remote locations, but it’s the clandestine (and deviant sexual) relationship that Pikelet has with the Sando’s American girlfriend that takes him into deadly territory…

So that’s this month’s #6Degrees: from a story about three generations of women in Scotland to a tale of teenage boys growing up in Western Australia, via four stories about emigration and a Japanese novel focused on a strange romance between an older man and a teenage girl.

Have you read any of these books? 

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

6 Degrees of Separation

Six Degrees of Separation: From ‘Beezus and Ramona’ to ‘The Well’

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 (check out Kate’s blog to find out the “rules” and how to participate)!

This month, the starting book is…

Beezus and Ramona’ by Beverly Cleary (2020)
I haven’t read this book. Indeed, I am not familiar with this author’s work at all. I know she writes for children and that she recently died, aged 104. I had to look up this title on Amazon to find out what it was about and it tells me it is “a humorous portrayal of the ups and downs of sisterhood”, which made me think about all the novels I had read featuring sisters… so the first link in the chain is…

‘Our Shadows’ by Gail Jones (2020)
This literary novel, which I read last year, is about two estranged sisters who grew up in the remote gold mining town of Kalgoorlie in Western Australia. One of the sisters is widowed relatively young after her husband dies of mesothelioma, a malignant tumour that is caused by inhaled asbestos fibres. This made me think of…

‘Dustfall’ by Michelle Johnston (2018)
Set in Wittennoom, Western Australia, this novel looks at the town’s deadly legacy in which hundreds of asbestos miners developed terminal mesothelioma. The story follows two doctors, a generation apart, who go to Wittenoom as a way to distance themselves from mistakes they have made in their medical careers. This made me think of…

‘The Good Doctor’ by Damon Galgut (2003)
Set in the “new” post-apartheid South Africa, this novel is about a staff doctor working in a deserted rural hospital, who is forced to share his room with a younger newly qualified doctor. This medical pairing is a metaphor for the new South Africa versus the old South Africa, but it is also an intriguing look at what happens to people living in isolated communities, where relationships between people can become strained and oppressive because they are living in such close proximity to one another. This made me think of…

‘The Grass is Singing’ by Doris Lessing (1950)
Lessing’s debut novel, this astonishingly gripping story is set in what was then Southern Rhodesia. It’s about a marriage between a “town girl” and a farmer which slowly begins to unravel over time, culminating in a murder. This marriage, under pressure on a farm, reminds me of…

Snake by Kate Jennings

‘Snake’ by Kate Jennings (2001)
This lyrically written novella follows the course of a marriage between two incompatible people in interwar Australia. The couple lives in an old house on an 800-acre irrigated farm 500 miles from the nearest city. The isolation puts a lot of strain on everyone. The intensity of the story and the strangeness of the relationship made me think of…

the well

‘The Well’ by Elizabeth Jolley (1986)
Set on a sheep and wheat farm in rural Western Australia, the story charts the story of two women, an elderly widow and the young woman she “adopts” as a kind of daughter figure. It follows what happens when the pair, driving too fast, accidentally hit a creature on the farm track. They dispose of the body by pushing it down the farm’s unused well, which is covered over with a tin roof, but is it human or animal?

So that’s this month’s #6Degrees: from a children’s story about sisters to a strange and almost Gothic friendship between an elderly woman and her young companion, via stories set in rural Australia, South Africa and Southern Rhodesia, many set on remote farms and about incompatible relationships. Coincidentally, three of the books are by women writers from my newly adopted state of Western Australia.

Have you read any of these books? 

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

6 Degrees of Separation

Six Degrees of Separation: From ‘Shuggie Bain’ to ‘My Buried Life’

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 (check out Kate’s blog to find out the “rules” and how to participate)!

This month, the starting book is…

Shuggie Bain’ by Douglas Stuart (2020)
Last year’s Booker Prize winner, I bought this one when it was short-listed but it has sat in my TBR ever since. I’m keen to read it at some point, but it just hasn’t felt like the right moment just yet. The story, about a boy and his alcoholic mother, is set in Glasgow, Scotland.

Another book set in Glasgow and by a Scottish author is…

‘A Very Scotch’ by Robin Jenkins (1968)
This bleak but blackly comic novel is about a man stuck in a miserable marriage who decides to leave his wife even though she’s been diagnosed with cancer. This causes an immense scandal in his community, for he’s done something totally unconscionable, and yet there are two sides to every story, and in this one, it turns out the wife is not all innocence and charm. 

Another black comedy about a man who behaves badly is…

‘The Ginger Man’ by JP Donleavy (1955)
The story follows the adventures of Sebastian Dangerfield, an American Protestant of Irish descent, who is studying law at Trinity College just after the Second World War. He’s married, but is a cad and a chancer, misbehaving at every opportunity, getting drunk, wasting money and having affairs with other women. There are some scenes that are laugh-out-loud funny; others so shockingly brutal you’re not sure you want to read on. But it’s a highly recommended read and one that has stayed with me for years.

Another book that stars an amoral protagonist is…

‘Get Me Out of Here’ by Henry Sutton (2010)
Matt, the narrator of this novel, is a brand-obsessed businessman with a penchant for shopping, and while it’s clear that he’s obnoxious and self-centred, the further you get into the story the more you realise he is losing his grip on reality and becoming dangerous. He begins committing offences that will land him in serious trouble should he ever get caught. But because he is delusional, Matt cannot see that he is doing anything wrong, which makes for some incredibly funny set pieces. 

Another book starring a hilarious man is…

‘The Oh My God Delusion’ by Ross O’Carroll-Kelly (2010)
I rather suspect that Ross O’Carroll-Kelly (the alter ego of journalist Paul Howard) is Ireland’s best-kept secret because I have only ever seen these books in Ireland. This one is the tenth (out of 20) in the series starring Ross O’CK, a stuck-up lad from the south side of Dublin, who’s into women, rugby and scrounging off his parents. This particular story is a deeply funny satire about the state of Ireland’s economy circa 2009: the property bubble has burst, the banks have gone bust, big-name brands are going into receivership, people are losing jobs and no one has any money to spend. And Ross O’CK is bumbling his way around Dublin trying to get to grips with his own change in economic circumstances…

Another book that explores the collapse of the Celtic Tiger is…

‘Is That All There Is?’ by William King (2013)
This literary novel follows three main characters — middle-aged husband and wife Philip and Samantha Lalor, and Philip’s bull-headed boss, Aengus Sharkey, the powerful CEO of a (fictional) bank. All three are ambitious and hungry for success. Through these characters eyes, we see what the last few months before the economic crash was like. The story examines the moral culpability of those in the thick of it and asks important questions about who knew what and could they have done anything to prevent it?

Another book about the aftermath of the collapse, but this time from a woman’s perspective, is…

‘My Buried Life’ by Doreen Finn (2015)
This debut novel is set in Dublin after the economic crash. It tells the story of Eva, a New York-based poet and academic in her late 30s who returns to her childhood home after the death of her mother. She wants to get things sorted quickly and then return to Manhattan, but things don’t pan out that way and Eva’s carefully constructed life begins to unravel. The Irish economy becomes a metaphor for Eva’s own life. It’s a beautiful, melancholic read.

So that’s this month’s #6Degrees: from a story about a little Glaswegian boy’s love for his mother to the unravelling of a poet’s life in Dublin, via a trio of black comedies and a litery novel set in Ireland in the months before the economic collapse.

Have you read any of these books? 

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

6 Degrees of Separation

Six Degrees of Separation: From ‘Phosphorescence’ to ‘The Media and the Massacre’

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 (check out Kate’s blog to find out the “rules” and how to participate)!

Because I’m in the throes of hosting Southern Cross Crime Month on this blog, I thought I’d try to stick to a theme… every book in my chain is true crime. As ever, hyperlinks take you to my full review.

This month, the starting book is…

Phosphorescence’ by Julia Baird (2020)
I haven’t yet read this book about finding internal happiness and appreciating the wonder of life, even though I bought it not long after it was released based on the fact that it just looked gorgeous and was a rare hardcover (most books in Australia only ever get published in paperback format).

Another book I bought, albeit many years ago, because I liked its hardcover treatment was…

‘Swamp: Who Murdered Margaret Clement?’ by Richard Shears (2008)
This large-format hardcover, which features beautiful endpapers and sepia photographs, is about the mysterious disappearance in 1954 of Margaret Clement, an eccentric recluse living in rural South Gippsland (the part of the world where I was raised), who was better known as the “lady of the swamp”. She was once a beautiful, rich socialite who was well-educated and well-travelled, but in old age was living in abject poverty in the decrepit mansion built by her father, a Scottish immigrant, who had become one of Australia’s richest men.

Another book about a Scottish immigrant in Australia fallen on hard times is…

‘The Suitcase Baby’ by Tanya Bretherton (2018)
This is the true story of Sarah Boyd, an impoverished Scottish immigrant, convicted of the murder of her three-week-old baby in Sydney in 1923. The book looks at why Boyd did what she did and asks whether her trial and subsequent punishment was fair.

Another book that looks at the fair (or otherwise) treatment of a historical crime case is…

Eugenia by Mark Tedeschi

‘Eugenia: A True Story of Adversity, Tragedy, Crime and Courage’ by Mark Tedeschi QC (2012)
Regular readers of this blog will know this isn’t the first time I’ve included this book in a Six Degrees chain, but it’s one of those true life stories that has stayed with me and often pops into mind. Eugenia Falleni scandalised Australia in 1917 when she was charged with the murder of her wife. She had been living as a man for 22 years and during that time had married twice. No one knew her true identity, not even the women whom she married — indeed, her second wife thought she was pregnant to him!

Another book about a female murderer is…

My Mother, A Serial Killer

‘My Mother, A Serial Killer’ by Hazel Baron and Janet Fife-Yeomans (2018)
This book is about Dulcie Bodsworth, a community-minded wife and mother, who murdered her husband in the 1950s, then killed two other men she knew. She only came to justice after her eldest daughter, Hazel Baron, turned her into police. As well as looking at Dulcie’s complicated, shambolic and often impoverished life — from her first marriage to her third — and examining in great detail how she went about killing three men who simply got in her way, My Mother, A Serial Killer also charts how she was brought to justice. She was clearly a very troubled individual.

Another true crime book about a troubled individual is…

‘Born or Bred? Martin Bryant: The Making of a Serial Killer’ by Robert Wainwright and Paolo Totaro (2010)
In the story of the world’s worst massacre (at the time) by a lone gunman, the authors of this controversial book try to come up with a theory as to why Martin Bryant carried out the atrocity for which he was responsible: the murder of 35 people at the Port Arthur tourist site in Tasmania on April 28, 1996. This tragedy had huge repercussions on the Australian psyche, gun control and media reportage.

Another book about the Port Arthur massacre is …

The media and the massacre by Sonya Voumard

‘The Media and the Massacre’ by Sonya Voumard (2016)
This book explores the relationship between journalists and their subjects in the context of the Port Arthur massacre. Its main focus is on the best-selling Born or Bred? (referenced above) and the ethical and legal dilemmas it posed to its authors, two respected broadsheet journalists, who were later sued by the murder’s mother, Carleen Bryant, after she withdrew her support for the book.

So that’s this month’s #6Degrees: from a story about finding happiness within ourselves to the complex relationship between journalists and their subjects, via a string of true crime books from Australia.

Have you read any of these books? 

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