Six degrees of separation

Six Degrees of Separation: From ‘The Road’ to ‘Twins’

Six degrees of separation logo for memeIt’s the first Saturday of the month, which means it’s time to take part in Six Degrees of Separation, a book-themed meme hosted by Kate from booksaremyfavouriteand best.

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

Here’s this month’s #6Degrees. As ever, click the book titles to read my review of that book in full.

The starting point is:

‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy (2006)
I read this novel when it first came out. Set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, it charts the treacherous journey of a man and his young son who follow the road south in search of a warmer climate. It’s a very bleak and chilling book. Another book set in a post-apocalyptic world is…

Cover image of Anna by Niccolò Ammaniti

‘Anna’ by Niccolò Ammaniti (2017)
It is four years after a flu-like virus has wiped out the world’s adult population. There’s no electricity, no transport, no food. The world is run by children, who fight among themselves for survival, and dangerous feral dogs roam the countryside. In this tale, 13-year-old Anna, accompanied by her younger brother, befriend a dog that effectively becomes their protector, albeit an unpredictable one. Another book featuring dogs is…

Fifteen dogs

‘Fifteen Dogs’ by André Alexis (2015)
This kooky novel is about a group of 15 dogs, all staying overnight in a veterinary clinic in Toronto, that are granted the power of consciousness and discover that they can suddenly think for themselves, talk in a new language (English) and reason with one another. It follows their individual antics as some dogs struggle with this gift, others adjust to it easily and a few use it in horrific ways. It won Canada’s Giller Prize in 2015. Another Giller winner is…

Bellevue Square

‘Bellevue Square’ by Michael Redhill (2017)
Over the years the Giller Prize has introduced me to some great books — and this is one of them. It starts off as a thriller, about a woman looking for her doppelganger, then morphs into a wonderful examination of mental illness, consciousness, identity and the blurring of lines between truth, reality and imagination. Another book about mental illness is…

‘Spider’  by Patrick McGrath (1990)
This story follows the plight of a man, who is adjusting to a new life outside of the psychiatric hospital from which he’s recently been released. He keeps a journal to make sense of the world. In it he recalls incidents from his troubled childhood, including how his father, a plumber with a violent streak, took up with Hilda, a local prostitute. Shortly afterwards, his mother mysteriously “disappeared” and Hilda moved into the family home. Another book featuring a plumber is…

‘Safe House’ by Chris Ewan (2012)
This is a rip-roaring thriller set on the Isle of Man. Local plumber Rob Hale has crashed his motorbike and is now in hospital. But when he asks about the female passenger riding pillion, no one knows what he is talking about — he was the only person found at the accident scene. So does this passenger actually exist, or is Rob losing his marbles? Another book featuring a motorbike crash is…

‘Twins’ by Dirk Kurbjuweit(2017)
In this fable-like tale, “twins” Johann and Ludwig are childhood friends who forge a strong bond in the belief that this will make them more synchronised as rowers and therefore more successful in competition. Part of their bonding activity involves rebuilding an old motorbike, which they then ride on the road, even though they are not old enough to hold a licence. I don’t think it’s a plot spoiler to say this does not bode well…

So that’s this month’s #6Degrees: from a post-apocalyptic novel to a story about teenage boys who develop a close relationship, linked via dogs, the Giller Prize, mental illness, plumbers and motorbikes!

Have you read any of these books? 

10 books, Book lists

10 books on the International Dublin Literary Award longlist 2017

10-booksIt’s that time of year again: the longlist for the 2017 International Dublin Literary Award, the world’s richest literary prize, has been announced.

There are 147 titles on the list — from all corners of the world — all of which have been nominated by librarians, making it a proper “readers’ prize”.

You may remember that last year I put together a list of books on the 2016 list, which was hugely popular, so I thought I’d do the same again this year. I’ve focused on the titles that come from the countries I like to champion on this blog: Australia, Canada and Ireland.

The books have been arranged in alphabetical order by author surname. Click on each book title to read my review in full.

Fifteen dogs

Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis (Canadian)
The winner of the 2015 Giller Prize, this strange and surreal novel follows the antics of 15 dogs who, overnight, are granted the power of language and reasoning and then follows what happens to them.

Beatlebone by Kevin Barry

Beatlebone by Kevin Barry (Irish)
The winner of the 2015 Goldsmiths Prize and my favourite read from last year, this book charts one man’s midlife crisis as he searches for the Irish island he bought years earlier but has never properly visited.

Spill Simmer Falter Weather

Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume (Irish)
This beautifully written debut novel follows the up-and-down relationship, over the course of a year, between a troubled man and the viscious rescue dog he has adopted.

Under major domo minor

Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt (Canadian)
This is a dark, often funny, Gothic fairy tale about a young man who experiences many strange things when he begins working for the “majordomo” of a creepy castle in a remote village.

The Green Room

The Green Road by Anne Enright (Irish)
A family drama-cum-black-comedy, this prize-winning novel follows the lives of four siblings and their needy, domineering mother over the course of 25 years.

Hope Farm by Peggy Frew

Hope Farm by Peggy Frew (Australian)
This is an engaging story about a 13-year-old girl being brought up in the 1980s by a single mother living in a hippy commune.

The World Without Us by Mireille Juchau

The World Without Us by Mireille Juchau (Australian)
An environmental novel, or perhaps even a cli-fi one, this is a beautifully constructed tale about family secrets, love, loss, parenthood and community set in a rural village in northern New South Wales.

The Little Red Chairs

The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien (Irish)
War crimes, retribution and justice are the central themes of this novel, which looks at the long-lasting impact of the Siege of Sarajevo and focuses on a (fictional) war criminal who goes in to hiding in a small Irish village.

Salt Creek

Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar (Australian)
A superb historical novel, Salt Creek tells the story of one family’s attempt to settle and tame a remote region on the South Australian coast in the mid-19th century, and the dreadful, heartbreaking repercussions that follow.

The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood

The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood (Australian)
The winner of this year’s Stella Prize, this anger-fuelled dystopian tale set in the Australian outback focuses on misogyny and sexual shaming.

The prize shortlist will be published on 11 April 2017, and the winner will be announced on 21 June. To find out more, and to view the longlist in full, please visit the official website.

Have you read any of these books? Or others from the extensive longlist?

André Alexis, Author, Book review, Canada, Fiction, literary fiction, Publisher, Serpent's Tail, Setting

‘Fifteen Dogs’ by André Alexis

Fifteen-dogs

Fiction – paperback; Serpent’s Tail; 159 pages; 2015. Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

André Alexis’s Fifteen Dogs has been longlisted for this year’s Giller Prize. It’s by far the oddest, and possibly most absurd, book I’ve read in a long while. Indeed, to say I didn’t much like it might be an understatement.

Under normal circumstances, I’m sure I would have abandoned this strange and unusual novella. But as some of you will no doubt know, every year since 2011 I have taken part in the Shadow Giller — chaired by KevinfromCanada — in which a group of us read and review all the books on the Giller Prize longlist for that year. Between the four of us, we then choose a winner in advance of the real Giller.  (You can read more about how the Shadow Giller came about on Kevin’s blog here.) And because I’m taking part in the process once again for 2015, I felt that I had to finish the book — even when every bone (pun not intended) in my body told me to put it aside and read something else instead!

So, what’s so weird about it, I hear you ask? Well, it takes the form of a fable in which the Greek gods Hermes and Apollo give a group of dogs the gift of consciousness. The idea is that intelligence does not make humans any more superior or happier than other animals.

— I’ll wager a year’s servitude, said Apollo, that animals — any animal you choose — would be even more unhappy than humans are, if they had human intelligence.
— An earth year? I’ll take that bet, said Hermes, but on condition that if, at the end of its life, even one of the creatures is happy, I win.

And then 15 dogs, all staying overnight in a veterinary clinic in Toronto, discover that they can suddenly think for themselves, talk in a new language (English) and reason with one another. Yes, I told you it was a weird book.

Go to the dogs

Fifteen Dogs follows the antics of the dogs, some of whom reject their new ability with language and revert back to the “old dog ways”, and through a series of set pieces, rather than a typical story arc, shows how their relationships with one another and humans changes as a result of their newfound intelligence. Sometimes this is quite horrifying — one set of dogs, for instance, leads another set to their deaths — but only goes to show where the idiom it’s a dog-eat-dog world comes from! But at other times it’s quite touching — the deep friendship that develops between Majnouin, a black poodle, and his human owner, Nira, for example.

Of course, I can’t dismiss Fifteen Dogs entirely. While fables aren’t my kind of thing, and I struggle with stories that demand that I suspend belief (even if it’s just for 150 or so pages), this novella does explore some interesting ideas around language (one of the dogs, for instance, composes poetry), cultural codes of conduct, emotion, individuality and morality. And if you’ve ever had a dog or own a dog (or commission training articles about them, like I do) there’s plenty of behaviours to recognise (and occasionally laugh about) in these pages.

But the book doesn’t just concentrate on canine behaviour: it also shines a light on (the absurdity of) human behaviour, as this quote, through the eyes of Benjy the beagle, shows:

And then there was the room where the humans bathed and applied chemicals to themselves. The bathroom was fascinating, it being astonishing to watch the already pale beings applying creams to make themselves paler still. Was there something about white that bought status? If so, what was the point of drawing black circles around their eyes or red ones around their mouths?

I can’t say that I’d like this deeply philosophical book to make the Giller Prize shortlist, which is announced on 5 October, but I can’t fault its originality or its ability to make you see the world in a slightly different way. It’s insightful and inventive, but not one for me…

Please note, Fifteen Dogs is not yet published in the UK. I was fortunate enough to get an advance copy, sent to me unsolicited. It will be published here on 5 November.

UPDATE 11 NOVEMBER 2015:
Congratulations to André Alexis, who was awarded the 2015 Giller Prize last night. You can read more about his win on the official Giller Prize website.