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.

Triple Choice Tuesday

Triple Choice Tuesday: The Paperback Princess

Triple-Choice-TuesdayWelcome to Triple Choice Tuesday. This is where I ask some of my favourite bloggers, writers and readers to share the names of three books that mean a lot to them. The idea is that it might raise the profile of certain books and introduce you to new titles, new authors and new bloggers.

Today’s guest is Eva, who blogs at The Paperback Princess.

Eva is based near Vancouver, Canada, where she lives with her husband and her German Shepherd, Henrik. She has been blogging about books since late 2011.

“I pretty much eat, breathe and sleep books, aside from the mandatory eight hours a day that I spend working in a non-bookish place,” she says. “I read pretty much anything, aside from science fiction and most fantasy. I used to hate CanLit (which is shameful) but I’m on the road to recovery now.”

Without further ado, here are Eva’s choices:

House-of-mirthA favourite book: The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

I was surprised at what a modern heroine Lily Bart actually is. She struggles against the conventions of her time, refusing to marry the expected man, wishing that she could live her own life by her own rules. Edith Wharton herself was such an unconventional woman and I love that she had the guts to create a story like this. Ultimately, it’s such a tragic story and serves
as a reminder of how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go in terms of the female experience around the world.

pride-and-prejudiceA book that changed my world: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

This is the book that continues to have the greatest impact on my reading. I first read it when I was 11 — I had watched the BBC mini-series with my mom and loved it and then she told me that it was based on a book and my head exploded. I read it, didn’t understand all of it, but knew that something had shifted within me. This perfect book changed me. I went on to read all of Jane Austen’s books (and continue to re-read at least one of her books every year) and moved onto the Brontes, Dickens, Eliot, Thackeray, Gaskell, Burney etc. Reading Pride and Prejudice when I was 11 turned me into a determined Anglophile and still colours my reading today — I read mostly books by female authors and an astounding number of them hail from the UK.

Far-from-the-tree A book that deserves a wider audience: Far From the Tree: Children, Parents and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon

This book is no joke, weighing in at 702 pages of incredibly dense text and heavy subject matter. But it’s so so important to read as human beings. This book looks at the relationships and the experiences of families who have children who are different from them. This could mean that they are deaf, have Down Syndrome, are dwarves, transgendered, criminals, or born as a result of rape, among other things. The main idea that Solomon explores is acceptance vs change. That is, those families that accept their children for who they are and those that wish that things could be changed. It’s an incredible book, that had me crying on the bus more than once. Sometimes it’s a very difficult book to read but mostly it’s one of the most important books I’ve ever read and I’m always trying to get more people to read it!

Thanks, Eva, for taking part in my Triple Choice Tuesday! 

I’ve read a couple of Edith Wharton books (before this blog so not reviewed here) and quite liked them, but dare I admit I’ve never read Jane Austen? One day I’ll change that. Promise.

And thanks for the reminder about Andrew Solomon’s book — I’ve heard very good things about this book from quite a few people now — which I’m keen to read. It won the Wellcome Book Prize, here in the UK, last year.

What do you think of Eva’s choices? Have you read any of these books?