It’s been a couple of months since I participated in Six Degrees of Separation^. It always seems to sneak up on me and then I lose the energy or inclination to take part. I’ve been feeling decidedly lacklustre of late and this week I discovered why: I am anemic and my Vitamin D levels are low. So on to the high-dose supplements, under my GP’s supervision, we go — and after a few days’ dosage, I’m already feeling better (although I know it’s going to take months to get my iron levels up).
But anyway, on with the show! As ever, click the title to read my full review of each book.
This month the starting book is…
‘The End of the Affair’ by Graham Greene (1951)
This dark but compelling tale is about a doomed love affair that takes place in 1940s war-torn London. Maurice Bendrix, a successful writer, falls for Sarah Miles, the wife of a dreary civil servant with whom he has struck up a business relationship. For five years Maurice and Sarah conduct an illicit, passionate affair until Sarah calls it off without warning or explanation.
Another book about a love affair during the Second World War is…
‘Fair Stood the Wind for France’ by H.E. Bates (1944)
I always describe this novel as the loveliest book about war you will ever read. It tells the story of a Royal Airforce pilot who crash lands in Occupied France, together with his crew of four, and is nursed back to health by a young woman with whom he falls in love. It’s not a sappy romance, though, for there are dangers lurking everywhere — can the woman and her family be trusted not to betray them to the Germans, for instance — and the pilot is caught in a heart-breaking dliemma: should he stay or should he go?
Another book about forbidden love in France is…
‘Lie With Me’ by Philippe Besson (2019)
This modern romance is about first love between two teenage boys in rural France in the 1980s. Their affair, kept hidden because of the shame surrounding homosexuality at the time, begins in winter but is over by the summer. During those few intense months, their love is passionate but furtive. For both boys, it is a sexual awakening that has long-lasting repercussions on how they live the rest of their lives.
Another book about gay love in prejudiced times is…
‘Fairyland’ by Sumner Locke Elliott (1990)
Published after the author’s death, this novel is supposedly a thinly veiled memoir based on his first-hand experience keeping his homosexuality secret. Set largely in Sydney, the book explores what it is like to grow up in the 1930s and 40s hiding your real self from the world. It is a heart-rending, intimate and harrowing portrayal of one man’s search for love in an atmosphere plagued by the fear of condemnation, violence, prosecution and imprisonment.
Another novel with similar themes is…
‘The Waking of Willie Ryan’ by John Broderick (1963)
This story — of a man who escapes an asylum in rural Ireland to confront the people who put him there — is a damning indictment of how easy it once was to remove troublesome people from society by merely labelling them “insane”. Willie is not insane and probably never has been. But he has dark secrets, about his childhood, about his love for another man, about the real reason he was incarcerated in a mental institution all those years ago.
Another book about escaping from a psychiatric unit is…
‘My Friend Fox’ by Heidi Everett (2021)
In this evocative memoir, we learn what it is like to be a resident on a psych ward, where every facet of your life is controlled by rigid medical protocols and unwritten rules. Everett has spent much of her adult life in and out of psychiatric institutions. Her story shows the devastating impact of mental illness on one person’s life, but despite the trauma at its heart, this survivor’s tale brims with hope and optimism.
Another memoir about a woman struggling with mental illness is…
‘Your Voice in my Head’ by Emma Forrest (2012)
Emma Forrest was a successful young music journalist when she tried to take her own life. She developed a close relationship with her therapist, but when he died unexpectedly (of lung cancer) she was left distraught. This memoir is not only an unflinchingly honest account of her psychiatric problems, it’s an insightful look at grief and what it is like when a patient loses someone they trust and rely upon. Oh, and it’s also about a doomed love affair — with the Irish actor Colin Farrell who is referred to as GH (which stands for Gypsy Husband) throughout.
So that’s this month’s #6Degrees: from a novel about a doomed love affair to a memoir about a doomed love affair, via tales of forbidden love and a memoir about life on a psychiatric unit.
Have you read any of these books?
Please note, you can see all my other Six Degrees of Separation contributions here.
^ Check out Kate’s blog to find out the “rules” and how to participate.