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.

2021 Stella Prize, Literary prizes

2021 Stella Prize winner announced

Congratulations to Evie Wyld on winning this year’s Stella Prize for her novel The Bass Rock.

According to the chair of the judging panel, Zoya Patel, the book is “consuming and perplexing”, adding that it…

“forces the reader to think and engage with the unique narrative structure, but in a way that feels effortless, so engaged are you by the story. This is a novel that demonstrates the author’s versatility of style, with the separate narrative parts each having an individual voice. And yet, at no point does the book feel disjointed. Instead, it is as though Evie Wyld has chosen each and every word with precision, building a novel that is a true work of art.”

You can read the full announcement, made tonight, on the Stella Prize website.

Unfortunately, I haven’t read this novel, although it’s been in my digital TBR for quite some time.

In fact, eagle-eyed followers of this blog might have noticed I abandoned my project to read all the books on the Stella Prize shortlist. There’s just been too much going on in my life to commit to reading so many books in such a short space of time. Maybe next year!

Anyone read The Bass Rock? Did you like it? Would you recommend it?

Australia, Author, Book review, Evie Wyld, Fiction, Jonathan Cape, literary fiction, Publisher, Setting

‘After The Fire, A Still Small Voice’ by Evie Wyld


Fiction – hardcover; Jonathan Cape; 304 pages; 2009.

Evie Wyld‘s debut novel After The Fire, A Still Small Voice hit the headlines last week when it won the prestigious John Llewellyn Rhys literary prize, which is awarded to a UK or Commonwealth writer aged 35 or under.

The book, which is set in Australia, follows two men, a generation apart, who bottle up their grief and are forever tormented by it. Their stories are told in alternate chapters.

Frank, who’s in his late 20s, lives in Canberra. When his relationship breaks down he moves north to start a new life as a recluse on the coast. He sets up home in the abandoned shack that once belonged to his grandparents and works part-time at the local marina. But he’s troubled by his past which threatens to unravel his tentative hold on the world.

Leon is the only son of two Dutch immigrants who set up a bakery in suburban Sydney following the Second World War. Their new life in a strange land is forever shattered when Leon’s dad volunteers to fight in the Korean War. Later, when Leon is a young man, he finds himself fighting an altogether different war: he’s conscripted to Vietnam.

The book interleaves these two seemingly disparate stories together to build up a moving portrait of men on the fringes of society who become scarred by battles, figurative and literal. It portrays their sadness, their loneliness and their melancholy in such a touching way it’s hard not to be emotionally affected by it. If nothing else, it superbly captures that space between people that prevents them from talking about the terrible things they’ve done and the secrets that they hold dear.

It’s a terrifically mature piece of work, belying Wyld’s age — she’s just 29. It’s even more impressive when you consider that the male voices she uses throughout the book ring true. And, if that’s not enough, she has all the descriptions of Australia, from the huntsman spiders that curl up inside your clothes to the smell of the eucalyptus wafting on the air, absolutely pitch perfect.

The prose style is effortless, the characterisation superb — she really gets inside the heads of these people without over-explaining anything — and the pacing is spot on. I’ll admit to holding my breath in a few places, because there are certain revelations that I just never saw coming, and I’m glad that the cheap literary stunts that could have been used to ratchet up the tension are clearly avoided.

After The Fire, A Still Small Voice isn’t a perfect novel, but it’s a highly accomplished one and very deserving of its recent accolade. I’ll be very surprised if it doesn’t collect a whole swag more.