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.

6 Degrees of Separation

Six Degrees of Separation: From ‘Redhead by the Side of the Road’ to ‘Song for an Approaching Storm’

Six degrees of separation logo for memeI missed participating in Six Degrees of Separation last month because it crept up on me and I just ran out of time and energy to join in… but I’m a bit better prepared this month.

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

This month, the starting book is…

‘Redhead by the Side of the Road’ by Anne Tyler (2020)
I am a longtime Anne Tyler fan and this one was up there with her best. This absorbing, perceptive and warm-hearted novel tells the story of Micah Mortimer, a 41-year-old man, who does his best to live a quiet, understated life in which he never puts a foot wrong. But things get turned on their head when a young man turns up on his door claiming to be his son… Another book about a middle-aged man having his life turned upside down is…

‘The Guts’ by Roddy Doyle (2013)
This black comedy is the fourth book in Doyle’s acclaimed Barrytown trilogy — The Commitments (published in 1987), The Snapper (1990) and The Van (1991) — effectively turning it into a quartet. Jimmy Rabbitte, the man who managed the soul band in The Commitments, is now 47 and is married with four children. He has a fairly happy and settled life until he discovers he has bowel cancer. This turns things upside down, but he manages to distract himself with a project to find punk-like music recorded in the same year as the International Eucharist Congress held in Dublin in 1932. Yes, it’s all a bit bonkers, but it’s charming and warm-hearted and definitely worth reading if you are familiar with the other novels in the set.  Another novel that gives music a starring role is…

‘The Thrill of it All’ by Joseph O’Connor (2014)
This brilliantly immersive story is a fictionalised memoir of a guitarist from a rock band that made it big in the 1980s. It spans 25 years in Irishman Robbie Goulding’s climb to fame and subsequent slide into obscurity, and details a massive falling out he had with the lead singer, a charismatic and flamboyant man reminiscent of Marc Bolan. Another “mockumentary” about a rock band is…

‘Daisy Jones and the Six’ by Taylor Jenkins Read (2020)
I ate this book up on a four-hour plane ride to Darwin last year. Supposedly based on the exploits of Fleetwood Mac, it is structured around a series of interviews with members of a (fictional) band that was big in the 1970s. It mainly centres around Daisy Jones, an ingénue singer-songwriter, who joins a group called The Six, and helps propel them to worldwide fame, before everything goes drastically wrong. Another novel about music, albeit told from a rock journalist’s point of view, is…

Lola Besky by Lily Brett

‘Lola Bensky’ by Lily Brett (2014)
This is an entertaining novel about a young Australian rock journalist who makes a name for herself at one of the most exciting times in music history: the late 1960s. But there’s a darker edge, for Lola Bensky, the bright and bubbly 19-year-old at the heart of the story, is the child of Holocaust survivors and her life is governed by a particular kind of psychological trauma. Another book about a woman dealing with the impact of her parent’s traumatic past is…

‘Her Father’s Daughter’ by Alice Pung (2013)
Australian-born writer Alice Pung is the daughter of two Cambodians who fled the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge.  In this non-fiction book, she unearths the story of her father’s frightening past and comes to understand some of his peculiar, over-protective behaviours. She travels to China and Cambodia, meeting family members and other survivors, where she hears their harrowing tales of deprivation, torture and survival. Another book about Cambodia is…

‘Song for an Approaching Storm’ by Peter Fröberg Idling (2015)
This novel is a fictionalised account of the early days of Pol Pot, 20 years before his rise to infamy as the head of the Khmer Rouge. It spans a month in 1955 during Cambodia’s first-ever democratic elections following independence and tells the story of a complicated love triangle between two political rivals and a beauty queen. I found it hard work but absolutely compelling and it is one of those stories that has stayed with me…

So that’s this month’s #6Degrees: from a story about middle-aged angst to a story about the early life of a dictator via stories about a man with cancer, two fictionalised memoirs of rock bands, a young Australian rock journalist and a non-fiction book about a Cambodian refugee.

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 ‘Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret’ to ‘The Tie That Binds’

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!

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

This month the starting point is…

‘Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret’ by Judy Blume (1970)
I have fond memories of reading this as a teenager (so obviously not reviewed here). The story of a late developer who is concerned about boys and periods and fitting in and going to a new school, it’s one of my favourite novels from childhood. Another favourite book from childhood is…

Watership Down

‘Watership Down’ by Richard Adams (1972)
This is an anthropomorphised take on the rabbit world. It charts what happens to a community of rabbits when their warrens are destroyed. The rabbits have a language all their own; it is that language that fascinated me most when I read this book aged 13. Another book about animals and language is…

‘The Animals in that Country’ by Laura Jean McKay (2020)
This wholly original story is about a virus raging throughout the community which allows infected humans to understand what animals are saying. It’s not exactly a pleasant experience. Another book set during a pandemic is…

‘Nemesis’ by Philip Roth (2011)
Set in Newark, New Jersey during the summer of 1944, this is a gripping account of the polio epidemic as seen through the eyes of one man. This incurable infectious disease, which caused paralysis in infants and children, wreaked much fear and heartache around the world until a vaccine was developed in the mid-1950s. Another book about polio is…

The Golden Age by Joan London (Europa edition)
‘The Golden Age’ by Joan London (2015)
This gently nuanced novel is set in 1954 and follows a cast of characters with links to a children’s convalescent home for polio patients in Perth, Western Australia. It’s based on a real-life outbreak that was so bad that an impending visit by The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh had to be seriously curtailed. Another book set in Western Australia during the post-war period is…

‘Finding Jasper’ by Lynne Leonhardt (2012)
This debut novel highlights the immediate and long-term impact of the death of a World War Two Australian fighter pilot — the Jasper of the title — on three women (his wife, sister and daughter) left behind. His sister, Attie, is a strong, self-reliant, independent woman who just gets on with things, running a farm in harsh terrain and a difficult climate, without any male help. Another book about a woman running a farm is…

‘The Tie That Binds’ by Kent Haruf (1984)
In Haruf’s debut novel we met Edith, a woman who is born on a farm in the high plains of Colorado, and spends her entire life on it, never having had the opportunity to marry or even leave home. It’s a beautifully rendered tale that shows how circumstances “fixed” her and her brother, Lyman, to live quiet, some might say dull, lives under the thumb of a cruel man from whom they could not escape.

So that’s this month’s #6Degrees: from a story about teen angst to a story about agricultural angst, via talking animals, pandemics, life in Western Australia and farming. 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 (wild card): from ‘Academy Street’ to ‘The Dinner Guest’

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!

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

This month the starting point is a wild card — any book that’s been at the end of one of your previous chains — so I’ve gone back to June 2019 where I finished with a novella.

In honour of  Novellas in November, every book in my chain is a novella. The starting point is…

‘Academy Street’ by Mary Costello (2014)
This is a profoundly moving story about one woman’s quiet, unassuming life from her girlhood in rural Ireland to her retirement (as a nurse) in Manhattan more than half a century later. It’s written in beautiful, pared-back language and remains one of the most emotionally potent stories I’ve ever read — of loneliness, of literature, of never quite fitting in. Another story about a woman not fitting in is…

‘Memoirs of a Woman Doctor’ by Nawal El Saadawi (1960)
This fast-paced novella, which spans decades in less than 120 pages, reveals the sexism at the heart of Egyptian culture and the courage required for a woman to be accepted in a profession long dominated by men. A fiercely independent woman also features in…

‘Chasing the King of Hearts’ by Hanna Krall (2013)
Translated from the Polish, this short novel is a tribute to one woman’s amazing ability to survive everything that World War Two throws at her, including the execution of various family members, life in the Warsaw Ghetto, several stints in jail, torture by a cruel Gestapo officer and internment in Auschwitz. And that’s only the half of it. Another story about a woman fighting for survival is…

The end we start from

‘The End We Start From’ by Megan Hunter (2018)
Set some time in the future, this story follows one woman’s journey to survive the floodwaters that have engulfed London and forced its residents to seek refuge elsewhere. She has just given birth to her first child, so all her energy and focus is devoted to him. The world outside, descending into chaos, appears to be of no concern. Another book that shows the world descending into chaos is…


‘High-Rise’ by J.G. Ballard (1975)
Set in an apartment block where the floor in which you live reflects your social standing, this dystopian-like novella shows what happens when petty grievances amongst the residents are allowed to escalate unchecked. The breakdown of the building’s social order is a metaphor for society as a whole when the thin veneer of civilization is allowed to slip. It’s really a book about uncomfortable truths. Another book about uncomfortable truths is…

‘Ways of Going Home’ by Alejandro Zambra (2013)
Set in the author’s native Chile, this novella uses the devices of metafiction to explore memory, love, truth, deception, guilt, family life and political responsibility. It particularly focuses on the generation born after Pinochet came to power in 1973 and how, in young adulthood, they have had to come to terms with uncomfortable truths: that their parents were either victims or accomplices in the murderous dictatorship that lasted for 17 years. Another book dealing with the generational outfall of a deeply divisive and violent political era is…

‘The Dinner Guest’ by Gabriela Ybarra (2018)
Billed as fiction, this novella is really a mix of non-fiction, memoir and reportage as the author attempts to unravel the truth about her grandfather’s violent and untimely death in 1977, some six years before she was born. It is an intriguing story, often deeply disturbing, about inter-generational trauma and forgetting, with a particular focus on the long-lasting impact of terrorism on children and families in the Basque Country.

So that’s this month’s #6Degrees: from a story about a woman’s life lead quietly in 1950s Manhattan to a novella about the long-lasting impact of terrorism on children living in the Basque Country, via Egpyt, the Holocaust, dystopian London, a high-rise building, and modern-day Chile. Have you read any of these books? 

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