6 Degrees of Separation

Six Degrees of Separation: From ‘True History of the Kelly Gang’ to ‘Rememberings’

Six degrees of separation logo for memeTime to get my linking hat on!

Yes, it’s the first Saturday of the month, which means it’s time to participate in Six Degrees of Separation, a meme hosted by Kate at booksaremyfavouriteandbest.

I’m feeling a bit brain dead at the moment (I started a new job three weeks ago and my bandwidth is operating at full capacity), so I am going to try to keep this short and sweet: here are the six books I have chosen for my chain. As ever, click the title to read my full review of each book.

This month the starting book is…

‘True History of the Kelly Gang’ by Peter Carey (2000)

I have a love-hate relationship with Peter Carey and this is one of those novels that falls into the latter camp. In my pre-blogging days, I had a hardback copy of True History and tried to read it several times but always became unstuck by about page 50, so abandoned it and never went back. I was a much younger, less experienced reader then, so I reckon I would probably get on with it quite well now. I do, at some stage, plan to give it another go, especially as it was recently featured in the Australian TV series The Books that Made Us.

All that aside, given True History is about a bushranger — the notorious Ned Kelly — my first link is…

The Burial by Courtney Collins

‘The Burial’ by Courtney Collins (2013)

The Burial tells the tale of Jessie Hickman, a female bushranger who rustles horses and duffs cattle, in the years after the Great War.

Another featuring castle rustling is…

‘Coal Creek’ by Alex Miller (2014)

In this novel, a simple, uneducated man joins the police in outback Queensland in the 1950s. His job makes use of his exemplary horsemanship to help track thieves and stolen stock. But his easygoing nature is tested to the limits when a new boss from the city changes the whole way the local community is policed.

Another story about rural policing is…

‘Bitter Wash Road’ by Garry Disher (2013)

Bitter Wash Road (published as Hell to Pay in the US) is the first in a trilogy known as “the Paul Hirschhausen novels”. Set in South Australia’s wheatbelt, three hours north of Adelaide, the hot, dry landscape is as much a character as the city policeman “Hirsch” who has been exiled to a single-officer police station.

Another book featuring a single-officer police station is…

A Border Station

‘A Border Station’ by Shane Connaugton (1989)

This is a beautiful coming-of-age tale set in the 1950s that follows the day-to-day dramas of a young boy growing up in rural Ireland in a remote house attached to a police barracks, where his father — a fierce, bad-tempered police sergeant — is the only employee.

Another book about the son of a policeman is…

‘Memoir’ by John McGahern (2005)

The late John McGahern is arguably one of Ireland’s greatest writers. He was the eldest son of a policeman, with whom he had a troubled relationship. This memoir concentrates mainly on his childhood and adolescence growing up in rural Ireland in the 1940s and 1950s and reads very much like a love letter to his adored mother, a school teacher, who died of breast cancer when he was eight years old.

Another memoir by an Irish writer, albeit of songs, is…

‘Rememberings’ by Sinead O’Connor (2021)

Irish singer-songwriter Sinead O’Connor has had a troubled history, both with the public and her own family, and this memoir is a beautifully written account of her side of the story. It’s funny, irreverent, unflinchingly honest and powerful — a bit like the woman herself.

So that’s this month’s #6Degrees: from a novel about a notorious Irishman to a memoir about a notorious Irishwoman, via books about a female bushranger, rural policing and being the son of a garda sergeant.

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, Book review

Six Degrees of Separation: From ‘Our Wives Under the Sea’ to ‘English Passengers’

Six degrees of separation logo for memeThe first quarter of 2022 is over and a fresh one starts!

And because it’s the first Saturday of the month, it’s time to participate in Six Degrees of Separation, a meme hosted by Kate at booksaremyfavouriteandbest.

This time around I’m theming mine around stories set onboard ocean-going vessels. I think living close to a port — I can see the vehicles carriers and container ships in dock through my living room window as I write this — has somehow infected my subconscious!

Without further ado, here are the six books I have chosen for my chain. As ever, click the title to read my full review of each book.

This month the starting book is…

‘Our Wives Under the Sea’ by Julia Armfield (2022)

I haven’t read this book, which has only just been published in Australia. From what I can gather, it explores the aftermath of a deep-sea mission that goes wrong. This made me think of other books I have read that have involved the sea in some way, so my first link is:

‘Below Deck’ by Sophie Hardcastle (2020)

This engaging novel explores both the healing and dangerous aspects of life sailing the ocean. The 20-year-old protagonist has a controlling boyfriend, whose behaviour foreshadows her future relationships with men. When the grandfather who raised her dies, she heads out on a sailing trip with an elderly couple as a way of dealing with her grief. She ends up falling in love with the ocean and reinvents herself as a sailor, ditching her boyfriend along the way. But several years later, when onboard a trawler with an all-male crew, she discovers there are dangers other than drowning with which she must contend.

Another novel about a young woman confronting danger on board a ship is…

Atlantic Black

‘Atlantic Black’ by A.S. Patrić (2017)

In this lyrical novel, a Russian teenage girl on the verge of womanhood has her sense of freedom and bravura tested in the brief space of a day and a night. The entire story takes place on a ship mid-way across the Atlantic Ocean on New Year’s Eve 1938. Katerina, the daughter of an ambassador, is left to entertain herself when he mother falls ill. Oblivious to the personal danger she often finds herself in — mostly, it has to be said, from men who do not have her best interests at heart — the narrative takes the reader on a perilous journey of nerves and anxiety.

Another story in which a cruise ship features is…

‘French Exit’ by Patrick deWitt (2018)

In this comedy of manners, a rich, morally challenged matriarch fallen on bad times, flees Manhattan for Paris, taking her adult son and her cat (which she believes houses the spirit of her dead husband) with her. But from the moment the trio set foot on the cruise ship that takes them to Europe, a series of minor disasters befall them. And things don’t really improve when they get to France, either. It’s a funny book, with lots of laugh-out-loud moments, but when I recently tried to watch the film adaptation, I’m afraid I actually fell asleep!

Another book about travelling across the ocean to start a new life is…

‘The Cat’s Table’ by Michael Ondaatje (2011)

The first half of this deeply reflective novel is set on an ocean liner bound for England from Ceylon (before it became Sri Lanka) in the early 1950s, and the second is about the long-lasting effect that three-week journey had on an 11-year-old boy, who made the trip alone to be with the London-based mother he hadn’t seen for several years. Much of the early section is told in short chapters focusing on specific passengers — pen portraits, for want of a better description — that allow you to build up a picture of what it was like onboard and how much of an adventure it must have seemed for a young lad.

Adventure of a different type features in the next novel, which is also partly set on a cruise ship…

‘Up Above the World’ by Paul Bowles (1966)

This suspense novel, set in the mid-1960s, is essentially the story of a holiday gone wrong — in the worst and most possibly terrifying way. It’s about a married couple onboard a cruise ship bound for Central America who are taken advantage of during the trip. The pair regard themselves as travellers, not tourists, but for all their so-called worldliness and their willingness to visit places independently, their naiveté is somewhat alarming. This is a book to really quicken the pulse!

Another novel about a seafaring adventure coping with threats of a different kind is…

English passengers

‘English Passengers’ by Matthew Kneale (2000)

This brilliant seafaring romp is told through the eyes of more than 20 diverse characters. It’s a wonderful boys’ own adventure tale turned comical farce in which a Manx smuggling vessel inadvertently flees British Customs by sailing halfway around the world to Australia. To make the journey legitimate the crew brings a small expedition team with them that comprises a spiritually crazed reverend, a sinister racial-theorist doctor and a wayward botanist intent on finding the lost Garden of Eden in Tasmania.

So that’s this month’s #6Degrees: from a novel about a sea mission gone wrong via stories all set on ocean-going vessels to the final novel about a Manx smuggling vessel fleeing the authorities by travelling to the other end of the world!

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 End of the Affair’ to ‘Your Voice in my Head’

Six degrees of separation logo for memeIt’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 Eliott

‘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

‘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.

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.

6 Degrees of Separation

Six degrees of Separation: From ‘What are you Going Through’ to ‘Travelling in a Strange Land’

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).

As ever, click the title to read my full review of each book.

This month the starting book is…

‘What Are You Going Through’ by Sigrid Nunez (2021)

At last! A starting book for Six Degrees that I have actually read! According to the blurb, this is a tale about two friends, one of whom asks the other to be there when she chooses to die euthanasia style, but it is so much more complex and convoluted than that. This is a story about stories — the stories we hear, the stories we write, the stories we tell ourselves. “This is the saddest story I have ever heard,” the opening line from Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, is a constant refrain…

‘The Good Soldier’ by Ford Madox Ford (1915)

Set in the Edwardian era, this novel explores the complex and intertwined relationships between two wealthy and seemingly perfect couples who meet every year at a German spa resort. But one of the men, the “good soldier” of the title, likes much younger women and takes several mistresses, while his wife turns a blind eye.

‘The Good Son’ by Paul McVeigh (2015)

This is not a story about adultery; my link is a bit more obvious — it’s simply another book with “good” in the title! It’s a coming-of-age story set in Northern Ireland during The Troubles and is narrated by a schoolboy who’s a smart kid with big dreams. When he gets caught up in events bigger than himself, he must act as the good son to save his family. It’s a really touching tale.

‘Shadows on Our Skin’ by Jennifer Johnston (1977)

The only novel by Jennifer Johnston to be nominated for the Booker Prize, this is another coming-of-age story set during The Troubles. It follows a Derry schoolboy who develops a platonic relationship with a female teacher and then discovers his world opening up…

‘The Temple House Vanishing’ by Rachel Donohue (2020)

A friendship between a teacher and student is key to the brooding mystery in this deeply atmospheric Irish novel published last year. The narrative swings backwards and forwards between the present day and the early 1990s as a journalist investigates the disappearance of a schoolgirl and her charismatic art teacher from an exclusive Irish boarding school 25 years earlier.

‘The Everlasting Sunday’ by Robert Lukins (2018)

Here’s yet another atmospheric tale set in a school in days gone by. It’s about a teenage boy banished to a reform school — based in a Shropshire manor house — because he has been “found by trouble”. Here he meets a cohort of similarly troubled boys, alliances are formed and tensions rise, culminating in a shocking denouement. Thanks to the setting — the UK’s notorious “big freeze” of 1962/63 — this book is chilling in more ways than one.

Travelling in a strange land

‘Travelling in a Strange Land’ by David Park (2018)

A “big freeze” also features in this novel which is set during a severe winter snowstorm. Wedding photographer Tom drives across the UK in treacherous conditions to rescue his son stranded in student lodgings. But that road journey is merely a metaphor for another journey Tom has recently had to make: that of a newly bereaved parent grappling with the death of his oldest son and the legacy of guilt and bewilderment and loss he now feels. It’s a beautiful, eloquent, emotional read.

So that’s this month’s #6Degrees: from a story about euthanasia to one about a parent’s bereavement, via tales about misbehaving men, young boys caught up in The Troubles, a Gothic mystery set in a boarding school and another one set in a reform school.

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 Lottery’ to ‘The South’

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).

As ever, click the title to read my full review of each book.

This month the starting book is…

‘The Lottery’ by Shirley Jackson (1948)

In this short story, which you can read online at the New Yorker magazine, a lottery is staged in a small village every year. The “prize”, which is totally shocking, is revealed right at the end. It will give you the chills…

‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ by Shirley Jackson (1962)

Another book that will give you the chills is Jackson’s last novel (she died in 1965). We have Always Lived in the Castle is a deliciously creepy tale about two sisters living in a secluded Gothic mansion with their uncle. The people of the nearest village, where they do their shopping, treat them with scorn and it’s clear they are hated. But why? Well, it’s something to do with poison… (you’ll need to read the book to find out more).

‘The Aosawa Murders’ by Riku Onda (2020)

Poison features in this complex murder mystery from Japan in which 17 members of the same family die after they consume a toxic drink at a celebratory party. The prime suspect is the family’s blind daughter, the only family member spared death, but why would she want to kill her loved ones? Again, you need to read the book to find out — although there are no neatly drawn conclusions.

In the woods by Tana Frence

‘In the Woods’ by Tana French (2008)

There are no neatly drawn conclusions in Tana French’s debut crime novel about a policeman with a secret past. When detective Rob Ryan was a young boy he was found clinging to a tree in the local woods, his shoes filled with blood, and the two friends he had been playing with are nowhere to be seen. Now, 20 years on, that event comes rushing back when a 12-year-old girl’s body is found in the same woods.

‘In the Forest’ by Edna O’Brien (2002)

Another Irish murder mystery set in the woods is this controversial novel by Edna O’Brien. Based on a real life triple murder, it is a dark and brooding book. One of the victims had set up home in a remote dilapidated cottage on the edge of the forest to concentrate on her art, unaware that there was a disturbed man living wild nearby…

‘A Line Made by Walking’ by Sara Baume (2018)

Another tale about a woman who moves to a remote house to concentrate on her art is this intriguing novel by Irish writer Sara Baume. It turns out that the young female narrator is having a kind of break down and while she’s living in the house under the guise of looking after it for her late grandmother, she is, essentially, running away from her problems.

‘The South’ by Colm Toíbín (1990)

Running away to focus on art is the central theme in Tobin’s debut novel, which is set partly in Ireland and partly in Spain in the 1950s and 60s. It’s a beautiful, languid story, which looks at history, memory, violence and trauma. I would easily add this novel to my Top 10 of all time, I adored it that much.

So that’s this month’s #6Degrees: from a creepy Gothic novel about outsiders to a luminous literary novel about art via tales about poisonings, childhood disappearances, murder and creativity in the countryside.

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 ‘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.