Six Degrees from The Dry to Gaza

 

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation kicks off with Jane Harper’s The Dry which I haven’t yet read but has come highly recommended by a friend who knows more about Australian authors than I do. It’s a crime thriller set in a parched Australian farming community.

 

 

The Australian outback was the stamping ground of the legendary Ned Kelly.  Whether you view him as  a working class hero or an out and out villain, his exploits have proved to be rich material for writers. Peter Carey, another Australian,  won the Man Booker Prize with his True History of the Kelly Gang, an is an imaginative reconstruction of Kelly’s life story in his own words. It’s quite a remarkable novel of a man who was in trouble with the law from the age of thirteen, descending from petty crime to robbery and murder. Kelly met his death in 1880 in a shootout despite having fashioned himself a protective iron helmet.

 

Frank Baum went considerably further than just an iron helmet – he fashioned a character created entirely from metal. The TinMan appeared first in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz  but made several appearances in many of the subsequent books in the Oz series. Apparently there was a trend in late nineteenth-century America for advertising and political cartoons to feature male figures made out of various tin pieces.  Baum, who was editing a magazine on decorating shop windows when he wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was reportedly inspired to invent his Tin Man character after he made a similar figure for a shop display.

Baum’s novel was an immediate success but gained even greater popularity once it was made into a film in 1939.  I’ll  hazard a guess that a large proportion of the millions of people who have watched this film, have no knowledge of the book upon it was based. Still less that this novel, described by the Library of Congress as “America’s greatest and best-loved homegrown fairytale” has been interpreted as an allegory or metaphor for the political, economic, and social events of America in the 1890s. One historian theorised that the Tin Man represented the industrial workers, especially those in the steel industry. Others have claimed the cyclone which sweeps Dorothy to Oz was a metaphor for a political revolution that would transform the drab America  into a land of colour and unlimited prosperity.

Since we’re talking political allegory the obvious choice for my next link would be George Orwell’s Animal Farm. But that’s a bit too obvious. I’m going to play instead with the idea that Baum was writing what’s loosely termed a “state of the nation” novel.

Authors have long used the literary form to examine contemporary society so I’m spoiled for choice. I’m plumping for a novel that was very much a product of the Thatcher years in the UK.

 

 

Capital by John Lanchester takes into the heart of London in 2008. It’s a city of conspicuous consumption and financial whizz-kids with million pound bonuses in their sights.  But behind the gleaming office buildings lies an underbelly of political refugees and embryonic terrorists. In the eyes of the narrator “Britain had become a country of winners and losers.”

 

 

Lanchester was not alone in taking a pop at the money men. Anthony Trollope covered similar ground in The Way We Live Now which was inspired by the financial scandals of the early 1870s. Trollope, who had been living in Australia for 18 months, had returned to London in 1872, to find a society (as he saw it) mired in corruption. He satirised this society in the shape of Augustus Melmotte, a “horrid, big, rich scoundrel… a bloated swindler… a vile city ruffian”. His arrogance, ruthlessness and depth of corruption are traits we’ve sadly witnessed too many times in the decades since Trollope’s time.

 

The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien is a reminder that these corrupt leaders don’t always get away with their actions; occasionally they are called to account. O’Brien’s novel takes its title from a tableau of 11,000 empty chairs created in Sarajevo to commemorate victims of the siege by Bosnian Serbs in early 1990s.  Her main character – a fugitive war criminal  discovered hiding in a backwater village on the west coast of Ireland – is  modelled on the real life war crime fugitive Radovan Karadzic.

 

Just like the people of Sarajevo, the people of Gaza know what it’s like to live in constant fear of attack. The Book of Gaza is a collection of stories by writers from the territory and published by Comma Press. Reading this anthology you can’t help but admire the resilience shown by the people who inhabit a piece of land 26 miles long and 3 miles wide that has been the subject of hostilities for decades.


And so we reach the end of another round of Six Degrees of Separation, hosted by Kate over at Books Are My Favourite and Best. This month we’ve travelled from a drought-stricken small Australian town to a besieged nation on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. As always all the books I mention are ones I have read, though not necessarily reviewed. Creating these chains can be challenging some months but the fun lies in seeing unexpected paths they take, and discovering how other bloggers have gone down vastly different routes.  You can follow these on Twitter by searching for  the hashtag #6Degrees, or checking out the links at Kate’s blog.

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on May 9, 2019, in Six Degrees of Separation and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. A abandoned True History of the Kelly Gang (I have a love/hate relationship with Carey) but I’m interested to hear you say Kelly died in a shoot out because in real life he went to prison and was executed by hanging at a later date… did Carey really change the ending so drastically?

    From one tin man to another, I adored the Wizard of Oz book when I was a pre-teen: I must have read it a dozen times! Thanks for reminding me about it.

    • Ugh, I should have been more careful – Carey didn’t change the ending. I just messed up my description. You’re right of course that he was executed…..the shoot out just resulted in his capture.

      • Ah, I thought maybe Carey was playing around with the story. When I went to school we learned all about various bushrangers (but nothing of indigenous history!!!??!), of whom Kelly is king, and we even went on an excursion to see his death mask, which is at Old Melbourne Gaol, where he was executed (and muttered those infamous words “such is life”).

        • we didn’t get much Welsh history in our school either. So I knew nothing about the Welsh princes and their battles against those dastardly English folks….

  2. Great chain, thanks for sharing.

  3. What a fascinating chain! I’d probably enjoy reading each of them. I’m off to look into them more–thank you.

  4. Beautifully crafted set of links, Karen. I’ve been looking at the ‘Book of…’ series and wondering if it’s one to investigate, perhaps for the next holiday.

  5. Another vote for David Suchet’s performance. I do love Trollope.

  6. What an interesting – and informative chain! I had no idea that The Wizard of Oz was considered a political allegory (I did know the film was based on a book, although it was years after seeing the film). I think The Way We Live Now is my favourite of Trollope’s books – and David Suchet portrayed Melmotte so well in the TV adaptation!

    • I never knew there was a TV adaptation of the Trollope. Am adding that to my list though. As for Oz, I was completely unaware of this also until I did a university literature module but then I didn’t know that the red shoes had such significance either

  7. I enjoyed this diverse list.

  8. That’s a very clever link from Ned Kelly to the Tin Man!

  9. Judy Krueger

    Brilliant! The Little Red Chairs blew me away!

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