Six Degrees of Separation

6 Degrees From Phosphorescence to Regeneration

This month’s 6 Degrees of Separation, which begins with Phosphorescence by Julia Baird. has tied me up in knots. I had three attempts to form a chain; the first one got as far as link number four before it ran out of steam while the second one stalled at link number two. The chain I’ve finally ended up with isn’t as geographically diverse as past efforts but at least it is a chain!

I knew nothing about Baird’s book but a quick search tells me that the full title is Phosphorescence: On Awe, Wonder and Things That Sustain You When the World Goes Dark. And it’s a reflection on Baird’s encounters with phosphorescence, a luminescent phenomenon found in the natural world, and how she was able to cultivate her own ‘inner light’ in the face of suffering and illness. Kate at booksaremyfavouriteandbest, who is the host for #6degrees, loved the book but it’s not calling to me.

Covers of books selected for Six Degrees of separation

My first link picks up on the idea that phosphorescence is a particular type of light that makes objects appear to glow. In The Mirror and The Light, the final part of Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy, King Henry VIII is in no doubt about the radiance that shines forth from his regal person, blinding everyone with his brightness and giving him pre-eminence in the world. As Cromwell tells him: “Your Majesty is the only prince. The mirror and the light of other kings.”

We get a very different portrait of the King in the next book in my chain: Sovereign, one of the novels in the Shardlake series by C J Sansom. Here Henry is a huge bulk of a man with “red jowly face, fringe of reddish grey bead, a pursed little mouth under a commanding beak of a nose and small, deep,set eyes.”  Not so much glowing as glowering you could say.

Although some plot elements of the Shardlake series are unbelievable, one of the things I never doubt is the authenticity of the historical period in which Sansom’s books are set. In his novel Dominion, he even includes an appendix of all his bibliographical resources for a tale giving an alternate history of post war Europe. In this version, Great Britain has failed to defeat the Nazis and has become one of Germany’s subject territories. The plot revolves around a geologist with knowledge that could help either Germany or America get the edge in the race for a nuclear weapon. To safeguard the secret, the geologist is hidden in a mental asylum.  

I’m using incarceration as the link to my next book: The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell. This was my first experience of her work and it remains one of my favourites. It’s a beautifully written and haunting story about a woman who has been unjustly placed in a Scottish mental hospital at a very young age, her wilful behaviour as a young girl interpreted as “madness” by her parents. What the novel reveals is that she was in fact suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is the central theme in Return Of The Soldier by Rebecca West. It’s her debut novel written when she was only 24 years old but shows a depth of maturity in her understanding of the mental fragility of a young man who comes home from the first world war physically intact but shell-shocked. He’s forgotten the past 15 years of his life. He’s forgotten that he’s married and he once had a son who died. All he remembers is a time when he was 21 and deeply in love with a woman called Margaret.

This soldier never gets any medical help for his condition, unlike the officers in the final book of this month’s chain. Pat Barker’s Booker-prize winning novel Regeneration was based on the true story of Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh, a place were traumatised soldiers including the poets Siefgried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen were patients of the psychiatrist W H R Rivers, a pioneer in treating posttraumatic stress disorder.

And so we come to the end of a chain that’s moved from a royal court to an asylum and a hospital. It’s all rather dark this month. I was hoping next month would be more uplifting but I’ve just spotted that the starting book is  Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart which traces a young boy’s upbringing amid poverty and drugs in Glasgow. So don’t hold your breath for any light relief there!

If you fancy giving this a go, hop over to the blog of our host Kate at booksaremyfavouriteandbest.


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

35 thoughts on “6 Degrees From Phosphorescence to Regeneration

  • Oh dear Karen, it seems to me that this is not the meme for you. Blogging is supposed to be fun. A bit of a challenge perhaps, but memes are not compulsory. If this one doesn’t suit the way your mind thinks, don’t do it! There are plenty of memes out there.

    I’m like Davida. I usually do mine way in advance so it’s no pressure. I haven’t done Shuggie Bain yet, though am mulling it over!

    • You’ve given me food for thought there Sue. I don’t find it easy to get these links – maybe my mind just doesn’t work that way – and it takes far longer to do these chains than I think is worth it in the end……

  • Well, amazingly I have read all but two of the books on this list, and I do like the way you have linked them. Base on what you are saying, I think I will give Julia Baird’s ‘Phosphorescence’ a wide berth – but I am intrigued by the Rebecca West story and will give it a go. I do like to try new authors, especially young ones who have plenty of time to write more stuff!

    • Return of the Soldier is a very mature feeling piece of work so I was astonished to find out how young the author was at the time

  • Excellent links, and from the little you’ve told us about Regeneration maybe it circles back to the beginning – maybe these officers were given a chance to re-find some light in their darkness?

    • I never thought of that possibility. Sadly if the men did recover they were sent back to their regiment and shipped back to the front..

  • Great links! I like how you took the idea of light and went out from there 🙂

    • I’m behind with my visits to other blogs but will check out your post soon I promise

  • Esme is always a welcome addition! I’ll admit, I found getting the first link in this one quite difficult!

    • I’m relieved to learn I wasn’t the only one to struggle this time

  • Oooh… nice connection to Esme Lennox! Love that book. It was the first O’Farrell I read, and now I’ve read everything she’s ever written.

    • It was given to me as a gift from a friend and I’d never heard of the author at that time. It turned out to be one of the best gifts I ever had from that friend

        • I’ll have to wait until hugging is allowed again in the UK!

        • Well, I’m at an advantage. I live in Israel, and half the population has been vaccinated already, so we’re starting to hug again!

  • I had a couple of false starts with this one, too. I suggested Shardlake to my partner a little while ago. He seems to be inhaling crime fiction during lockdown and Sansom’s novels seem long enough to keep him going for at least a week.

    • They have the benefit of being very long! If he enjoys them, try the S J Parris series featuring Giordani Bruno – set a bit later than Sansom and I think work even better

      • Thank you. All tips gratefully received. It’s not a genre I know much about.

        • Happy to give you a suggestion – makes a change because normally all the suggestions are coming from you

  • Persistence wins the day! I quit on this one….next month’s is difficult too.

    • Well I can think of an obvious link for my first book but after that I’m stuck!

      • You’re ahead of me, then. #DuckingForCover I’m not sure I want to read yet another story of a miserable upbringing exacerbated by discrimination. You know you’ve read too many of them when they start to seem the same. It makes me feel bad when I find myself thinking this, because I know they’re based on unique experiences, but still…

        • Oh dear… how much do you hate me that I’ve already finished writing and scheduled my next month’s #6Degrees post? But you know, when I got to the fourth link, I kind of wanted the last one to be one thing and then I realized I couldn’t link up to that book and ended up with something else altogether!

        • LOL Davida, I’m going to take that as a challenge and try to at least get mine done on time next month…

        • I’ve never known you to be late doing the chains 🙂

        • Oh I have been, and sometimes I’ve skipped them altogether.
          LOL It’s being retired. I lose track of the date.

        • I’m finding the same thing – there are days when I wake up and I have no idea what day of the week it is. Lockdown is making it even more of challenge because I don’t have my regular social events to help me keep track

        • I always leave it until the last moment to do the chain and then get stressed when it doesn’t work out and I’m going to be late…..

        • Doing it right away means I get surprised when I see it when it is published because I forget what I did over the month!

        • I am so exhausted by the mental effort of thinking of one chain that the thought of doing another immediately would be overwhelming 🙂

        • When I first started doing them, I’d do a link every couple of days until I had them all. The more I did, the easier it was to do them quicker, and now I’ve got mine ready within 2-3 days of the last one!

        • I know what you mean, I think I’lll read Shuggie at some point but need to be in the right mood for it

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