BookerTalk

6 Degrees From Stasiland to Larkin

It’s time for Six Degrees of Separation hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. 

We start this month with Stasilandby Anna Funder, a book I’ve not heard of nor read but which I think I would enjoy. It’s a set of personal accounts about individuals who resisted the East German regime. Other accounts are from people who worked for its secret police, the Stasi.

From here I can make a very obvious link to a book I read last year: Stasi Child by David Young. It’s the first title in his crime series set in East Germany during the era of the Cold War. Young conveys the bleakness of life in East Germany where anyone can be “persuaded” into helping the Stasi by informing on their friends, neighbours and relatives.

Part of the plot of David Young’s novel involves the disappearance of children, a theme which links me to my next novel.

A Child In Time by Ian McEwan was one of the first books I read by this author. It was published in 1987 and concerns a couple whose three-year-old daughter was kidnapped. The book concerns itself with the aftermath of that event, from the point of view of the father, an author of children’s books. It also focuses on the idea of time as being relative, fluid and unstructured. For that reason it is sometimes considered to be a time travelling story.

The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Remember the fuss about this novel when it was published in 2003? It was one of those books that “everyone” seemed to be reading. It wasn’t one I enjoyed. I just couldn’t buy into the premise about time travel.

It’s a love story about a man with a genetic disorder that causes him to time travel unpredictably, and about his wife who has to cope with his frequent absences and dangerous experiences. Henry DeTamble mostly travels to places related to his own history, places with which he is familiar like the library where he works.

For my next link I’m continuing on the theme of libraries.

The Librarian by Salley Vickers was not a great hit with me. It was chosen for the book club to which I belong. It concerns a new children’s librarian who arrives in a small town, determined to improve the lives of local children by giving them the right books. Then she begins an affair with a married doctor, much to the outrage of the town’s inhabitants (the book is set in the 1950s so reflects the moral indignation of the times)

But this book failed to live up to the promise of its blurb. I gave up around page 80 because I couldn’t take any more of the trite nature of the narrative.

Much more enjoyable was another novel set in the 1950s about a librarian who has just been appointed to a new post.

Larkinland by Jonathan Tulloch

Book number five in my chain is set in the city of Hull, a place of Teddy Boys, trolley buses, travelling salesmen, fish and chips and spartan rented rooms. Into this bleak, mundane world steps Arthur Merryweather, newly recruited as head librarian at the city’s university.

Part mystery, part love story, Larkinland is a novel loosely based on a period in the life of the poet Philip Larkin. Larkin moved to Hull in 1955 as Librarian at the University of Hull (a post he held until his death). He disliked the place intensely, describing it as “a dump” whose sole redeeming feature was that it was flat, so making it good for cycling.

I can’t leave this chain without turning to the words of the poet himself.

High Windows was Philip Larkin’s final full poetry collection. Published in 1974 it contains two of his most famous poems: The Whitsun Weddings and An Arundel Tomb. As a special treat, click here to experience Larkin reading the latter poem.

Larkin’s poems provide solace for the soul, particularly in these times of turbulence and uncertainty. So I shall end on his most often quoted (often misunderstood) line.

What will survive of us is love.

This month’s chain has taken us from the inhumanity of life in East Germany, to a poem that for many people speaks of hope. It’s always surprising where these 6 Degrees chains take us.

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