This month’s Six Degrees Of Separation begins with Second Place by Rachel Cusk, one of the books longlisted for the Booker Prize 2021.
There was a time not so many years ago when the minute the longlist was announced I’d rush off to the library to get my hands on as many of those titles as possible. But my interest in the prize has waned considerably and though the art theme of this novel is appealing, I’ve not read this and don’t have a copy lurking among my unread books.
I’m taking the easy way out for my first link, choosing a book connected purely by one word in the title.
Well before she conceived her magnificent trilogy on Thomas Cromwell, Hilary Mantel wrote a chunkster of a novel about another momentous historical period. A A Place of Greater Safety focuses on the French Revolution, and the lives of some of the key players like Georges Danton, Camille Desmoulins, and Maximilien Robespierre. I found it tough going, partly because it features hundreds of characters and it was difficult to keep track of them all. It’s a book I meant to return to one day (but not until I’ve brushed up on my knowledge of the French Revolution).
Also set during the years of the Revolution is Little by Edward Carey, a fictionalised account of the life of Madame Tussaud. As Marie Grosholtz, she became an apprentice to a doctor who taught to draw the human body and make wax versions of diseased body parts. Her skills were deployed to make wax heads of the unfortunate French monarch Louis XVI and those who wanted him out of the picture, like Jean-Paul Marat and Robespierre.
In Peter Carey’s Booker-winning novel from 2001, the spotlight is turned on another famous (or should I say infamous) figure. The True History of the Kelly Gang used historical documents to trace the story of a child from a dirt-poor Irish immigrant family became one of the most wanted men in Australia .
Carey of course had already won the Booker Prize with Oscar and Lucinda. a sort of love story between two very unlikely partners. A toss of a coin convinces Oscar Hopkins that God is calling him to be a missionary in New South Wales. On the voyage from England he meets an heiress who shares his obsession with gambling.
Obsession is one of the themes explored in West by Carys Davies, a gem of a book about a widowed settler who sets off on an expedition from his Pennsylvania mule farm in search of animals whose gigantic bones had been discovered in a swamp. One he’d read a newspaper report about the discovery Cy Bellman could think of nothing else but the fact they might still be wandering about in “the unexplored territories of the west”. It’s a poignant story of the daughter he leaves behind and the connection he makes on his travels with a young Indian boy.
West was billed as Carys Davies first novel but strictly speaking its a novella. Her first actual novel was published in 2020 and very neatly gives me my final link. We’re moving from a man on a mission to a man who ends up in a mission.
The Mission House, a Sunday Times novel of the year, is set in a former British hill station in South India where former librarian Hilary Byrd arrives in search of a quiet life. Befriended by the Padre of the mission house, this lost soul finds some peace but religious tensions are brewing and the mission house may not prove to be a haven after all.
This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from a Booker contender to two novels that claimed the prize. We’ve travelled from political revolution to religious turmoil and from France to unexplored regions of North America. I’ve read all six books in my chain though I read the Mantel pre-blog so don’t have a review of this. The Mission House was one of my 20booksofsummer choices – review will follow shortly.
Six Degrees of Separation is a meme hosted by Kate over at Books Are My Favourite and Best. It works like this: each month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six others to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the titles on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.