Once again this month the #6Degrees “meme” started with a book I’ve not read, forcing me to be ever more creative in finding links. Let’s see how this one pans out…
Link 1: The chain began this month with Revolutionary Road, the debut novel by American author Richard Yates. Never having read this I have little information other than it was published to great critical acclaim in 1961, becoming a finalist for the National Book Award. It seems to have had a bit of a revival in 2005 when Time magazine chose it as one of the best 100 English language novels published since 1923. Interviewed in 1972, Yates said his novel was intended as an indictment of American life in the 1950s.
That word indictment takes my brain into crime and accusations of wrong doing. Of which of course one of the most famous came from Emile Zola in J’Accuse. This was framed as an open letter published on 13 January 1898 in the newspaper L’Aurore addressed to the French President. Zola accused the government of anti-Semitism and the unlawful jailing of Alfred Dreyfus, a French Army General Staff officer who was sentenced to lifelong penal servitude for espionage. Zola pointed out judicial errors and lack of serious evidence. The letter was printed on the front page of the newspaper and caused a stir in France and abroad. Zola was prosecuted for and found guilty of libel on 23 February 1898. To avoid imprisonment, he fled to England.
This is a long preamble to my second link in the chain.
Link 2: Zola and the Victorians: Censorship in the Age of Hypocrisy
This deals with an episode some ten years before the Dreyfus Affair when a member of the National Vigilance Society denounced Zola and others like him for producing “vile literature” read by “young girls in low bookshops” that lead them into prostitution. He hadn’t actually read the books himself but the result was the prosecution of Zola’s British publisher and his subsequent financial ruin. The book is woven from various sources including court records, Hansard, letters, journalism and illustrations.
Link 3: His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet
This is a novel that also uses a narrative device of documents such as witness statements, medical reports and a journalistic account of a trial. It’s a psychological thriller that purports to be about a true crime in a remote crofting community in the 19th century Scotland. Opinions on the novel have varied (I’ve yet to read it) but it was clearly one that wowed the Booker Prize judges in since they put it on the shortlist. Not bad for a second novel.
His Bloody Project creates the illusion that this is a true crime but my next book in the chain is based on a true-life murder.
Link 4: The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or the Murder at Road Hill House by Kate Summerscale
In June, 1860 three-year-old Saville Kent was found at the bottom of an outdoor privy with his throat slit. The crime horrified all England and led to a national obsession with detection. Summerscale turned this into a book which brought great critical praise and commercial success and led to an acclaimed TV adaptation.
TV adaptations takes me to a quartet of novels which I love and an adaptation into a TV series which is one of my all time favourites.
Link 5: The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott
Scott’s quartet covers the dying days of the British Raj in India including the period of World War II. The first novel The Jewel in the Crown deals with an inter-racial love affair which scandalises both the British and the Indian elites but the remaining three novels focus on the Laytons, a military family who live at a hill station and encounter their own challenges with racial attitudes amongst their contemporaries. The Jewel in the Crown TV series broadcast in 1984 did a superb job of showing the tension between the different elements in this community and in the country at large.
Tensions between factions also rears its head in a novel set in another part of the former British Empire: South Africa. And so we come to my final book in the chain.
Link 6: Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
Paton wrote this at a time when he feared increased for the future of his South African homeland because of the rise in feelings of animosity towards the black population. Soon after publication in 1948, the government enacted a system of racial segregation known as apartheid. It was to remain in force until 1994. Cry the Beloved Country is a multivocal novel that dramatises the differing attitudes within the country and examine the causes for the breakdown in relations. Highly recommended reading for anyone who wants to understand the issues of South Africa.