From Australian mystery to the doyenne of crime in six steps

six degrees June 2016

Time for another Six Degrees of Separation hosted by Kate at booksaremyfavouriteandbest which requires participants to create a chain of books, linking one to the other in whatever leaps and connections our brains can devise.

Our starting book this month is  Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay which is, once again, a novel I have never read. I’ve seen the film many times though — it’s one of those atmospheric productions, seemingly shot through a hazy heat filter and featuring fresh-faced students and a teacher from an Australian girls’ school who scramble about Hanging Rock wearing floaty white muslin dresses and black boots.  They disappear without trace. Only one body is ever found.

A picnic followed by a tragedy reminds me of the opening scene of another novel adapted for film —Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love.  It begins on a beautiful, cloudless day with a Joe and Clarissa about to begin a picnic. A cry interrupts them and they see a hot air balloon, with a young boy in the basket and an older man being dragged behind it. Attempts to avert a tragedy fail. The event threatens to wreck Joe’s life when he becomes the target of the obsessional attention of one of the other rescuers.

Obsession takes me to Steven King’s Misery where author Paul Sheldon is rescued from a car accident in a snowstorm by a woman who describes herself as ‘his number one fan’. As a former nurse Annie Wilkes has the skills required to mend his broken legs and get him back to health but her true nature is revealed when she discovers the contents of Sheldon’s latest novel. He begins to fear she is dangerously disturbed and to what lengths she will go to get her way.

Annie Wilkes could go a few rounds with another fictional nurse I reckon — Mildred Ratched in my fourth link,  One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey.  She rules over a ward in an American psychiatric hospital with an iron fist and steely eyes  and it’s her battle for battle against a new patient, Randle McMurphy, that provides the plot of this novel. What Nurse Ratched wants is a ward full of docile patients who follow the rules and allow her to control their lives. McMurphy (who has faked insanity to avoid going to prison) is having none of this and its efforts to get the patients to stand up for themselves that sets him on course for a showdown with the medical establishment. 

Writing convincingly about mental illness is tough.  Kesey was able to draw on his experience of working as an orderly at a Californian mental health facility. In addition to speaking to patients he also personally experimented with some of the drugs they were given. The next book in my chain is also the product of a mental health worker: The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer. Filer trained and worked as a mental health nurse, then later became a mental health researcher at the University of Bristol.  The central character of his novel is a 19-year-old schizophrenic who was sectioned because he couldn’t cope on his own in the community. With the aid of an old typewriter he tries to conduct his own therapy, bashing out his  feelings of guilt about something that happened to his brother several years earlier.    

Filer gained several awards in recognition of his role in raising awareness through literature to mental healthcare and how the public felt about mental health. His novel earned him the Costa award for first time novel in 2013 and was also named the Costa book of the year.

The following year another debut novel that featured a character with some mental issues won the Costa first novel award. Which brings me to book number five in my chain: Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey.  This is a deeply moving book with an octogenarian narrator who cannot remember what she did a few moments ago or how many tins of peaches she has in her cupboard. Advancing dementia means she doesn’t even recognise her daughter sometimes. But one thing she holds fast to is her certain knowledge that something has happened to her friend Elizabeth and since no-one else will believe her it’s up to her, Maud, to find where Elizabeth has gone. 

A female character of advancing age who few would think of as a force for justice. Now who better fits that description than one of the most enduring figures in crime fiction —step forward Miss Jane Marple whose shrewd intelligence and understanding of human nature enables her to solve difficult crimes. For my sixth and final book in the chain I could name any one of the 12 Agatha Christie novels featuring Miss Marple but the one that fits the link best is actually the last Miss Marple book to be written: Nemesis. In this novel, published in 1971, Miss Marple is asked by a dying millionaire to  look into an unspecified crime which turns out to involves a missing girl and a millionaire’s son accused of her death. It requires our cardigan-wearing sleuth to take on the mantle of the Greek goddess of Nemesis, a figure who represents justice and he exposure of wrong-doing. 

And in a sense that mystery of a missing schoolgirl brings us back to where we began the chain in Australia. I bet if Miss Marple had been called upon the mystery of hanging rock wouldn’t have remained a mystery for very long. 

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 July 2, 2017, in Six Degrees of Separation and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 29 Comments.

  1. Fascinating choices. My mom had to “do a rotation” at the Oregon State Mental Hospital as part of her nursing program in the 1950s, and she said One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which is set there, was pretty spot-on.

  2. Just read Picnic at the Hanging Rock earlier this year, and loved it! One of my best reads in recent years. Have not watched the film, though. And Misery (the film) is another favourite of mine. Kathy Bates’ performance was so fun to watch!

  3. I think the opening chapter of Enduring Love is one of the best I’ve ever read, even though I read it around 20 years ago. Meanwhile even though I enjoyed it at the time, I’d forgotten I’d read Elizabeth Is Missing until I was halfway through your summary. It’s funny what the brain retains. Goes to your point about Tony Buzan, maybe.

  4. The links are fun! Gets you thinking differently – this is really fun!

  5. I love your connections. This meme is really making me want to read Picnic at Hanging rock. Might have to buy a copy. #oops.

  6. Loved the flow of your links into each other.

  7. I love Nemesis – one of my favourite Christies! And yes, wouldn’t it have been wonderful to see Miss Marple sorting things out down under!!!

  8. Haha, Karen, love your conclusion about Miss Marple. But how much more boring it would have been had it been solved!

    I laughed at your beginning, because Enduring love was my first choice of a link, but I really wanted to link to books I’ve read and reviewed since blogging so I gave up the idea. However, for that reason, this one took longer to write for me than usual as I really liked the Enduring love link.

  9. I’m amazed to discover that so many people outside of Australia have seen the film of Picnic at Hanging Rock. It is certainly a mesmerizing film and one of the rare cases of book and film being equally good. Love your first link to Enduring Love – that was probably the most action-packed picnic scene I’ve ever read – brilliant.

  10. I love the links. I haven’t read that first book either, but have seen the film, which I found oddly disturbing and fascinating.

  11. It sounds as if we were both entranced by Weir’s film of Picnic at Hanging Rock. I feel the urge to track down a DVD. I love the way all our path’s diverge from the starting point of this meme.

    • it maybe tells us a lot about how the brain works in tangents rather than in linear fashion. I remember reading this in a book by Tony Buzan and how we make lists for everything yet the brain wants to go off in different directions like a tree – which is how he came up with the idea of mind mapping as a technique for memorising info

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