Six Degrees of Separation

From terror to persecution in six links

We start this month’s Six Degrees of Separation with Stephen King’s It.  But first I have a confession. Not only have I not read this book, I have never read anything by Stephen King. I know he’s a master storyteller but I have a low tolerance level of anything horrific so never had much interest in his work.

If I were ever to overcome my fear and pick up a Stephen King novel, I doubt that it would be It, based on the fact that it’s about a town where children are terrorized by an entity that takes on the form of a clown. Apparently some of the key themes are the power of memory, childhood trauma and its recurrent echoes in adulthood.

RoomA traumatic childhood is the key element in my first link: Emma Donague’s multiple award-winning novel Room. Inspired by the true life case of Josef Fritzl in Austria, Room tells the story of a five-year-old called Jack, who is held captive in a single room with his Ma. He has never been outside. The room is his entire world.  Despite its subject matter Donaghue has said that Room is not a horror story or a tear-jerker, but a celebration of resilience and the love between parent and child.

L shaped roomFor my second link I’m heading to a different room for another story about resilience in the face of challenges.  In The L Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks, Jane, an unmarried, out-of-work rep actress is turned out of the family home when she becomes pregnant following an affair with an actor. She moves into a dingy room at the top of a smelly boarding house in London, inhabited by bed bugs and a mix of exotic characters. Ultimately her time in the L-shaped room is just a phase in her life before she finds happiness and independence. The people she leaves behind are not so fortunate however; they are so steeped in poverty that they have little hope of escape.

English authorsThere doesn’t seem much hope of escape either for the characters in the novel that provides me with my third link: Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens. In the Victorian era if you couldn’t pay your bills you could end up an inmate of the Marshalsea prison. It was nigh on impossible to pay off the debts because inmates were not allowed to work. Such becomes the fate of William Dorrit who moves his entire family into the Marshalsea when he becomes a bankrupt. His youngest daughter Amy (the Little Dorrit of the title) is born within its walls but like her siblings is sent out to work while her father grows increasingly proud of his status as the prison’s longest-serving resident.

thedevilinthemarshalseaantoniahodgsonFather Dorrit was fortunate that his children’s efforts meant he never ended up in the prison’s most fetid section,  known as the “Common Side”, where inmates were highly likely to die from starvation or fever. Such is the fate that faces Tom Hawkins, the rakish protagonist of the fourth link in my chain: The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson. He can save himself if he can solve the mystery of who killed another prisoner but he also has to keep out of the way of the brutal governer and his henchman.

dorian grayTom is a gambler, a drinker and a womaniser but like all rakes he has a charm that entices. The figure of the lovable rogue and the bad boy abounds in literature so I am spoiled for choice for my fifth link. I’m plumping for a book that featured a handsome, narcissistic young man who indulges in every pleasure and virtually every ‘sin’:  The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Wilde of course was one of the ‘bad boy’s himself, and his book so offended the moral sensibilities of British book reviewers, many of them said he should be prosecuted for violating public morality. He did end up going to prison, for gross indecency.

petalsWilde was not the first – and certainly not the last – writer to be imprisoned. Some like the Marquis de Sade were accused of sexual offences; others like William S. Burroughs and Paul Verlaine for violent assualt. Still more writers have been incarcerated for their political beliefs and their refusal to stay silent. Petals of Blood  by the Kenyan author Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o so incensed his country’s government because it criticised the newly-independent nation, that they imprisoned him without charges. His arrest provoked a worldwide protest and led to his adoption by Amnesty International as a Prisoner of Conscience. He left Kenya upon his release after a year in custody.

And so we end on a sombre note. Having started with a fictional horror I somehow ended up with a real-life situation that I find truely frightening: imprisonment without trial and due process of law.

Six Degrees of Separation hosted by Kate of Books Are My Favourite and Best  is where we start with one book and link in stages to six other books to form a chain. I’ve adopted my own rule to link only to books that I’ve read, even if that was many many decades ago.




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

17 thoughts on “From terror to persecution in six links

  • Nordie

    if you’re not put off by IT, and want to read more of Stephen King, I recommend “Delores Claiborne”. It’s relatively short (unlike some of his other tomes) and is written entirely as a 1st person statement to the police. Brilliant piece of writing. Avoid “The Tommyknockers” at all costs. It’s complete drivel, which he doesnt remember writing, cos he was off his head on coke at the time.

    • Not cheating at all! I think you’ve taken this to an even harder level….

  • Your last link is fantastic Karen (they all are, but the last one especially so!). Many, many years ago I read a biography of the Marquis de Sade – I can’t remember the specifics but I do recall that that he got a lot of writing done during his imprisonment!

  • Great chain, and I was just thinking before you said it that you had come up with some books involving situations that I find far more frightening than supernatural horrors…

    • I never intended to go down that path but yes there are some truely horrific situations in which writers and others find themselves so I do find it hard to be enthused by the supernatural.

  • You’ve read such an interesting collection of books. I confess I couldn’t bring myself to read Room either, but since you’ve read it, would you recommend it? I find Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s own story as interesting (and disturbing) as any novel might be – great to hear that Amnesty’s work had a postive outcome.

    • I would definitely recommend Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o Melinda. I reviewed Petals of Blood on this site. It is a boook I found tremendously moving.

    • It always surprises me how everyone who does it comes up with a different chain. I shall look forward to seeing yours Judy. Maybe make it part of your 2018 plans?

  • Well done, Karen, those are terrific connections!

    • I was surprised how this came together because when I saw the prompt book initially my mind went blank.

  • Great links here Karen. I loved your first link to ROOM. And I enjoyed being reminded of The L-shaped room which I remember reading in my teens (at least I’m pretty sure I did. It’s the sort of book I loved to read.)

    • I read it in my teens also. There was a clutch of novels published in the 60s that I read about the same time – all in the mode of social realism . This was one of them.

  • Some very smart links here, Karen. Pleased to see a reference to Amnesty in your last link. Poitical imprisonment is a truly terrifying prospect.

    • I was thinking Amnesty had a campaign on imprisoned writers but when I inquired last year on how I could help they redirected me to PEN


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