BookendsSix Degrees of Separation

Six Degrees from Atonement


Time for another Six Degrees of Separation. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and the idea is to link it to six other books to form a chain.  The links can take any form: similarity of themes or setting; written by the same author or winners of the same prize. The basis of the link is really limited by nothing more than our imagination.

This month we begin with a favourite novel of mine, Atonement by Ian McEwan.

It’s set in a large country house in England between the two World Wars. Events are triggered by the actions of thirteen-year-old Briony who has a vivid imagination. Her accusation about an event she witnesses one hot summer evening has life-changing consequences for her elder sister and the boy with whom she is in love. For the rest of her life she regrets her actions.

I’ve read the book twice and seen the film multiple times and still can’t make up my mind whether Briony is a minx who deliberately misconstrues the event.


For another minx who likes to meddle in other people’s lives let’s turn to Emma by Jane Austen.  Though many in her village think she is charming, Emma is a girl who has been indulged throughout her life and ends up thinking she knows best for herself and everyone around her. She loves nothing more than a little matchmaking, thinking she is doing this for the best of the parties concerned but ends up causing more harm than good.

barchester towers

In the league of schemers however Emma is small fry compared to the most wonderful character in the next book in my chain. Obadiah Slope in Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers is a master manipulator, a man who hides his monstrous ambition for wealth and prestige under a cloak of piety.

Lest you think that devious behaviour and trickery are confined to England, the third book in my chain should convince you otherwise.

cannery row

John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row gives us a lovable bunch of rogues, chief of whom is Mack. Steinbeck describes him as “the elder, leader, mentor, and to a small extent exploiter of a little group of men who had in common no families, no money, and no ambitions beyond food, drink, and contentment.

It’s Mack who comes up with a way to say thanks to their friend Doc, who has been good to them without asking for reward. The entire community quickly gets behind his idea of a thank-you party.  Unfortunately things get out of hand and Doc’s home and his lab where he studies and collects sea creatures from the Californian coast are ruined.

The novel is shot through with nostalgia and sadness (there are three suicides) but also has its humorous moments. By far the funniest episode in the book is when Mack and the boys embark on an expedition to collect frogs for the Doc. Of course it all goes horribly wrong.

Collections of sea creatures reminds me of All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.   I wasn’t all that enamoured by it but it was highly rated when it came out a few years ago . I seem to remember it was one that the then President Obama took on his summer holiday.

all the light

It’s the tale of a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths cross in occupied France during World War II.  Marie-Laure, blind since the age of six, take refuge from the war in St Malo. There the girl’s imagination is fired by the marine life described in her Braille edition of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and she becomes a collector and expert on molluscs.

Most of her collectables don’t sound edible although the principal character in my next chain, The Gourmet by Muriel Barbery, would probably disagree.

The Gourmet

Pierre Arthens is the greatest food critic in France. He relishes dishes like “Pan roasted breast of Peking duck rubbed with berbère; grapefruit crumble à la Jamaïque with shallot confit … ”

Now before I turned vegetarian about a quarter of a century ago I was quite partial to duck. But I disliked the sweet sauces in which it was often served. Remember duck a l’orange or duck with blackberry sauce? I’ve no idea what you’d get if you ordered any menu item “à la Jamaïque” – even a Google search can’t provide an answer (it appears to be the title of a French musical). But I can’t begin to imagine that grapefruit and duck are meant to be companions.

But then I am decidedly not a gourmand. Nor would I want to be if it involves the kinds of concoctions beloved by the central character in my sixth and final book: Iris Murdoch’s Booker-prize winning novel The Sea, The Sea.

The Sea, The Sea

Charles Arrowby, retires to the country after highly successful career as a London stage director. In his tumbledown seaside cottage he swims, writes his memoirs and concocts some rather bizarre meals.

For lunch, I may say, I ate and greatly enjoyed the following: anchovy paste on hot buttered toast, then baked beans and kidney beans with chopped celery, tomatoes, lemon juice and olive oil. (Really good olive oil is essential, the kind with a taste, I have brought a supply from London)

The kidney beans/tomatoes/celery/oil and lemon juice combination sounds interesting and I might even be tempted to try that one day. But what they are doing on the same plate as baked beans is completely beyond my comprehension.

All this talk of food is making me feel peckish. Time to wrap up the chain and head for the kitchen. The supermarket was completely out of edible molluscs on account of the fears about post-Brexit catastrophe amongs the bivalve community. So it will have to be beans on toast again. Oh wait a second, bread is in short supply because everyone is stocking up for the inevitable shortage in December.

Right well it’s just cup  a soup then…..



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

30 thoughts on “Six Degrees from Atonement

  • I’ve been amazed this month how we have all managed to pick a different starting point from Atonement (I was expecting lots of WWII!).

    Love your mollusc theme and loved both the Doer and the Barbery. I haven’t read The Sea, the Sea (started it but it didn’t appeal) – I think I should give it another chance.

    • Yeah I immediately thought of WW2 but decided it was too obvious. So on a car journey home one night i challenged my husband to come up with another link. We had good fun ….

  • Great set of books and a wee bit of nostalgia thrown in ( Cup A Soup was a staple part of my student diet !). I’ve always wondered about Briony and I find that confusion is added to by the film as I think she’s a bit more minx-like in that than in the novel!!

    • The film does give that impression doesn’t it that she makes it up because no-one is paying her play enough attention

  • We’ve both managed to include The Sea, The Sea despite wandering off in very different direactions from the starting point. You clearly remember it much better than I do although you have reminded me of the odd food combinations.

    • It was such an odd book. I didnt expect to like it because I’ve struggled with Murdoch in the past but he was such an odd character

  • Judy Krueger

    Very good mix! Loved Cannery Row, Atonement and All the Light. Looking forward to The Sea, The Sea when I get to it in my project.

    • I think I appear to be in a minority with All the Light ….

  • Seems like a great chain of books and a “novel” (lol) way to read). I’ve read Emma so hopefully, I can find time to reread this plus read the other books. I have had Atonement and All the Light We Cannot See on my shelves for a couple of years. Thanks.

    • Well if it was my decision I wouldn’t hesitate to go for Atonement and to ditch All the Light but your reading tastes may be vastly different and so many other people liked All the Light that it clearly resonates (just not with me!)

  • The chain was fun, even though I haven’t read all the books. I really hated Briony in Atonement, the book and the movie; Cannery Row is a book from long ago, and which I also saw on film.

    I do want to read All the Light We Cannot See.

    In your “related” section, I saw The Slap, which I haven’t read, but watched as an Amazon Prime series. Loved it!

    • Goodness, how on earth did The Slap get in there – I’ve never read it!

    • I read it after hearing it advocated on “A Good Read” on radio 4 – can’t remember the actor’s name now but he said he reads it every year. So I reckoned it had to be good…..

    • I tried a different approach this time by playing the game with my husband and even though I didn’t use all his suggestions, he came up with the link from Atonement to Emma.

  • I, too, am not sure Briony was a minx. Jealous, certainly, and full of regret, but lacking the courage to admit her awful mistake.

    • Isn’t it great when you find a character that is multi-faceted. Always the mark of a good author for me when you can argue/debate a character

  • Great chain Karen – and I’ve read a few of the books, too, Atonement, Emma, Cannery Row, All the light we cannot sea (which I linked to as well! in this chain) and The sea, the sea.

    I must say that I don’t think that Briony is a minx, though of course it is a possibility … but I haven’t read the book or seen the film as many times as you obviously have.

    • If she isn’t then why does she go and tell the tale about what she saw in the library?

      • Long time since I read it but my recollection is as Frank said… Courage, perhaps embarrassment.

      • I think minx us probably too simple an explanation to be honest. I think McEwan was looking for something more deeply psychological than simple mischief-making that minx suggests?

        • I know it’s simplistic and there is a lot more to that novel than I gave credit for. I’ve read it twice which is something that I do rarely – only the very best get a second read

        • For me too. I’d like to do more of it. Sometimes I wonder if putting more effort into depth of reading would not be a bad thing – ie to know more about less?

        • Now that’s a rich topic for debate. It’s so tempting isn’t it to always go for the shiny new thing and neglect the gems we already have. Some books of course only merit one reading (crime fiction always falls into that category for me) but the classics tend to be ones that reward multiple reads. Thats why they are classics I suppose – they deliver up new insights each time you read them

        • It sure is Karen … and yet as you say, classics and great books offer something more every time you read them. Isn’t that what Italo Calvino said.

        • I’d never come across Calvino until a couple of years ago but his ‘characteristics’ of classics do seem to make a lot of sense

        • They do … BTW re Calvino, it’s amazing how blogging helps widen our literary knowledge and awareness isn’t it?

  • The Gourmet was a bit of an odd book. I cannot decide if I liked it or not, there was just something that I could not put my finger on. I find Duck rather greasy, but I have had it served in a citrus sauce which is a spin off from duck a l’orange. From memory it was served at a restaurant in Belfast in a hotel I was staying at for a work related trip. It was very nice, hotel and dinner, but gave me some indigestion issues!

    • Well the citrus would have helped counter the greasy taste but could be over-powering.


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