Six Degrees of Separation

Six Degrees from boxing to murder

It’s time for another round of Six Degrees, a monthly meme hosted by Kate at Books are my Favourite and Best. The idea is to begin with one book title, and then make a chain of six other books.

This month we begin with Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk which follows the experience of an unnamed man who joins an underground fighting club to help him deal with insomnia. Since I find boxing and bare knuckle fighting abhorrent, I’ve not read this book and have no intention of doing so in the future.

But let’s stick with sleep disorders and move onto a novel I have read.

The-Elected-MemberThe Elected Member by Bernice Rubens won the Booker Prize in 1970. She pulls back the curtains of a seemingly respectable Jewish family to show the misery of drug addiction. Infant prodigy; brilliant barrister; the apple of his parents’ eyes… Norman Zweck appeared destined for even greater things until at forty-one he becomes a drug addict, confined to his bedroom, at the mercy of his hallucinations and paranoia. 

Though its more than seven years since I read this book I still recall some of the first scenes which described the hallucinations Norman experiences when he tries to sleep. The worst are shimmering silvery creatures that he sees crawling towards him from the skirting boards in his bedroom.

Bernice Rubens hailed from Cardiff, the capital city of Wales (thought I’d just slip in that patriotic bit of info). Though highly regarded in the seventies, she’s largely forgotten about now, much like the author of my third title: fellow Booker winning author Stanley Middleton. 

holidayMiddleton wrote 44 novels before his death in 2009. You’ll have a hard job finding any of them in bookshops today which is a terrific shame.

Holiday, his Booker winner takes place largely in the head of Edwin Fisher, a university teacher in his mid-30s, who has taken a solitary holiday in an east-coast resort town after the collapse of his marriage.  Like so many people in the early 1970s, he stays in a boarding house. If you want a glimpse of how the Brits used to holiday before the advent of the package tour to Spain, this would be a great book to read.

LarkinlandMention of boarding houses takes me to Larkinland by Jonathan Tulloch. This novel is a brilliant evocation of Hull in the period when the poet Phillip Larkin was head librarian for the university. Tulloch’s central character, Arthur Merryweather (a version of Larkin) arrives at the library to begin a new job, moving into digs run by Miss Glendenning, occupying a tiny room furnished with narrow bed, unshaded lamp and peeling wallpaper.  Miss Glendenning believes firmly in “keeping up appearances”, running her establishment with strict rules about mealtimes though she seems blissfully unaware that some of her tenants are not all that fine and upstanding.

paying_guestsMiss Glendenning is typical of the predicament experienced by many middle class women in post war Britain, particularly those whose husbands had died in the conflict.

In book number four of my chain, Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guests,  we encounter one such genteel household whose members are driven by necessity to let out rooms in their over-large house. Widow Mrs Wray and her spinster daughter Frances didn’t bargain on having to share their home with a working class couple. They find the Barbers rather gaudy and lacking in the finesse that they are accustomed to within their own circle of acquaintances.  But Frances finds her life becoming dangerously entwined with that of the Barbers.

exposureThe Paying Guests is a novel about actions, taken in the spirit of friendship, that have far reaching consequences. 

For my fifth book in the chain I’m moving forward a few years to the time of the Cold War, a period when your friend, neighbour, or partner, could turn out to be a spy.  In Helen Dunmore’s Exposure, suspicion falls on the father of a rather ordinary middle class family, living in an ordinary terraced house. All he did was to help a friend, but now he is under arrest. To escape public attention and humiliation his wife Lily spirits the children to a small village on the English coast. But before she leaves, she buries a briefcase, believing that she is protecting her family. What she will learn is that no one is immune from betrayal or the devastating consequences of exposure.

Trains are a recurring theme in Exposure. The novel opens with a man taking a train to a home he’s never been in before, Lily, experiences fear every time she hears the whistle because it brings up a past that she has hidden while for her husband, the sound makes him think of escape.

La bete humaineLet’s stick with novels in which trains play a key role for the last link in my chain. I could easily have chosen Anna Karenina or Murder on the Orient Express, but I’m going with. Emile Zola’s La Bête Humaine. (The Human Beast). This contains a brilliant realisation of the world of railways and railwaymen, with a high octane scene involving a runaway train. But it’s also a novel which depicts uncontrollable passion, leading to murderous intentions,   – a fitting way I thought to end a chain that began with passion, although one hopes that a bout in the boxing ring doesn’t result in death.


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

26 thoughts on “Six Degrees from boxing to murder

  • That was fun! Fight Club to Zola, who would have thought there could be a connection? 🙂

  • Pingback: Five Links Loleta Abi | Loleta Abi

  • Pingback: #6Degrees Of Seperation Book Challenge From Fight Club to We That Are Left | Rosie Amber

  • Judy Krueger

    You read such interesting books and always give me new ideas of what to read. I thought The Paying Guests was one of Sarah Waters’s best. What are your predictions for The Booker without the Man?

    • It’s difficult to predict Judy. Whoever steps in, I hope it results in a return of the Booker to its previous incarnation. I’ve found the last few years not very inspiring

  • A very interesting chain indeed! I’ve only read The Paying Guests, but it sounds like I should check out Exposure and La Bête Humaine too.

  • Your chain brought back memories for me – first of reading Bernice Reubens’ autobiography, When I Grow Up, and meaning to read more of her books and then of boarding house holidays when I was a child, so I now want to read Holiday and also Larkinland.

    • Those books brought memories back for me too of boarding house holidays – not all of them great. I seem to remember they were quite strict with mealtimes and where you sat in the dining room

      • Yes – and you had to be out of your room all day too!

        • Oh I ‘d forgotten that. In British weather that meant wandering around getting wet until it was time to go back….

  • I loved The Paying Guests, and I’ve been planning to read more from this author.

    • That is the only one I’ve read by her too. I never fancied Tipping the Velvet but some of her other titles appeal

  • I love hearing about the boarding house books. I enjoy stories about boarding houses. Will see if I can find Holiday anywhere.

    • You can order from the big online providers and I’m sure there will be some copies on AbeBooks

  • I have forgotten all about this challenge, but remembered your post from last month. Once again your chain has inspired me to try my own. I shall go and try now.

    • I’ll be watching out for the result Rosie. I have to put the date in my calendar otherwise I’d forget too

  • Well, that’s nice, I’ve read and reviewed The Elected Member on my blog, but I didn’t know she was Welsh! I’ve now categorised her properly, and that makes 8 Welsh authors on my blog:)
    And of course, I love the link to Zola!

    • I’d forgotten to mention in my post that Sarah Waters is also Welsh

  • I have read all the books in your chain and didn’t even think of them. Nicely done!

    • I had to go and look at your post just to see in what way you ‘goofed’. Very funny….

  • Very neatly done! Bernice Reubens has cropped up several times both in conversation and on blogs I follow recently. I think I should read one.

    • That was the only one by her that I’ve read. It made an impact but I wasn’t so engrossed that I thought I wanted to read more by her. I could be doing her a disservice however


We're all friends here. Come and join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.