Six Degrees of Separation

Six degrees from catastrophe

Another month when I have been wrestling to make any headway with #6Degrees. It never seems to get any easier!

This month’s starter book is Chloe Hooper’s The Arsonist published in 2018,  which I’ve not heard about let alone read. Some basic research tells me it’s about a horrendous episode of bush fires in Western Australia in 2009. They were among the country’s worst fires and caused the deaths of more than 100 people.


Four years earlier, a natural disaster caused the loss of some 1800 people in Florida and Louisiana. They were victims of Hurricane Katrina, the deadliest hurricane since 1928. Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink is an investigative account of how some of those people died – they were all patients at the Memorial Hospital in New Orleans. Suspicion fell on a few of the medical staff who were accused of unlawfully hastening the deaths of some of those patients.

mosquito coast
Harrison Ford as Allie Fox in the film adaptation of Mosquito Coast

In Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux, it is to avoid catastrophe that Allie Fox takes link his family away from their comfortable home in Massachusetts to a new settlement in Honduras. He has  become increasingly critical of American consumerism, education and culture and is convinced that a world war is imminent,

While in Honduras he builds a huge ice-making machine called ‘Fat Boy’ powered by hydrogen and ammonia, and transports the ice it produces farther up the river to isolated tribesmen, only to find to his disgust that missionaries have already reached them and ‘corrupted’ them to the ways of the West.

Poisonwood bible.jpg

Barbara Kingsolver’s best selling novel The Poisonwood Bible features one of those missionary families: the Prices of Georgia. They move to the Belgian Congo where each of the four daughters develop differently as they adapt to African village life and the political turmoil that overtakes the Belgian Congo in the 1960s.

Heart of darkness

The setting of the Congo gives me the link to my next book: Joseph Conrad’s best known novella: The Heart of Darkness.  It’s a tale within a tale of a steamboat journey to trading posts alongside the Congo river and one man’s obsession with an ivory trader called Kurtz whose methods and interactions with native inhabitants are morally ambiguous.


Heart of Darkness raises questions about imperialism and racism and sees little difference between so-called civilised people and those described as savages. Similar questions appear in the next book in my chain: R. L Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Although this was essentially an adventure story written for young boys, it poses some interesting questions about moral integrity. Some of the characters who are  meant to be upstanding figures of authority – the Squire and the Doctor – are shown to be just as avaricious as the recognisably evil pirates.

It’s a good reminder that fiction written for an audience of young readers can seem simple but is often quite complex when examined more closely. Which takes me to the next and final book in my chain this month. Well actually its just the first book in a very large series.


You might just have heard of Harry Potter…. J K Rowling’s tales of a boy wizard are  considered to have done more to encourage young people (especially boys) to read than any number worthy government inspired initiatives. They can be viewed as little more than a spiced up version of the tried and tested boarding school yarn, albeit  with a bit of magic sprinkled about.  But look more closely and you’ll find a lot more going on: questions about loyalty, dishonesty and the nature of true friendship, for example. Of course, being aimed at children, the presiding morality is that evil (in the form of Voldemort) must be destroyed whatever the cost and good must triumph. The question however is whether the way evil is destroyed is appropriate. Does Harry always come out of his encounters with Voldermort with his integrity intact?

And on that question I will bring the chain to an end. We’ve moved from a book about fire and a deliberate act of damage, to clashes between cultures and good and evil. I had no idea when I started this chain that I would end up talking about Harry Potter!


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

21 thoughts on “Six degrees from catastrophe

  • I love books about colonialism and empire so this chain contains lots of goodies from my perspective! I’m not sure if I’ve heard of that last one though – Harry who? 😉

  • Judy Krueger

    Yes, an excellent six degrees. If it makes you feel any better I feel the same way whenever I sit down to write.

    • Oh what a relief, I see so many other bloggers chains and think how clever they are…

  • Well done. I haven’t been game to try the 6 degrees task. I do enjoy seeing where everyone ends up. The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper is very good. I just finished it.

    • it does take me several attempts before I can get six books connected. Many dead ends along the way

  • I love how you managed to go from arson to Harry Potter! 😀

    • Now if I’d been really clever I should have mentioned the Potter book that deals with fire…..

  • Nice! The way you started, I was expecting you to get to The Poisonwood Bible. An amazing book, that made me discover Kingsolver

  • I think the Harry Potter series will go on being talked about for many years, it brought many adults back to reading too and has had such an impact in many ways.

    I really enjoy seeing where all the 6 degrees posts lead.

    • Good point about adult readership of Potter. At its peak you’d often see adults on a train or plane reading them, wanting to know what all the fuss was about I suppose initially and then getting sucked in

  • It might have taken you a while Karen, but it’s a good-un … I don’t know the Sheri Fink book, but I know of and/or have read all the others.

    BTW One of my favourite disaster books is Erik Larson’s Isaac’s storm – about the storm that flattened Galveston at the turn of the 20th century. Such a wonderfully told story.

    • I think I have a different Larson book – Devil in the City I think it’s called which I bought i desperation years ago just before boarding a plane and then never opened…

      • I have that on my Kindle and really want to read it. He’s good. But I’m not sure it would be a plane novel – though, hmm, I could imagine reading Isaac’s storm on a plane because it has a powerful narrative.

        • I knew when I was typing the title that something wasn’t quite right but didn’t know what….

  • I mostly skip commenting on six degrees posts but I must say I enjoyed your links, and have read all the books bar the Australian one. Re Harry Potter, it’s amazing how many kids get stuck into such big books.

    • That’s a great point about the length of th books – each one seemed to get fatter and fatter.


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