Six Degrees from Sex To Friendship

What connects a true story about women’s sex lives in the 21st century with a novel about friendship in Japan?

No that’s not a trick question.

It’s my feeble attempt to signal the latest episode of Six Degrees of Separation, a sort of literary version of a word association game.

This month we begin with Three Women by Lisa Taddeo, a book which has made it to the top of the New York Times best seller list. I’ve not read it or in fact even heard about it but apparently its an in-depth look at the sex drive of American women.

Women and sex. An easy choice for book number one in my chain.

A scene from the 1969 film of Women in Love directed by Ken Russell

In Women In Love , D H Lawrence focused on the loves and lives of two women: Gudrun Brangwen (a painter) and her schoolteacher sister Ursula.

Its high sexual content and the intensity of the relationship between these women and their lovers caused controversy when the book came out in 1920. One critic described it as “dirt in heaps—festering, putrid heaps which smell to high Heaven.”

Lawrence is one of those authors who has been in and out of favour. At the time of his death in 1930 he was viewed as a man who had wasted his talents on producing pornography. But he had huge fans in E M Forster and F R Leavis. It was heir view of Lawrence as a great imaginative talent that prevailed so much that in the 60s and 70s Lawrence was a stalwart of university reading lists. 

But now? You barely hear his name and I doubt he’s required reading for any literature students. 

The fickle world of literary criticism might have put paid to D H Lawrence but it was the making of Kate Chopin.

Her novella The Awakening was reviled when it was published in 1899 – “essentially vulgar” was one contemporary’s description.  But the growth of modern feminist literary criticism since the 1960s brought a re-evaluation of Chopin’s work.  The Awakening is now considered a landmark in feminist literature for its portrayal of a woman whose emotional and sexual awakening led her to walk out on her husband and children. 

The protagonist of All Passion Spent, the book I’ve just finished reading, didn’t walk out on her husband but his death was the catalyst for her decision to forge a new path in life.

At 88 years old Lady Slane’s children think they know what’s best for her and how she should live out the rest of her life. But this is one woman who’s done suppressing her own desires while being the dutiful wife of a great man. Now its time for her to strike out on her own, finding new friendships and re-discovering one from her past. .

Lady S put me in mind of the widow in Elizabeth Taylor’s wonderful novel Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont.

Mrs P is not as wealthy but she shares a similar distaste for spending her twilight years in her daughter’s home. The Claremont Hotel introduces her to a mixed bag of similarly displaced guests who have developed their own strategies for dealing with the loneliness of old age and its financial challenges. 

Talking of hotels brings me to A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles which focuses on Count Alexander Rostov, a charming aristocrat who falls foul of the new Communist ruling party. They sentence him to imprisonment in a tiny attic room in Moscow’s swanky Hotel Metropol. 

Not an easy feat to fashion an engaging tale from a character whose is limited to the walls of the hotel. But Towles gets around the problem by having the world come to the Count. The result is a novel rich in atmosphere and human drama that celebrates dignity, loyalty and friendship.

Friendship is central to the plot of my final book in this month’s chain: Goodbye Tsugumi by Banana Yoshimoto. The setting is not as grand as the Hotel Metropole however because it takes place in a small seaside inn in Japan. Two girls who were once close friends reunite at the inn for one last summer before the place is closed. Like most of the Japanese novels I’ve read this was beautifully atmospheric.

And there I think it’s time to bring this chain to an end. We’ve travelled from America to England, from Russia to Japan. Touched on sex, old age, feminism and friendship. Where would your six degree of separation take you? Play along by visiting the host Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best) 

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 October 4, 2019, in Memes, Six Degrees of Separation and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 46 Comments.

  1. Sheree @ Keeping Up With The Penguins

    I love seeing these, it’s fascinating how our brain leaps from one thing to another, and seeing other brains do it differently. I did have a little chuckle at the reaction to Chopin – I’ve long said that “bad” reviews can be just as beneficial as “good” ones, and I would totally have picked up a book of that period that someone described as “essentially vulgar”. Ha! Love this list, thank you!

    • The vulgarity accusation was very much born out of the attitudes at the time that the woman’s correct place in life was at home with her children and family.

  2. I love Elizabeth Taylor – haven’t read all of her books yet (including he one that you have mentioned) but she’s an author I save for when I’m in a reading slump because her stories are guaranteed to lift me.

  3. What a great selection! Women in Love is one of my favorite classics, Kate Chopin is on my bookshelf awaiting her turn, and I’ve just discovered Elizabeth Taylor, although it was her novel Angel that I read. It’s wonderful!

  4. Well that was fun!

  5. What a lovely and eclectic chain!

  6. Very nice work! I also have Women in Love (pretty obvious one but a great one).

  7. Enjoyed seeing where your chain took you! Coincidentally I’ve just finished a re-read of Sons and Lovers, and while it didn’t have quite the same impact on me as it had in my teens, I do still think it’s worth reading. He is quite obsessed by sex though even at this early point in his career… 😉

  8. I enjoyed your chain – it’s definitely not a feeble attempt! The only one of those books I’ve read is A Gentleman in Moscow, but I would be interested in reading some of the others. Probably not the DH Lawrence, though – he’s not an author who has ever appealed to me.

  9. I really enjoyed this list. Taddeo’s book has gotten so much press, but, like you, I have no intention of reading it. Lawrence is one of my favorites. And I must reread Kate Chopin. I love her! Why haven’t I gone back to The Awakening? Thanks for the list, really an article.

  10. I don’t think Chopin is a patch on Lawrence and Americans who think Chopin invented women leaving their husbands haven’t read George Sand for instance, and ignore Chopin’s racism – she came from a family of wealthy slave owning southern plantation owners and this is reflected in her writing.

  11. As you commented on my blog post – what a coincidence we both had D H Lawrence as our first link! It’s been years since I read any of his books, but I liked them more than you did, although I remember it taking me ages to read Women in Love -watching the film fixed it in my mind more! I haven’t read Lady Chatterley, but maybe next year I will …

  12. An interesting chain! I’m not really a fan of Lawrence, but I am curious to read The Awakening, and Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont.

    Thanks for sharing.

  13. Great chain, as usual. The Awakening is fascinating. I need to check this book by Yoshimoto, thanks

  14. Lovely set of links, and interesting you should pick up on Lawrence. I’ve never read him, but my Middle Child studied him at university and keeps telling me I should! Loved the Towles book, though! 😀

  15. I love this chain! Partly because I have read and loved a number of these books and what I haven’t read is already on my tbr. A long way from a feeble attempt, Karen!

    • Thanks for the boost to my confidence Sandra. I’m not at all interested in Three Women and would have to be dragged kicking and screaming to D H Lawrence again but the other books are really worth reading.

  16. Not ‘feeble’ at all! Your links are so clever.

  17. Brilliant chain, Karen. I have just started the Towles, so am pleased to see your favourable comments about it. And I really must get around to The Awakening one of these days 🙂

  18. Great chain, from a book I do not want to read at all, to a bunch of books that sound very interesting.

  19. Smart set of links, Karen. I loathed studying Lawrence – reading his work is like wading through treacle as far as I’m concerned, not a phrase to use in an essay!

  20. Lovely, three books here that I want to add to my TBR list.

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