Six Degrees of Separation

Six Degrees of Separation: From Hamnet to Heart of Darkness

I’m so late with this month’s Six Degrees that if I’m not careful, it will be time for next month’s book.

So let’s get cracking with a chain that begins with Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. I know this wasn’t rated highly by a number of bloggers I follow, but it was one of my favourite reads from 2020.

The novel is a re-imagination of the death of William Shakespeare’s son Hamnet, and how each parent experiences grief. The father buries himself in work while his wife Agnes roams the streets near her home, constantly looking for her child around every corner.

A mother’s grief also forms the basis of The Jump by Doug Johnstone. Ellie Sharp is torn apart by the suicide of her teenage son Logan, her life absorbed by two questions: why did he kill himself and why couldn’t she have prevented him? 

Johnstone was one of the authors who took part in the Orenda Roadshow in Wales in February 2020. It was a memorable evening, not just because of the stellar international line up of Orenda published authors but because it the last time I was able to get to an in-person literary event (remember those??).

Also at the event was Vanya Symonds from New Zealand. I bought all three of the titles in her police procedural series featuring a young female police constable in rural New Zealand. I got around to reading the first of these, Overkill last week and am now waiting for my dad to return the next two ( I hope he’s remembered I want them back!).

I can count on one hand the number of authors from New Zealand that I’ve read. I’m sure there are some excellent writers but they don’t seem to make it into the UK market. One that comes to mind, largely because she was the youngest ever winner of the Booker Prize, is Eleanor Catton. Her winning novel, The Luminaries, also had the distinction of being the longest Booker winner up until that date, weighing in at 848 pages.

Much was made of the affinity between the narrative structure of Catton’s novel and the work of the man considered a master of the sensation novel, Wilkie Collins. I think the comparison is specifically to one of Collins’ best-known works The Woman in White which, just like The Luminaries, has multiple narrators who pool their knowledge to get to the bottom of some strange events.

It’s a dramatic tale, inspired by an actual criminal case, that begins with a young traveller’s eerie encounter on a moonlit London road with a mysterious and distressed woman dressed entirely in white. The apparition in Susan Hill ‘s novel The Woman in Black wears clothing of a different colour but is no less atmospheric in its portrayal of the haunting of a small English town.

Hill’s novel uses the familiar device of a story within a story. Which leads me to another book that uses the nested narrative technique: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad which begins with a group of passengers aboard a boat floating on the River Thames. One of them, Charlie Marlow, relates a haunting experience from a time when he travelled up the Congo in search of an ivory trader rumoured to have succumbed to madness.

This month’s Six Degrees has taken me from the reimagined life of a famous playwright in a small town in England, via New Zealand to the Belgian Congo. The joy of this meme is the way other bloggers take very different paths in their chains. If you’re interested, you can follow it on Twitter with the hashtag #6Degrees, check out the links over at Kate’s blog or perhaps even join in.


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

18 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: From Hamnet to Heart of Darkness

  • I had completely forgotten that Heart of Darkness is a framed narrative. Of course it’s been more than 50 years since I read it . . .

    • That’s often a sign of an author who is very skilled in that device – you get so hooked on the central story that you forget it is being narrated

    • That one was a bit of a surprise to me – I hadn’t meant to link to that

  • Great links Karen! The Luminaries is one of the biggest books I still have to read in thr 746!

    • I lugged my copy to Japan and China. Began to regret it because it took up so much space in my hand luggage.

        • It wasn’t as bad though as the time I went to USA and immediately onto Brazil – I had 5 books in my carry on bag. That was the trip that the tipping point for buying an e-reader.

  • I think it’s rather nice to receive #6degrees a little late. If everyone’s on time, the inbox is flooded and there’s too many to give proper attention to them all.
    I really liked The Woman in White. My father suggested him to me after I’d read all the Dickens we had, and I found it a very satisfying novel. Those old C19th authors knew how to tell a good tale.

  • Never too late to create a good chain! I love the way books talk to each other! Hamnet was one of my top favs of the year so it was extra fun to make this chain!

    • I had one difficulty in that I used Hamnet as part of last month’s chain

      • It’s deserving of two chains! 👍

      • I agree with Carol – that book is deserving of two chains, and I reserve the right to use it in an upcoming chain myself!

    • I’m a little surprised that so many people whose opinions I value didn’t rate it

  • I like your Woman in White/Woman in Black link, Karen. Funnily enough I was thinking of the dramatisation of The Luminaries only today.


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