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Six Degrees from Eats, Shoots and Leaves to Offshore

Closeup shot to a stretched chain. Shot made in black and white

This month’s Six Degrees chain begins with a book that was hard to miss back in 2003. EatsShoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynn Truss seemed to be in every newspaper and all over the internet. It was wonderful to see the issue of punctuation get such visibility but sadly, Truss’s message about the importance of punctuation didn’t produce any lasting change. Politicians, captains of industry, newspapers and tv news broadcasters) continue to deliver howlers on a fairly regular basis.

I’d better get off my soap box and on with the chain.

I’m taking an easy approach with my first link which is to a novel whose cover artwork features leaves. The Mission House by the Welsh author Carys Davies, one of the books on my #20booksofsummer reading list, is set on a British hill station in South India where a man has come seeking refuge. While staying in the local mission he is befriended by the Padre and begins to form close bonds with the Padre’s adopted daughter. As the relationship develops religious tensions threaten to escalate, putting the mission in danger.

From here there’s an easy link to another novel on #20booksofsummer reading list. The Hill Station is the novel J G Farrell was writing when he died after falling into the sea from rocks while angling.  It forms part of a series of his novels known as “the Empire Trilogy” (the other titles are Troubles, The Siege of Krishnapur and The Singapore Grip), which deal with the political and human consequences of British colonial rule. The Hill Station takes place in the hills Simla where a doctor, his wife and young niece are in search of cool air but discover storm clouds are brewing

Hill stations and colonial rule of course lead me to The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott about the concluding years of the British Raj in India. Many of the sections take place in Pankot, a hill station that serves as a headquarters for the 1st Pankot Rifles, a regiment of the Indian Army, For my link however I’m choosing the novel that won Scott the Booker Prize. Staying On is a sequel to The Raj Quartet, focusing in on the experience of two minor characters; Tusker and Lucy Smalley. They’re a British couple who decide to stay on in Pankot after India’s independence. With their former status now diminished, they struggle to navigate the tensions in the newly-formed nation.

Competing against Scott for the prize that year was a novel that very neatly gives me my fourth link: Quartet in Autumn By Barbara Pym. This is a thoughtful tale of four people who work in the same office and how they each deal with the challenges of retirement and loneliness. It’s a perceptive narrative that pricks the bubble of protection they’ve built around themselves as defence against the realities of life.

This compassionate portrait of people who are in the “autumn of their lives” reminded me of Fanny Pye in Family Money by Nina Bawden. Like the four people in Pym’s novel, Fanny is neither young nor old. Though she is getting on in years, she is in good health and self sufficient both physically and intellectually. But her children and friends will insist on treating her as if she’s frail and incapable of looking after herself or making her own decisions about her house and money,

Fanny’s house gives her a view of a canal and the occupants of houseboats and barges moored along the tow path. For my final link I’m getting off the path and joining the community of houseboat dwellers in Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald. This Booker prize-winner explores the lives of a mixed bag of lost and eccentric individuals who live in permanently moored crafts along one of the less picturesque stretches of the River Thames. The novel was apparently inspired by a period in Fitzgerald’s own life, years during which she lived on an old Thames sailing barge moored at Battersea Reach.

And with that, we bring the chain to a watery end. If any misplaced commas or extraneous apostrophes crept in along the way, I shall rely on you, my faithful readers, to give me the nod.

Don’t forget, if you want to join in with the Six Degrees fun, just hop over to  Books Are My Favourite and Best where you’ll find details from our host Kate about how to participate.

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