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.
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.
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.
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!
My book shelves are already stuffed but who can resist some bargains? Especially one that I consider the bargain of a lifetime: a hardback edition of How it All Began by Penelope Lively signed by the author and on sale at the extraordinary price of 30 pence. Of course I had to buy it; who could possibly turn their nose at the opportunity?
This purchase was from a library sale but I’ve also been picking up a few books from various second hand book shops in Tewkesbury and Cardiff.
I’ve read only one work by Joseph Conrad (Heart of Darkness) and although I was often confused by the plot I loved his lyrical style of writing. I’m hoping Lord Jim is in a similar style. It is included in the Modern Library list of top 100 novels of the twentieth century as is The Secret Agent, both books are on my Classics Club list .
Elizabeth Gaskell is another author on my Classics Club list though not the book shown in this picture. Ruth is one of her social novels, dealing with the theme of Victorian attitudes to ‘fallen women’ and illegitimacy. If its half as good as my favourite Gaskell North and South, I’m in for a treat.
Andre Brink is a South African writer I’ve been intending to read for some years. An Instant in the Wind is his third novel and was shortlisted for the 1976 Booker Prize. Using the guise of an historical novel set in the eighteenth century, Brink shines a light on problems and contradictions of a South Africa based on apartheid. This is going to be a good companion read to Cry My Beloved Country by Alan Paton which I read earlier in the year and deals with similar issues.
And then we come to the chunkiest of my finds; Dominion by C. J Sansom. This is a departure from his Shardlake historical mystery series since it’s a political thriller set in the early 1950s where Britain has become a satellite state of Nazi Germany.
Wrapping up my little haul is The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai which won the Booker Prize in 2006. Her victory was greeted with raised eyebrows because Desai had been considered an outsider among the shortlisted authors that year. In India there was an even stronger reaction with protests in Kalimpong, a town in the Himalayas whose residents were annoyed at the way their ancestors were depicted in the novel. The Kalimpong residents thought Desai’s who’s narrative dealt with a 1980s rebellion of the town’s ethnic Nepalese, presented them as little better than thieves and menial fools. Balancing that view however I’ve also seen several reviewers comment that Desai is also mocking Indians who assume English mannerisms and American capitalists. Should be an interesting novel.
Any of you similarly found some bargains this week?