We start this month’s Six Degrees Of Separation with a novel that’s a cult classic.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy is a disturbingly dark post-apocalyptic novel in which a father and son walk alone through a landscape ravaged by a catastrophe. It’s a novel I read but didn’t enjoy at all – I found it repetitive and jerky.
The unnamed duo were heading south on their journey but for my first link I’m heading in the opposite direction.
Richard Flanagan won the Booker Prize in 2014 with The Narrow Road To The Deep North. It’s one of my absolute favourite Booker winners
The “road’ in the title is actually a railroad – the infamous Thailand-Burma Death Railway of World War 2. The novel shows how the lives of the prisoners forced to work on the railroad and the Japanese soldiers who guard them, are impacted long after the end of the war. In the novel Flanagan asks questions about reconciliation and atonement.
The experience of Japanese prisoners of war feature prominently in a Town Like Alice by Neville Shute. He was inspired to write the novel after meeting a woman who was part of a group of women and children captured by Japanese forces. In Shute’s version, the group is forced to march from camp to camp for two and a half years.
After the war, Shute’s protagonist travels to Australia to track down a soldier who had stolen food and medicines for the women on their march. Eventually she finds him in the Queensland outback.
An author very familiar with Australia’s isolated bush regions was Miles Franklin. It’s the setting for her first novel, My Brilliant Career, a coming of age tale of a headstrong girl in whom ambition blazes. Franklin gives her heroine Sybylla Melvyna belief that she is destined for a life more fulfilling than rearing cattle and sheep or being “shackled” in marriage.
Sybylla reminds me so much of the eponymous character in My Ántonia by Willa Cather. That too is set in a wild landscape (Nebraska) among farmers and settlers who battle against nature to make a living. Appropriately for this month’s chain, it opens with a train journey during which two passengers reminisce about Antonia – a spirited girl they once knew. Cather’s novel celebrates the beauty of the Nebraskan plains yet it doesn’t sentimentalise the harshness of the climate.
There is no hint of sentimentality either in my fifth novel, A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale. Set in the remote plains of Saskatchewan, Canada, Gale shows his central character, Harry Cane, arrive as a homesteader with barely an idea of what to expect. He’s never farmed, never done any manual work and in his first winter, has no shelter except a tent in which to ride out sub zero temperatures.
Harry is an exile, escaping from a comfortable life in England to avoid discovery of a homosexual relationship that would, if made public, have ruined him.
Let’s continue with this idea of travel as a form of escape and pick a novel in which the character goes even further north to evade capture.
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan sees a young slave boy travel take flight from a cotton plantation in 19th-century Barbados, ending up in the Arctic circle. He does travel by road and rail occasionally but the most remarkable journey in the novel is the one he takes by hot air balloon. As a plot device that takes some beating!
So that’s my #6Degrees; moving from a dystopian novel to stories set in harsh landscapes and ending with a journey to the end of the earth. We’ve travelled by foot, train and balloon (doesn’t quite have the same ring as planes, trains and automobiles but I tried my best)…
Next month we start with a book that it seems impossible to escape right now – Normal People by Sally Rooney.
Six Degrees of Separation is a meme hosted by Kate over at Books Are My Favourite and Best. It works like this: each month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six others to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the titles on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.
My performance with challenges has proved less than stellar over the years but I’m doing much better with the TBR Triple Dog Dare sponsored by James at James Reads Books. The Dare asks participants to read only books that they already have during January, February and March. With only a couple of more weeks to go I’m feeling rather elated about how well I stuck to this plan. The magic key to why this one works and all other TBR challenges I’ve tried have not, is that I can still buy as many books as I want. I just can’t read them yet.
Of the 12 books I’ve read so far this year only two were not already on my TBR. That isn’t bad going for one who usually has the staying power of a mayfly. And there were good reasons for both misdemeanours.
The first slip from the straight and narrow path came in the form of A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale which was the book club read at the start of the year. I wish I could say that my stray from the path was worth it but this was a lacklustre read. You can see why in my review.
Happily my most recent lapse was all in a good cause. I requested My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout from the library last year. Finally it came through last week and I’m the first borrower. Ideally I would have liked to hold onto it until the end of the dare on March 31 but there are now so many people waiting for it that the library service is blocking any renewal options. So I had to read it. But it was absolutely no hardship. The book is a joy to read and of you havent got to it yet, dont hang around too long.
But it’s read and returned and I am back on track with the dare, reading Brooklyn by Colm Toibin as part of Reading Ireland Month. Another beautifully constructed novel which, after a similarly rewarding experience with Nora Webster, is making me want to read more of Toibin’s work. Anyone care to make a recommendation on which of his books to read next?
Emboldened by my success to date I might stretch it for another month.