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6 Degrees From Normal People To Turn Of The Screw

We start this month’s Six Degrees Of Separation with Normal People by Sally Rooney, a novel it’s been impossible to ignore since the BBC adaption went live a few weeks ago.  

I’ve not read it but do have a copy of the book, having had it thrust into my hands by a very enthusiastic niece. Will I read it? Probably at some point though when a novel has garnered as much attention as this one has, I tend to lose interest.

It’s about a complex relationship that begins when Marianne and Connell are at school together. Their lives weave in and out of each other as students at Trinity College, Dublin.

On-off relationship. University students. Sound familiar? It should do because this is the territory of another best selling book (and another successful film): One Day by David Nicholls.

The novel visits the lives and relationship of two people who get together as new graduates at Edinburgh University. The narrative spans a couple of decades with each chapter focusing on their situation on a single date: 15 July (St Swithin’s Day). While their friendship endures, coincidences and misunderstandings keep conspiring to prevent it flourishing into something more.

One Day reminded me of another artfully constructed novel about missed opportunities and the choices we make in life. The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett imagines three versions of one woman’s life, starting from an episode on a day when she is cycling to a university lecture. Each version stems from a decision she makes on that day and asks ‘what if this had happened instead, what if she hadn’t missed that opportunity?“.

Opportunities of course are not the only things in life that go missing.

In Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey it’s not things, but people who have gone missing. Ninety-year-old Maud had a sister called Sukey who disappeared without trace seventy years earlier. Now Maud’s long-term friend Elizabeth seems to have gone missing. No-one believes her but Maid is convinced something is wrong and she will not rest until she finds an answer.

A missing girl leads me to Kate Hamer’s debut novel, The Girl in the Red Coat , in which a young girl wanders away from her mother during a story-telling festival, and is abducted by a religious extremist. This is a dark psychological novel that cleverly alludes to the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale.

Every time I see the title of that book I think of the film Don’t Look Now, a thriller based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier in a 1971 collection of the same title. The story depicts a married couple who visit Venice in the wake of the accidental death of their daughter. Traumatised by grief, the husband begins to experience mysterious sightings, including the figure of a small child wearing a red coat similar to the one his daughter was wearing when she died.

It’s a story that follows some of the conventions of the Gothic ghost story as does my final choice in this chain, which also happens to be a short story.

The Turn of The Screw by Henry James was originally viewed as simply a spooky story about the experience of a young governess and children in her care who are tormented by two ghosts at an isolated country manor house. Later interpretations suggest that the ghosts are hallucinations, the products of a delusional mind.

So that’s my #6Degrees; moving from a novel of love to a dark about a disturbed mind. From Normal People to maybe An Abnormal Person?? It wasn’t the chain I originally planned but as I was writing it, entirely different connections came to mind. Not sure what that says about the condition of my own imagination!

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.

6 Degrees From The Road to The Arctic

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.

Snapshot December 2016

I can’t believe I let December 1, 2016 come and go without marking it with a snapshot of  what I’m reading, thinking about reading, buying. It got to almost half way through the month before I even realised I had forgotten. So let me do a quick re-wind…..

Reading

After the dreary experience of  Little Women I needed a complete change of pace and subject.  Waking Lions by  the Israeli author Ayelet Gundar-Goshen was certainly far removed from the domestic world of Alcott – this is a novel set in Israel in which a doctor accidentally kills a man in a hit and run accident – and is then blackmailed for his actions. It had a lot of promise early on but got bogged down too much in detail.

rich-in-asiaCome December 1, my attention had turned back to the Booker prize project. I picked up The Conservationist by Nadime Gordiver about which I had heard good things. The fact that it’s set in South Africa was another plus point. Maybe I wasn’t in the mood but it didn’t do much for me – I found the untagged dialogue confusing and I’m not really sure where the book is going. So I put it to one side and picked up How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid instead. It was just the change I needed with its bold, humorous narrator who speaks directly to his main character and mocks the culture of self help books. Quite delicious.

Buying

As you’d expect at this time of the year, I’ve been very active with the book purchases. I try to get everyone in the family a book of some description – this year my mum is getting Our Souls at Night By Kent Haruf and Brooklyn by Colm Toibin; my husband is going to be opening a veritable mini library which includes Keeping On Keeping On, the latest collection of memoirs  by Alan Bennett. This is certain to be a hit because it’s a follow on from Writing Home and Untold Stories, both of which had him laughing out loud at times. My dad is getting the Little Hummingbird Cafe cookery book – though he has hundreds of cake recipes in his repertoire having been a professional baker for 40 years he still likes to see what other people create and to have a go himself.

Of course, having to go shopping on line for other people does mean I get tempted myself. It doesn’t help that so many ‘best of’ lists come out around now. I tried to be judicious knowing that I will be unwrapping some book gifts on Dec 25 and the fact my TBR has just jumped over 200. But I still succumbed to Kindle versions of The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney, Tender is the Night by F. Scott. Fitzgerald (hope I like it more than Great Gatsby) and A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale (I didn’t care for his most recent novel A Place Called Winter but still think he deserves another go).

Watching

I feel rather adrift at the moment. No more episodes of The Crown which was a stupendous series on Netflix. No more riveting episodes of The Missing. No more Great British Bake Off.  I’ve been trying to like the BBC new series Rillington about the mass murderer Reginald Christie but its not a patch on the film 10 Rillington Place with Richard Attenborough. Fortunately we have Wolf Hall (the adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s award winning novels about Thomas Cromwell) to keep our spirits alive….

Book collection update

tbr-final-dareMy 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.

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