The starting point for this month’s Six Degrees of Separation chain seems a fittingly dark piece of fiction for the onset of Autumn.
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson is a short story set in a small town where a win in the annual lottery will not turn you into a millionaire. Any citizen selected for the this lottery will find a nasty fate awaits them. I’ve not read it but have found you can get it free online in a few places including here at the New Yorker magazine or at FullReads
An obvious link would have been to the only Shirley Jackson novel I’ve read to date: ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ . But I think instead I’ll choose a book where the idea of fate and chance play a key role.
The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett
This is a cleverly constructed novel that explores the consequences of decisions not taken and opportunities not grasped. She takes two characters and constructs three versions of their lives. Each version isn’t necessarily better than the others; the point is that there are several different (often rocky) paths to achieve happiness.
Gifts by Laura Barnett
Laura Barnett seems to enjoy writing fiction which requires close attention to detail, and showing how the different threads of the narrative complement each other. Her new novel due to be published by Orion in the UK on 11 November is a collection of linked short stories set at Christmas in a fictional Kent market town. The book brings together 12 people who are struggling to find the right gifts for their friends, teenage daughters and grandmothers.
The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald
One of the characters in Gifts is Maddy, a woman who runs the the town’s bookshop. I hope she enjoys more success than Florence Green, the bookshop owner in Penelope Fitzgerald’s novella. Florence is a widow with a small inheritance who risks everything to open a bookshop in a seaside town of Hardborough. She has no idea that her plan will cause hostility amongst the shopkeepers and townspeople who have their own ideas of how the property known as Old House should be used.
Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively
I get into a terrible muddle with author names, forever mixing up Penelope Fitzgerald and Penelope Lively. Both are winners of the Booker Prize but whereas I struggled to engage with Fitzgerald’s winning title Offshore, I adored Lively’s winning book, Moon Tiger.
Lively’s novel focuses on a woman who, in the last few days of her life, recalls her love affair with Tom, a British tank commander she mets and fell in love with in Egypt while she was reporting on Rommel’s desert campaign. There’s no real tiger in this book by the way — the book title actually describes a coil that burns to repel insects. It’s wonderfully described by Lively:
She lies awake in the small hours. On the bedside table is a Moon Tiger. The Moon Tiger is a green coil that slowly burns all night, repelling mosquitoes, dropping away into lengths of grey ash, its glowing red eye a companion of the hot insect-rasping darkness. She lies there thinking of nothing, simply being, her whole body content. Another inch of the Moon Tiger feathers down into the saucer.
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
Surprise, surprise — there are no tigers in Adiga’s book. His ‘tiger’ is Balram Halwai, son of a rickshaw wallah, who wants to pull himself up from poverty. He leaves his family in the poorest and most deprived part of India and moves to Dehli where he gets a job as a driver to a wealthy couple. But he gets drawn into their world in ways that he never imagined. Through Balram we see two sides of India — the one of gleaming malls and the other of slums — and how the rich and powerful thrive by bribing officials and rigging elections.
A Burning by Megha Majumdar
Poverty, corruption and injustice lie at the heart of A Burning , a breathtakingly brilliant novel about a young Muslim woman who is accused of a terrorist attack in Kolkata. She did nothing wrong, just happening to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But the country and its government want action so she ends up in jail.
Her fate may lie with two people; her former PE teacher and a young hijra (a long-established class of intersex and transgender people in India) to whom she has been giving English lessons. But only if they are willing to put their own aspirations to one side and speak up on her behalf.
And that’s my chain completed for October My links touched on fate and connections, bookshops and tigers that are not tigers. Links take you to my reviews or, if I’ve not written them yet, to their Goodreads listing.
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.