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Six degrees of separation, FROM Never let me go TO The paper house

November 5, 2016

I rather enjoyed playing Kate’s #6Degrees “meme” last month so, while I don’t expect to play every month, November’s starting book, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never let me go, was far too tempting to let go! Once again, read on to see why …

ishiguroneverletmegoI read Kazuo Ishiguro’s dystopian Never let me go before I started blogging, and have only reviewed one of his works since then. I’m thrilled, therefore, to have an opportunity to record that although I haven’t read all of his books, I have read most of them, because I enjoy his writing immensely. I particularly like his tone, which often comprises a sort of matter-of-fact, almost emotionless description of things which, we come to realise, are pretty unpleasant. And these things are usually told to us by narrators who, themselves, don’t recognise the truth of what they are seeing/describing (or certainly don’t recognise it fully). They are, in other words, often unreliable.

Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro, 2005 (Courtesy: Mariusz Kubik CC-BY-SA 3.0)

I rather like unreliable narrators, partly, I’m sure, because most of us aren’t wonderfully reliable at narrating our lives. We see our own stories from our own perspective and, if we ever see the fuller picture, it’s often in retrospect, don’t you think? So, for my next book I’m going to choose the only Ishiguro book I’ve reviewed here, Nocturnes: Five stories of music and nightfall (my review). This is a collection of short stories, some of them linked. In all of them, as I wrote in my post, “the narrator is either unreliable or in some other way not completely across what is going on. This is the Ishiguro stamp … as is the overall tone of things not being quite right, of potential not being quite achieved, of people still looking for an elusive something but not necessarily knowing quite what that is.”

Emma Ayres, CadenceNow, I could link to another book with an unreliable narrator, but that would get boring, so instead I’ll go with content. As the full title of Nocturnes suggests, the book features music and musicians in most of the stories, with the last story being titled “Cellists”. That reminded me of Emma Ayres’* memoir Cadence: Travels with music (my review) about her bicycle trip from England to Hong Kong. It’s a thoughtful, engaging book in which she reflects on her life as a musician, and her desire, violist that she was, to be a cellist! See the neat link!

Jamil Ahmad Wandering falcon coverOf course, as well as talking about her two main loves, cycling and music, she talks about the places she rides through. One that she fell in love with, despite all the warnings she’d received while planning her trip, was Pakistan, where she was treated with kindness and generosity almost without fail. Her experience of Pakistan brought to mind a book I read for the Man Asian Prize Shadow Jury in 2011, a book that I can’t forget, in fact, Jamil Ahmad’s Wandering falcon (my review). It is set in the decades before the rise of the Taliban and explores life in the multi-tribal region on the borders of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. It highlights what happens when political borders cross tribal lands. The writing evokes the unforgiving landscape and the often brutal justice beautifully. While I don’t remember the details now, its overall impression and theme have stayed with me.

Marion Halligan Valley of grace

For my next book, I’m not going to link by content or tone, but by author. You see, Jamil Ahmad was a late bloomer. He was born in 1933, but Wandering falcon, his first book, was not published until 2011 (though apparently he wrote the stories in the 1970s). I’ve written a post on late bloomers, so I’m going to choose one of those, but which one? Well, I reckon Marion Halligan, for three reasons: she lives in my city, I love her books, and she’s a stalwart supporter of the arts in the ACT. The last book of hers that I’ve read, though I have a couple on the TBR pile, was Valley of grace (my review). It’s set in Paris, where Halligan lived for several years. It’s a beautiful book and is, as I wrote in my post, Halligan’s “meditation on children – who they are, what they mean to us”.

Anna Spargo-Ryan, The paper-houseSo, where to from here? This journey from Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never let me go (which, interestingly, is about children/young adults) has not been plotted in advance. For my final book, I have a few options: I could stick with an author connection, or return to a content link, or launch into something new. Something new? Yes, why not? I’m thinking book designer, because Valley of grace is really beautiful to hold and to read. It was designed by Sandy Cull, an award-winning book designer who also designed a book I read very recently, Anna Spargo-Ryan’s The paper house (my review). Not only is this book’s cover gorgeous, but its interior design is important, particularly in the increasing use of white space later in the book to convey the main character’s heightening mental illness. (There is a content link with this book, too, as it turns out, because The paper house is about parents and children.)

And, there you have it … another fun, for me anyhow, Six Degrees of Separation Meme. I’m surprised, in a way, where I ended up, because Never let me go is a dystopian novel, and I do read such novels, but somehow I led myself off in another direction! I only have myself to blame.

Anyhow, if you’ve read Never let me go, what book would you choose to link from it?

* Since writing this book, Emma Ayres has transitioned to Eddie Ayres. I’ve used the female pronoun here because he wrote this book as a woman.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. November 5, 2016 10:02 am

    Clever and thoughtful links as always. I skipped the last one because I couldn’t come up with a link. Still thinking about this latest one. Initially I thought Japan but that would be boring.

    • November 5, 2016 11:21 am

      Yes, I started thinking Japan too, Karen … I don’t think it would necessarily be boring though. It would depend on what link you made don’t you think?

  2. November 5, 2016 10:07 am

    Interesting concept, six degrees of separation. I read your link regarding the Emma Ayres book. That sounds really fascinating as I love travel books about women riding bikes, walking, motorbiking in difficult countries. She reminds me a lot of Ann Mustoe, the retired English headmistress who bicycled and wrote several books about her journeys. She eventually died peddling through Iran. Very sad. Her first book was riding through Afghanistan and that was fascinating (before all the conflict) and again she wrote of how friendly the people were and the adventures she had. If you have not read Ann Mustoe’s books you might enjoy them. I will put the Ayres book on my library wishlist and also look up the Six Degrees of Separation. Sounds fun. I enjoyed the quote of asking your 90 year old self. I tend to operate through life based on my 8 year old self. This could be a change.

    • November 5, 2016 11:23 am

      Haha Pam, re 90 versus 8 year old selves. What change do you reckon it would make? Anyhow, I hadn’t heard of Ann Must so will definitely add her to my virtual TBR. It does sound like you’d enjoy Cadence if you liked her.

  3. Meg permalink
    November 5, 2016 10:23 am

    I like how you have linked up your books, not an easy task. I have read Never Let Me go and thought of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. However, my favourite unreliable narrator is Vladimir Nabokov.
    I think about a month ago there was an article on Emma Ayres’ transition to Eddie in the Australian magazine.

    • November 5, 2016 11:25 am

      Thanks Meg, and thanks for playing along again. The handmaid’s tale is a good one if you wanted to make the dystopian link which I nearly did but I was challenged about which dystopian direction to go to! Re Nabokov, are you thinking Lolita in particular? I haven’t read other work of his, though I should.

  4. Meg permalink
    November 5, 2016 12:09 pm

    I didn’t want to make a dystopian link, but I could only think of sad true stories where people died. Yes, Lolita, but Pale Fire is also excellent.

    • November 5, 2016 12:15 pm

      Haha, fair enough Meg. So, Pale fire. Must put that on the list then. I want to read his Speak, memory, non-fiction of course, which I do actually have.

  5. November 5, 2016 4:03 pm

    I loved your unreliable narrator link and your comments about Ishiguro – you summed up what I also love about his style beautifully.

    I was browsing the second hand bookshops on Glebe Point Rd this morning and had the Halligan book in my hand, and I agree, the cover was delicious.
    But a bio on Joan Lindsay and Claire Tiffany’s first novel (also with a lovely feeling cover) won out this time (I figured I could get most of Halligan’s through work, whereas I knew the other two were out of print.)

    • November 5, 2016 4:39 pm

      Thanks Brona. I’m always a little anxious when I go out on a limb and try to describe something esoteric like tone/style, so I’m happy when someone responds like this, because it means I’ve made sense (if that makes sense!).

      As for Halligan, I was going to say, oh no, but I accept your decision given your reasons!

  6. November 5, 2016 6:01 pm

    Thanks for joining in again this month!

    I agree, there’s something about Ishiguro’s style that is clinical and cool, but certainly not in a way that puts you off reading. I don’t read much dystopian so although I don’t have much to compare it with, I do rate Never Let Me Go as one of the scariest books I’ve read. I really did find the concepts chilling. I was expecting the movie to be equally as good but, perhaps because it doesn’t capture Ishiguro’s tone, the movie wasn’t quite up to par.

    I’ve been on a book-buying-ban this year but as soon as it’s over, I’m rushing out for The Paper House – have heard nothing but great things about this book.

    • November 5, 2016 7:07 pm

      It’s a good book Kate so do get it when you are off your ban! As for Ishiguro, yes it was chilling – it just didn’t quite have the “top” Ishiguro power for me. Funnily around the time the book came out there was a film on a similar subject, THE ISLAND, though the protagonists were adults.

  7. November 5, 2016 6:39 pm

    I have The Paper House on my shelf, waiting for me to read it. Like Brona, I loved your unreliable narrator link, and the idea that, in a sense, we are all unreliable narrators of our own lives, a very useful concept as I search for a way to write another person’s story where I won’t be able to verify all aspects of his life.

    • November 5, 2016 7:10 pm

      Thanks for commenting, Melinda. And am glad to contribute to your thinking about your writing challenges.

  8. November 6, 2016 6:23 am

    Your links are so intelligent and thought-out, Sue! I was stymied again this month, but I;m glad to see you’re in.

    • November 6, 2016 8:31 am

      Thanks Debbie … they were thought out on the fly, but I did have fun doing it.

      I wonder why your comment went into moderation…

  9. November 6, 2016 3:44 pm

    What a great group of links. I love that you ended with a new book–one I’ve been wondering about.

    • November 6, 2016 4:18 pm

      Thanks Martha … it seems that a few people have been intrigued by my last link, which is great. It’s always good to provide a little oomph to debut authors.

      • ian darling permalink
        November 7, 2016 9:00 pm

        I loved Never Let Me Go and the narrator’s tone really worked for me. The book is in a tradition of British dystopian narratives and so 1984 and Brave New World fit in and the unreliableness of narrators very much a feature of Julian Barnes booker prize winning The Sense Of An Ending.

        • November 7, 2016 10:20 pm

          Thanks Ian. I sometimes think I should read Never let me go again. I love Ishiguro, and I did enjoy it, but it didn’t completely work for me. I think it was something to do with the plot resolution but I can’t recollect now. It may just be a function of where I was at the time.

          I love your making two different links from it – that’s having a bet both ways!!

  10. November 8, 2016 6:05 am

    this was fun! You are getting very good at this game! I think my link to never let me Go would be something like My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult about a child conceived in the hopes of a blood marrow match with a very ill older sibling. I also considered Brave New World by Huxley.

    • November 8, 2016 7:56 am

      Oh yes, Stefanie. I’ve seen that film. That would have been a good link too. I haven’t seen anyone do that link. Brave new world is of course effective as well.

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