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Six degrees of separation, FROM Room TO The children’s Bach

April 1, 2017

I’m going to take you on a bit of a wild ride this month, bouncing from title to genre, from setting to risk-taking, and more, so hang onto your hats, because here we go …

Emma Donoghue, RoomExcept, oops, I do need to tell you what this is all about. It’s the Six Degrees of Separation monthly “meme” again, of course, and it’s currently hosted by Kate (booksaremyfavouriteandbest). Each month she nominates a book from which we create a chain of seven books, linking one from the other as the spirit moves. Yet, again, I haven’t read the starting book, Emma Donoghue’s Room. However, as usual that didn’t daunt me. At least I can promise to have read all the books I select for my chain.

Hilary Mantel, Wolf HallSo, my first link is on the title, and I’m choosing a title with a “room” in it, in this case a “hall” as in Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall (my review). It was, as I recollect, a somewhat controversial Booker Prize win because it was, shock! horror!, a so-called genre book. To confirm my memory of this I did a bit of a Google search and found this wonderful commentary from The Guardian at the time of its win:

She’s also, by the by, managed to sneak a ‘genre’ novel into the Booker winners’ notoriously literary paddock – and recalibrated the arena of historical fiction in the process. The accusation that this year’s shortlist was weighted too heavily towards the historical has dogged the debate surrounding it, but even those who found Wolf Hall mannered or boggy …  agreed that Mantel’s novel was a far more exciting proposition than the usual ladies-and-lances epics that the genre turns out.

Kate Grenville, The lieutenant book coverHaha, I’ve always called them “bodice-rippers”, but I love commentator Sarah Crown’s “ladies-and-lances”.

Anyhow, moving right along, it is genre – historical fiction about a real historical figure – that I’m using for my next link, Kate Grenville’s The lieutenant (my review). It’s the second book in Grenville’s Secret River early-contact trilogy and was inspired by astronomer Lieutenant William Dawes, who came to Australia on the First Fleet. He befriended a young indigenous girl and took interest in the local language, which he documented in his notebooks. A good read.

Kim Scott That Deadman DanceAs, it would be unjust to include a non-indigenous writer on first contact without also giving voice to an indigenous author, my next link is to Kim Scott’s Miles Franklin Award winning That deadman dance (my review). While Grenville’s book is set in the first years of the Sydney colony, Scott’s novel is about the establishment of the British colony in southwest Western Australia in the 1820s-1840s. It’s a significant and unforgettable book.

Tim Winton, BreathMy next link is to another Miles Franklin award-winning book, though that’s not the reason I’m linking it. The link is the setting, Western Australia, and the book is Tim Winton’s Breath (my brief review). I loved this book. I loved its evocation of surfing, which is something I have no desire to do but Winton helped me understand its thrall. I also loved its exploration of male risk-taking behaviour. Tim Winton knows his subject so well.

JM Coetzee, Diary of a bad yearAnd now, I’m going to draw a long bow, and move from a book about risk-taking to a book in which the author took big risks, JM Coetzee’s Diary of a bad year (my review). It’s a strange book to read, because it has three (two to begin with) concurrent strands running across the top, middle and bottom of the page, with each strand representing different voices. How do you read such a book? Coetzee is a writer who seeks new ways of confronting us with ideas that he thinks matter. Oh, and note that even though South-African born Coetzee now lives in Australia, he is this month’s non-Australian contribution, because I always like to have at least one.

Helen Garner, The children BachMy last link is perhaps even more spurious. Late in Diary of a bad year, Coetzee refers to his love of Bach. I suggested in my review that the book itself could be seen as pæan to Bach, because its three-part structure, in which each part counterpoints the others, could be seen as a textual representation of Bach’s polyphony. This brings me to Helen Garner’s novella The children’s Bach (my review). There are references to Bach’s music in the book. However, I’m linking again on the structural element because, even though Garner’s narrative is not so formally divided as Coetzee’s, she tells her story about Dexter and Athena and their family tightly, through multiple vignettes which also reflect Bach’s contrapuntal, polyphonic approach to music.

And so, here we are at the end – and somehow, although I’ve linked via various concepts and strayed a few centuries in time, we’ve returned in the end to a story about parents and children.

Have you read Room? And whether or not you have, what would you link to? 

27 Comments leave one →
  1. April 1, 2017 11:59 am

    Well done, Sue, you’ve got some of my favourite books there:)

  2. April 1, 2017 3:14 pm

    I read ‘The Children’s Bach’ many years ago, when the person on whom the character of Dexter is based was still alive. I knew both him and ‘Athena’, and their situation with a disabled child. They were friends of Helen Garner. The photo of Tennyson in their home is factual too. I remember I had trouble, when I read the book, in disentangling the people I knew from the characters Garner created – a problem that many people have no doubt had with fictionalised lives based on people they know. I believe that ‘Dexter’ and ‘Athena’ both liked the novella, but I think that ‘Dexter’s’ parents were not so sure about it, from my own recollection of that time.

    • April 1, 2017 5:46 pm

      Oh that’s fascinating Ros. I know Garner draws from life a lot in her fiction but I didn’t know this story. I’m glad that the two main protagonists didn’t mind.

  3. Meg permalink
    April 1, 2017 7:27 pm

    Hi Sue, I have read Room and saw the film. I went from Room to The Spare Room by Helen Garner (never thought of the Children’s Bach); then to Dying by Cory Taylor. Next Dye House, not a person dying but an industry. Then to House of Grief; back to dying but the unnecessary dying of children. I turned to Tim Winton’s novel Eerie, where people and the environement are dying. This all led me to Darwin’s book, On the Origin of Species. I find it amazing how we all change in different directions.

    • April 1, 2017 7:42 pm

      Oh I love your links Meg… It’s fascinating as you say how we all go. And yes, I know The dyehouse. Great book eh?

  4. April 1, 2017 8:49 pm

    Good links – I like the link to Wolf Hall, as just didn’t think of hall being a room! Of course it is! And the long bow link is genius!

    I loved Kate Grenville’s Secret River, so I really must read The lieutenant.

    My chain ended with a story about parents and children too and I also haven’t read Room – don’t think I ever will, it just doesn’t appeal to me.

    • April 1, 2017 10:12 pm

      Thanks Margaret. It’s good fun isn’t it? Interesting about our both ending up on similar subject matter.

  5. April 1, 2017 11:16 pm

    I wouldn’t have thought of the connection to another room but that was a clever link and to one of my favourite novels. I’m still deciding whether to do this months chain.

  6. April 2, 2017 2:46 pm

    Hi, it’s the first time I’ve ever contributed in this challenge, because I only discovered it last week. Now, as well as the fun of participation, it’s also great to stumble across so many fellow Aussie book bloggers. I love your list of Australian themed choices here. I can see this meme will be fun for months to come.
    My 6 Degrees of Separation post is here

  7. April 2, 2017 4:40 pm

    I love that you made your chain into a circle 🙂

    To my great shame, I haven’t read anything by Kate Grenville. I don’t know why because I’m quite certain I’d love her stories (I did watch the ABC series The River a few years ago – it was spectacular). However, I have read Breath and loved it.

    • April 2, 2017 11:22 pm

      I could be snooty and say why not but then I’d expose myself to your finding my gaps, so I’ll just say you should try her one day.

    • NeilAtKallaroo permalink
      April 3, 2017 4:31 pm

      My wife is a quilter, and we both enjoyed “The idea that perfection” by Grenville. I love how it is laced with larconic humour. My wife has read some of her other novels, and says they are more serious.

      • NeilAtKallaroo permalink
        April 3, 2017 6:53 pm

        Whoops.”The idea of perfection”.

        • April 3, 2017 8:40 pm

          Most of us knew what you meant I’m sure. It’s irritating that you can’t correct your own comment isn’t it?

      • April 3, 2017 8:39 pm

        Oh yes, Neil. The idea of perfection is one of my favourites of hers, too. It has its seriousness but it’s couched in humour, that’s true.

  8. April 2, 2017 4:52 pm

    Great chain Sue, I also loved your first link (room to hall). Also intrigued to read the comment above about Garner’s fictionalisation of the characters in The People’s Bach above… I think she cops a bit of flak from people who don’t like that she draws so heavily on real people and events.

    • April 2, 2017 11:24 pm

      Thanks Jenny, and yes, she certainly has in the past, at least as far as I know. Totally unreasonable to my mind.

  9. April 6, 2017 6:15 am

    From a woman being kidnapped and held prisoner in a room to Bach. What an interesting connecting path!

    • April 6, 2017 9:17 am

      Thanks Stefanie… It’s fun to do as always. Am on the road again so blogging is minimal

  10. NeilAtKalleroo permalink
    April 6, 2017 2:58 pm

    From Room, I went to Room with a View, by EM Forster. This is set in Florence, which makes me think of great artists and sculptors, such as Michelangelo, hence The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone (which I read a long time ago in the Reader’s Digest condensed version). A title like that suggests The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene, which I have not read (but I have read half way through Travels with My Aunt, thanks for the tip, Gums). This story is about an agonising priest. For a different approach to power and glory, I skip to Hover Car Racer by Matthew Reilly.This I have read, and enjoyed. Features a futuristic form of transport. Another form of futuristic transport appears in Sean McMullen’s wonderful Greatwinter series (Souls in the Great Machine, The Miocene Arrow, Eyes of the Calculor). There is no oil, so trains are driven by wind turbines. If there is no wind, the passengers pedal. Crossing the Nullarbor would take a while, though in the recent Indian to Pacific bicycle race, some riders got from Perth to Adelaide in six days (which is most impressive, given that it always took me four to drive). Which leads to Geoffrey Dutton’s In Search of Edward John Eyre, Eyre and Wylie crossed the desert (Eyre being the first white man to do so), trekking from Adelaide to Albany in 1840-41. Lots of Australian authors in that lot! I haven’t gone in a circle this time. Instead I’ve gone from a very small space to a very large one, just for variety.

    Went to my first book club meeting a few weeks ago. We discussed Lion: A Long Way Home. To my surprise we managed to stay on topic for an hour. Our next book is Silence, by Shūsaku Endō. Hm.

    Tell Mr Gums I haven’t forgotten our Skype. Had another short stint in hospital, but I now seem to be recovering well, so should have the energy for a chat soon.

    And a big thank you to Mr Google, who made compiling this so much easier.

    • April 6, 2017 8:17 pm

      First, Neil, Mr Gums is relieved to hear you haven’t forgotten your Skype, and looks forward to hearing when you are ready. Glad you are recovering now.

      I love your links – and love that you went from very small to very big. How neat is that.

      And thanks for sharing about your bookgroup. We always spend 45 mins to an hour on the book, and occasionally a bit longer but an hour is usually it. We are very strict. Arrival at 8pm (or thereabouts) and then the discussion starts at 8.30pm. Around 9.15pm to 9.30pm, but usually the latter, depending on how the discussion is going the host starts making the tea/coffee.

      From Lion to Silence! Good for your group. We try to vary a lot too.

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