Six degrees of separation, FROM Room TO The children’s Bach
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 …
Except, 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.
So, 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.
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.
As, 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.
My 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.
And 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.
My 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?