Six degrees of separation, FROM Less than zero TO …

Last month I changed my Six Degrees titling practice to not including the end book. Most commenters preferred that approach, so I’m sticking with it for the moment, with apologies to those who demurred! And now, before I get stuck into this month’s choices, the formalities. Six Degrees of Separation is a meme currently run by Kate (booksaremyfavouriteandbest). For information about how the meme works, please click the link on her blog-name. It’s a fun meme.

Bret Easton Ellis, Less than zeroThis month’s book, as often happens, is one I haven’t read, Bret Easton Ellis’s Less than zero. It’s set in 1980s Los Angeles, and the GoodReads summary calls it “a raw, powerful portrait of a lost generation who have experienced sex, drugs, and disaffection at too early an age, in a world shaped by casual nihilism, passivity, and too much money– a place devoid of feeling or hope.”  Plenty there for connections, but that’s not the way I’m going to go. However, before we set off, I’ll reiterate that, as always, I’ve read all the books in my chain, though some before I started this blog.

Jessica Anderson, One of the wattle birdsSo, the obvious link for this book would be to go with a title with a number in it – and that’s what I’ve decided to do, except I decided to challenge myself further and find six books I’ve read that have numbers in the title, starting with one, then two and on through to six. And I did it. First cab off the rank is Jessica Anderson’s ONE of the wattle birds (my review). Anderson was a well-regarded Australian author whose best-known book is the Miles Franklin Award winning Tirra Lirra by the river. One of the wattle birds was her last novel.

Irma Gold's Two steps forward BookcoverFor two, I have Irma Gold’s short story collection TWO steps forward (my review). I loved the title of this because it suggests that phrase “two steps forward, one step back” which is pretty much how life often goes, isn’t it? The thing about short story collections is that it’s often hard to remember the stories years down the track, but in this collection there’s one in particular that has always stuck in my mind, “Refuge” about an empathetic woman working in a refugee detention centre. She cares deeply for the detainees but she’s powerless to change anything. It’s a story that’s still (if not more) relevant today – but then all the stories are, because they are about ordinary people and the things that happen to them, such as divorce, terminal illness, miscarriage, homelessness.

Elliott Perlman, Three dollarsThe next book is also still relevant today, though it’s nearly twenty years old. It’s one, though, that I haven’t forgotten. I’m talking THREE dollars by Elliott Perlman, which has also been adapted to film. It’s an excruciating book about when bad things happen to good people, about what happens when you stand up for what you think is right. You can end up with nothing but three dollars, that’s what. Elliott Perlman is not a prolific writer, but when he writes it’s usually powerful.

Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason, The rule of fourNow, number four is the odd one of the group because although I’ve read it – my reading database says so – my memories of it are vague. I read it when I was actively involved in a few online bookgroups. The book is The rule of FOUR by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason. You know how GoodReads displays the ratings/reviews by your “friends” at the top of the list of reviews for a book? Well, for this book they were all from some of my internet bookgroup pals. Their ratings are 4, 2, 2, 1 and 1. This probably tells you why I don’t remember much about it.

Kazuo Ishiguro, NocturnesIt’s a different story for number five, however. The book is Nocturnes: FIVE stories about music and nightfall (my review) by this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature winner, Kazuo Ishiguro. I’m a big Ishiguro fan, having read all but two of his books, and I enjoyed this collection. It’s identifiably Ishiguro, not only because it deals with subjects he likes, such as music, but also for the style. The stories all have narrators who are either unreliable or in some other way not completely across what is going on, and they have an 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.”

Tegan Bennett Daylight, Six bedroomsAnd so we come to the end, and it is, surprisingly, another short story collection, Tegan Bennett Daylight’s Stella Prize shortlisted SIX bedrooms (my review). However, unlike Nocturnes, the “six” doesn’t relate to the number of stories in the book, but to the title story about a six-bedroom share house.

And I’ll leave it there. This has been an odd one to write up. I’m not sure that I like the way I decided to go. It was fun searching for books to meet my sequential numbers challenge, but it’s more fun looking for ideas to link on. Back to normal next month!

Meanwhile, have you read Less than zero? And whether or not you have, what would you link to? 

35 thoughts on “Six degrees of separation, FROM Less than zero TO …

  1. Hi Sue, Perfect selection – you followed my logic! haha So I had to change it. I went from Less than Zero to dare I say it a Dan Brown novel Deception Point, onto the Turning by Tim Winton; then Diary of a Bad Year by J M Coetzee; next is Such is Life by Joseph Furphy;, and naturally followed by The True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey; and finishing with a memoir, Being a Chum was Fun by Nancy Lee.

  2. An enjoyable post, WG – watching you wriggle through the numbers. Of all the books included, I’ve only read Perlman’s but I’m eager to put in another word for him. To accord with your number theme, I’ve read three of his novels (and I believe there are only three, correct me if I’m wrong) but I think he’s one of Australia’s most interesting writers and much overlooked and underrated. Seven Types of Ambiguity I think a better book than The Slap, which it’s often compared to, and I liked the television adaption more too.

    • Yes, Sara, I believe it’s only three books that he’s written too. I wonder if he’s working on another. It’s always interesting to hear another writer’s perspective on writers, but I agree that he’s a great writer. Probably overlooked partly because we don’t see much of him? Anyhow, I was pleased to have the opportunity to include this book here.

      I hadn’t thought of Seven types in terms of The slap, but it’s so long since I’ve read it that it would be hard for me to comment. (And, unfortunately I missed the miniseries.) I certainly remember being impressed, but I do like The Slap too. They just seem, from my vague memory, to be pretty different, besides the fact that they are about children, couples, families, and are told from multiple points of view. I seem to remember that Seven Types was a little more “interior”?

      • My memory is a little vague too, but I seem to recall thinking that the Simon character, who was the pivot of the narrative, was such a sympathetic outsider, someone on the order of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, and Perlman’s creation of him highlighted so many of the nuances at work in our society. Tsiolkas is a good writer, too, but to me The Slap didn’t reach the height of complexity and significance that Perlman’s book did. It was a good read, offered a good cross section of Melbourne society and focused on the changing attitudes to the treatment of children but kind of stopped there. Whereas Seven Types of Ambiguity dug deeper. IMHO.

        • Thanks Sara. Yes that makes sense. The thing about The slap is that I don’t think it was primarily about children at all, but about the level of violence and aggression in our society for which that opening slap provided a springboard. And that’s what made it particularly significant for me, because I hate the aggression (from casual name-calling right on up to vicious physical attacks) – the lack of kindness – that I see around me.

    • Have you read any Anderson Bill? If not I think you should definitely try her first. (But not her historical novel The commandant! A great book, but I know you don’t like historical novels!)

  3. I really liked the numbers link in your chain. I haven’t read Less than Zero – and have no desire to read it. The only book in your chain I’ve read is Nocturnes – I’m not a great fan of short stories but these are better than most, and they are full of longing and regret, something which I think Ishiguro does well.

    My chain is very different and goes through time and space including crime fiction, historical and fantasy fiction too, with books by Agatha Christie, Robert Graves, G R R Martin, Sharon Penman, Ken Follett and Philip Pullman.

    • Thanks Margaret. I’m glad you liked Nocturnes. I think you’ve probably read the wrong short story collections if you don’t usually like them! Ishiguro is great, but there are wonderful short story writers around (including another Nobel Prize Winner Alice Munro who specialised in short stories. Have you tried her?!)

      Anyhow, I’m intrigued about your chain and will come visit.

  4. I’m in awe of your linking strategy particularly since I’m struggling with this months chain. Not feeling very inspired.. interesting to see your comment on short stories and how they are difficult to remember years later. I struggle with short story collections generally finding them rather unsatisfying fare. I’m just getting into the characters and setting etc when the story comes to an end ….

    • Haha, Karen. It was cheeky of me to do, but I suppose it saved me other linking problems.

      I don’t find short story collections at all unsatisfying. So many short stories are delicious little gems and can really pack a punch. However, when you read a lot, it is hard to remember individual ones (though a few always stand out). There are some I’ve never forgotten. What you say is, I do understand, why a lot of people don’t like short stories – they want to get lost in a world. But for me there are different pleasures to be got from different sorts of reading.

  5. You win, Sue! A brilliant chain and I love the numbers approach.
    I haven’t read Three Dollars but it’s in my TBR stack somewhere – your comment (ad Lisa’s) makes me think I should move it up the pile.
    As for Six Bedrooms, I loved it – there was one story in particular that I still think about (the only one written from a male perspective) – it said so much about domestic violence and why we have an ongoing problem.

  6. I love this journey (and not knowing the end from the post title)! I did read Bret Easton Ellis’ book back then and would have probably been unable to avoid linking to stories about excess, with drugs/alcohol in particular. But your post is much happer!

  7. I am clapping my hands in glee over your cleverness with this one! I don’t think I could come up with books like you did that I have also read. I have read Less Than Zero way back in the 80s. I was a teen and the book was hip and edgy and I wanted to be one of the cool kids. I don;t remember much about it other than I wasn’t that impressed by it.

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