Well, it’s a tricky night here in Canberra, with a nasty bushfire on my side of town. It’s probably far enough away to not put us at serious risk, but a serious fire just two-thirds into spring is a worry. For now, though, I shall put those thoughts aside and turn to Six Degrees. As most of you know, Six Degrees of Separation is a meme that is currently hosted by Kate (booksaremyfavouriteandbest). Click on the link on her blog-name to see her explanation of how it works.
Now, mea culpa – or something like that – I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t, though I should have, read this month’s starting book, William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity fair. It was one of the books set during my study years, but I chose other books at the time and for some reason have never got back to it, though I have a copy on my TBR. I have though seen it. Does that count? Probably not … but it’s the best I can do.
However, I have read Thackeray, and in fact, since blogging, because his The luck of Barry Lyndon (my review) was scheduled as my reading group’s classic a couple of years ago. I must say that it wasn’t my favourite English classic, but I will get to Vanity fair one day.
The reason I didn’t much like it was that it seemed to go on and on and on, which is not something that usually bothers me, but there was nothing special about the writing I think to overcome my lack of interest in all the adventures. It’s a picaresque novel, which is a style or form I can enjoy, such as Saul Bellow’s wonderful The adventures of Augie March. Here, however, I’m choosing an Australian novel with picaresque elements, Eve Langley’s The pea pickers (my review). Set primarily in 1920s Gippsland, it’s a book that has stayed with me long after reading it – because of its fresh, evocative writing and voice.
Now, in The pea-pickers, the two protagonists, sisters, dress as men, partly to travel safely but mainly, as I recollect, to be considered for farm labouring jobs like, say, pea-picking. Cross-dressing was a common way for women to make their way in the patriarchal worlds of the past. Another book in which a character cross-dresses is Frank Moorhouse’s Cold light (my review), except that in this book the cross-dressing is for a very different reason. It’s practised by the main character Edith’s bisexual husband.
I’m not a big reader of series, even of trilogies, but I have read two books in Moorhouse’s Edith trilogy, though only one since blogging. I’ve partly read another trilogy on this blog: Indian writer Amitav Ghosh’s River of smoke (my review), which is the second in his Ibis Trilogy. It’s set primarily in China around the 1830s. I read it in 2012 for the Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize team.
Another book by an Indian writer that I read for the Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize team was Jahnavi Barua, Rebirth (my review). It’s about a woman in an arranged marriage and her journey to self. It takes the form of a first person monologue by a mother to her unborn child. The child is waiting to be born, but we sense that for the mother, Kaberi, a rebirth might be in the offing. It’s a quiet contemplative book with, as I recollect, slow dawnings rather than dramatic changes.
A more dramatic and much longer book in which the protagonist finally seems to be reaching for a rebirth – for redemption and a new start – is Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and punishment (my review.)
A rather different chain for me this month. We started in 1840s Europe and ended in 1860s Russia. We spent most of our time in the nineteenth and early twentieth century in fact. We also spent time with four male writers, and just two female, a change from my usual ratio. And, this post contains more classics and more non-Australian books than usual, which may mean more of you have read books in my chain than usual.
And now, over to you: Have you read Vanity fair? And, regardless, what would you link to?