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Six degrees of separation, FROM How to be both TO …

April 6, 2019

I don’t think I’ve read one Six Degrees of Separation meme starting book yet this year! But that hasn’t stopped me giving it a go. Who said you have to read a book to write about it! Many a student has known that’s not necessary! (Never fear though, I always read the books I review on my blog. I’m not that brazen!) But now, before we get onto the post proper, I need to tell you to click on meme leader Kate’s blog name – booksaremyfavouriteandbest – if you don’t know the rules.

Ali Smith, How to be bothSo, this month’s starting book is Ali Smith’s How to be both, a book I’d love to read, particularly given I read and loved, long before blogging, her second novel, Hotel world. Smith is an inventive writer, and this book was shortlisted for and/or won several prizes, including, in 2015, the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction

Eimear McBride, A girl is a half-formed thingI have, over the years, read several of the winners of this Women’s Prize (under its various names), one of which being the 2014 winner, Eimear McBride’s moving, confronting, A girl is a half-formed thing (my review). It tells of a dysfunctional Irish family, comprising a mother, a daughter (the titular “girl”), and her brother whose mental capacity has been compromised due to surgery for brain cancer when he was young. Our girl is emotionally neglected as the mother struggles to care for her son’s needs.

Sarah Kanake, Sing Fox to meAnother novel exploring the impact on a sibling of living with a disabled brother is Sarah Kanake’s Sing fox to me (my review), though in this book the challenge is Down Syndrome and the brother is a twin. Kanake’s book is set in Tasmania, and with its forbidding – and mysterious – forest setting, it falls within a sub-genre we know here as Tasmanian Gothic.

Horace Walpole, The castle of OtrantoNow it just so happens that I’ve read, since blogging, the book generally regarded as the first Gothic novel, Horace Walpole’s The castle of Otranto (my review). It’s quite a story, about the lord of a castle who … well, I’m not going to spoil it here, am I?

Sonya Hartnett, Golden boysBut, we all love a castle don’t we – even scary Gothic ones. We don’t have many castles in Australia – not surprisingly, given our relatively short built-history – but Sonya Hartnett does use a castle motif in her novel Golden boys (my review). There’s no real castle in her suburban setting but one of the main characters starts to

see that the world is a castle, and that a child lives in just one room of it. It’s only as you grow up that you realise the castle is vast and has countless false floors and hidden doors and underground tunnels …

I liked that metaphor, particularly because it suggests that life can be pretty “gothic” at times!

Sofie Laguna, The chokeSonya Hartnett is an Australian author who has managed to successfully straddle writing for children and adults. Another Aussie who has done this is Sofie Laguna, and it’s to her most recent book for adults, The choke (my review), that I’m linking next. The choke refers, literally, to the Barmah choke in the Murray River – a place where the river narrows  and then pushes through, creating a paradoxical metaphor for both being squeezed and for pushing forward. It’s also, for protagonist Justine, a place of escape and tranquility.

Tony Birch, Ghost riverTony Birch’s Ghost river (my review) is a semi-autobiographical novel which, too, is set on a river – and a river which also has a physical presence as well as a spiritual and metaphorical one. This novel, though, has an additional environmental story about saving the river from a freeway development.

So, this month, I’m back to my usual gender division of four women and two men, and to my strong focus on Australia, with only two forays (excluding the starting book) to the United Kingdom. We’ve also spent almost all our time in the contemporary era, with a quick dip of our toes into Walpole’s 18th century. Not very varied I’m afraid, so

… over to you: Have you read How to be both? And, regardless, what would you link to? 

18 Comments leave one →
  1. Meg permalink
    April 6, 2019 2:04 pm

    Hi Sue, I have not read How to be Both, either, but I do enjoy doing six degrees. My links were The Time Traveller ‘s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell;.Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov; The Harmony Silk Factory by A W Tash;. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami and Happenstance by Carol Shields.

    • April 6, 2019 2:08 pm

      Always enjoy your playing along Meg, as you know. I’ve heard of all of these – except the Tash – but have only read the first two (Niffenegger and Mitchell.) I’ve read other books by Nabokov, Murakami and Shields but not those you name.

  2. April 6, 2019 5:30 pm

    I haven’t read How To Be Both – but I’d like to as I’ve enjoyed some of Ali Smith’s other books. I love your chains – always interesting books, that I haven’t read and Tasmanian Gothic sounds tempting.

    I see that Meg’s chain includes Happenstance – that’s in my chain too!

    • April 6, 2019 5:34 pm

      Haha, yes, I’ve just commented on your chain Margaret, before seeing that you’d commented here. I meant to make that comment re Happenstance. Strange that you both did that as I hadn’t even heard of that book, even though I have read a few by Carol Shields. How interesting it sounds.

      • April 6, 2019 5:36 pm

        It’s great we can communicate like this – across the continents at the same time!

        • April 6, 2019 5:43 pm

          It is isn’t it. But now, it’s time for me to go start cooking dinner. (And wah, our daylight savings ends tonight. I’m so sad!!)

  3. April 6, 2019 5:32 pm

    It’s funny, because in my mind I reckon I’ve read lots of the Women’s Prize winners… The reality, when I look down the list is that I haven’t at all! (Although I own a lot of them!).

    Love you Hartnett-Laguna link. I only read The Choke this year (still need to write a review…) but I loved it and was heartbroken by it in equal measure.

    • April 6, 2019 5:42 pm

      I’ve read a lot from its earlier times, Kate – ie I read 6 of the first 10, including all 5 from 2001 to 2005, but since then I admit that I’ve only read a couple. There are a couple I’ve always meant to read, including Fugitive pieces.

      I’m so glad you liked The choke. You can pick holes in the ending if you want to be 100% realistic, but I was happy to go with the flow because it is such a strong and well-written novel to my mind.

      It seems like you take a while to write your reviews? I panic if I haven’t written mine within a day or two of finishing them, because the freshness fades. However, sometimes a bit of a gap is good isn’t it, to let ideas settle a bit.

      • April 6, 2019 7:53 pm

        Yes, me too, I’ve read nearly all the early ones, but not so many of the recent winners.

        • April 6, 2019 10:26 pm

          Interesting Lisa. For me it’s moving from the Internet Bookgroups with whom I read quite a few of those early ones, to blogging (and then focusing more on review copies) that has made the difference.

  4. April 6, 2019 9:06 pm

    I like the castle and river connections. Both have a long history of being used as metaphors as you have pointed out with the works that you have highlighted.

    I laughed when I read what you wrote about students and not reading books.

  5. April 8, 2019 1:28 am

    Oh, I’ve been to Horace Walpole’s house … it’s open to the public on rare occasions … and it’s a complete confection … everything is three-quarters size and oh-so elaborate. I bought this book after visiting the house several years ago but am yet to read it.

    • April 8, 2019 8:12 am

      I really must get back to England one day kimbofo, to do more of the literary trail. I’ve really only done the biggies… Dove Cottage, past but not in Beatrix Potters place on the Lakes, Haworth, Anne Hathaway’s cottage… And of course Chawton. A few others too, but they are the main ones. Walpole’s sounds fascinating.

  6. April 8, 2019 2:04 am

    I do enjoy this challenge as it introduces me to lots of new books. The Choke sounds good, I like books with rivers in them.

  7. April 13, 2019 7:28 am

    Ive not read the Castle of Otranto – I’d planned to read it years ago but got put off the idea when I read The Mysteries of Udolpho which is in a similar style I think. Maybe Walpole is a better writer though than Ann Radcliffe??

    • April 13, 2019 8:49 am

      I think Otranto is probably better – though I haven’t read Udolpho, Otranto is much shorter as I recollect.

      For me, I don’t read some of these books expecting to enjoy them, if that makes sense. In fact I can be surprised to find I do enjoy them. I read some books because of a literary gap I want to fill, and because, I expect, filling that gap will help me enjoy or appreciate other works more. I don’t think we can judge these early Gothic novels by our modern standards… The world was so different, and the English novel was so relatively new.

      It’s the same with unfinished books. I don’t read them expecting to be satisfied so I don’t post about them from the point of view of whether they were great reads or not. I read them because I’m interested in what they can tell me about a loved author. I would never read an unfinished work by an author I don’t love.

      Does this make sense? I’m probably saying the obvious!

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