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Six degrees of separation, FROM A gentleman in Moscow TO …

September 7, 2019

It is the first Saturday of the month again, which means it’s time to do the Six Degrees of Separation meme. If you are new to blogging and don’t know what that is, please check our host Kate’s blog – booksaremyfavouriteandbest.

Cover for Amor Towles A gentleman in MoscowThe main point is, though, that Kate sets our starting book, and this month’s is – hallelujah, again – a book I’ve read and reviewed, Amor Towles’ A gentleman in Moscow.

Book coverNow, A gentleman in Moscow is set, almost completely, in Moscow’s famous Hotel Metropol. How many people live in hotels? I sense that it was more common in the past than it is now, but maybe I’m naive? Anyhow, the book I’m reading now (so no review yet) is Dominic Smith’s The electric hotel. My first link, however, is not to this fictional Electric Hotel, as you might have expected, but to the real Knickerbocker Hotel in Los Angeles, in which the main character, the now elderly Claude Ballard, is living at the start of the novel.

Book coverClaude Ballard, our gentleman in Los Angeles, is a film director, albeit a fictional one from the silent era, but it just so happens that my last read was the memoir of a contemporary Australian film director, Jocelyn Moorhouse, so it’s to her book, Unconditional love: A memoir of filmmaking and motherhood (my review) that I’m linking next.

Book coverJocelyn Moorhouse’s husband, PJ Hogan, is also a film director, and two of his most famous films are Muriel’s wedding and My best friend’s wedding. A now classic novel, but one I only read recently, starts with a wedding, Mary McCarthy’s The group (my review), so that’s my next link.

Carmel Bird, Family skeletonThe group, as I’ve said, starts with a wedding, but it ends, logically I suppose, with a funeral. A book that starts with a funeral – and this has its own logic – is Carmel Bird’s Family skeleton (my review).

Book coverBut, enough of weddings and funerals. My next link is on something simple – the author’s name. Later this month I will be heading to Japan (my fourth visit). An early western visitor to Japan was the intrepid Englishwoman Isabella Bird whose 1879 travel book, Unbeaten tracks in Japan I’ve quoted from (although I haven’t yet finished it.)

Book coverI like reading Japanese literature, though I haven’t read a lot since blogging. However, I did recently read a contemporary novel, Sayaka Murata’s Convenience store woman (my review), which explores some of the challenges faced by people who dare to be – or, simply are – different, in modern Japan.

Hmm, this chain is more hodge-podge that mine usually are. For a start, it includes two books I have started but not yet finished. Also, we have traversed the world far more energetically than we often do, starting in Moscow, then going to Los Angeles, and then Australia. We then popped back to the USA, this time the east coast, before returning to Australia, and then ending up in Japan. Oh, and we started in a grand hotel and ended in a convenience store. I’ll leave you to ponder what that means!

And now, my usual questions: Have you read A gentleman in Moscow? And, regardless, what would you link to? 

26 Comments leave one →
  1. September 7, 2019 10:10

    Goodness Sue! I was so close to linking from Gentleman to Electric myself! How uncanny, although maybe not when you consider the link being that the main characters of each live in a hotel, but still! Same wavelength. But I took a different direction in the end:

  2. Meg permalink
    September 7, 2019 11:22

    Hi Sue, I found it difficult to get out of Russia. My links stayed with some of the books mentioned in A Gentleman in Moscow: Essays by Michel de Montaigne; Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy; Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak; The Master and Margarita by Milkhail Bulgakov: Crime and Punishment by Fydor Dostoevsky; and We the Living by Ayn Rand.
    Tonight, I will escape and see ‘Bangarra: 30 years of sixty five thousand’,

    • September 7, 2019 12:11

      It was tempting, so I’m glad you did it, Meg.

      We saw that in July. It’s a great show. Three very different ballrts. Enjoy

  3. George permalink
    September 7, 2019 12:46

    I read Towles’s first novel for the neighborhood book club. It struck me as making gestures of knowingness without much behind them; he seemed to know pretty well what should go into a novel about the late 1930s, but to show no reason to write one. My wife was not impressed by A Gentleman, read for her book club, for she had looked into Nadezhda Mandelstam’s Hope Without Hope.

    Anyway, step 1 is to E.E.Cumming’s EIMI, an interesting if thoroughly snotty account of a visit to Moscow in the 1920s–Intourist never made such a bad bargain. Step 2 is to Jack London’s Call of the Wild, since Jack London’s daughter appears in EIMI. Step 3 is to Norman Maclean–the logger/pimp in one of the novellas collected in A River Runs Through It spends his winters rereading all of London’s work except for the dog stories. Step 4 will be to Patterns of My Life by the economist and computer scientist Herbert Simon, a student at the University of Chicago when Maclean taught there, and who in that memoirs mention that Maclean inadvertently recruited a number of Trotskyites to his old fraternity. Step 5 is to a Personal Anthology by Borges, for Simon recounts a conversation with him in the same memoir. Step 6 is to Anthony Burgess, who in Little Wilson and Big God writes of reciting alternate lines from Beowulf (unless it was The Seafarer) with Borges at a White House reception, to the bafflement of the Argentinian minders.

    • September 7, 2019 21:09

      Fascinating links George. Thanks for playing along despite Towles. One of my reading group members called it intellectually dishonest so I understand different responses to this novel. I liked the characterisations, and thought the plot was played out well. The only novels I hate, really, have boring characters and predictable plots. This had neither. It may not have been intense but I found it engaging.

    • September 8, 2019 09:44

      Hmmm, George I wrote a considered reply to this yesterday, but on one of my devices, not the laptop where I am now, and it has clearly gone into the ether. I wonder if it made its way invisible to you? I wish!

      I can’t exactly remember what I said, except that we had one member in my reading group who didn’t like Gentleman, calling it intellectually dishonest, which perhaps might be similar to your “gestures of knowingness without much behind them”. I found the book fascinating, and most enjoyed the characterisation.

      Anyhow, your links are very different as usual. I haven’t heard of EIMI.

  4. September 7, 2019 13:03

    HI Meg, I toyed with Russia too. Such a rich literary tradition to savour!
    Mine is here:

  5. Meg permalink
    September 7, 2019 14:33

    Hi Lisa, I read A Gentleman in Moscow because of your review, and only finished it last week. Another reason why I found it difficult to get away from Russian authors, was that my class will be discussing them next week.

    • September 7, 2019 17:13

      Haha Meg, this provided some practice for you then at thinking about Russian writers, and perhaps how they relate to each other!

  6. September 7, 2019 21:37

    What an interesting and wide ranging chain! I haven’t read A Gentleman in Moscow (or any for the books in your chain). My chain never left Russia.

    • September 8, 2019 09:46

      Haha, Margaret, you’re like Meg, who did her chain in the comment above. I’ll come visit yours, of course. I’m away this weekend so am not spending much time on my computer/devices.

  7. September 7, 2019 22:06

    Convenience store woman sounds interesting. I haven’t read much Japanese literature, but The Travelling Cat Chronicles is waiting on my kindle and I hope to get to it soon. Also, I am very envious on your trip to Japan! 🙂

    • September 8, 2019 09:49

      I haven’t read The travelling cat chronicles stargazer, but I have friends who have, and enjoyed it. The convenience store woman is a great read, providing insight into the Japanese drive for conformity, and not standing out. Notwithstanding that we love visiting Japan – and perhaps it’s this conformity that makes it an easy place to visit! (This will be our fourth trip there.)

  8. September 8, 2019 01:34

    These are inventive and interesting connections. I agree that it seems some people seemed to live in hotels in the past. It does seem odd. I am also that I need to read more Japanese literature.

    • September 8, 2019 09:50

      Thanks Brian. Japanese literature is well worth making time for – sometime – though I know your reading schedule is specialising in other directions at the moment, and we can’t do it all, can we?

  9. September 8, 2019 13:46

    I’ve only read The Group, quite a long time ago, though I interested in reading both A Gentleman in Moscow, and The Convenience Store Woman.
    Thanks for sharing your chain.

    • September 8, 2019 17:32

      Both those are well worth reading Shelley, and I can recommend from experience re-reading The Group.

  10. September 9, 2019 22:40

    Such clever links, Sue (particularly liked how you got to the Moorhouse). I haven’t read any of the books in your chain although Electric Hotel is in my very near future and I’ve had The Group for ages.
    As for Gentleman… well, my book group was very much divided. Seems it was either love it or hate it. I own a copy so I figure I’ll get to it eventually.

    • September 9, 2019 23:06

      Thanks Kate. I’ll be interested to see what you think of Electric Hotel. I’ve nearly finished it. Interesting about your group and Gentleman. Almost everyone in my group liked it a lot – just one didn’t like it at all, and one, if I remember correctly was a bit lukewarm. I can never tell how it’s going to play out.

  11. Anne Bennett permalink
    September 11, 2019 03:21

    boy, I bet your list surprised even you. It is amazing where The Gentleman of Moscow took you. My Six Degrees

    • September 11, 2019 08:09

      It’s fun, though, isn’t it Anne, seeing where it takes us? I’ll come see yours.

    • September 11, 2019 08:19

      Sorry Anne. I tried to comment on your blog but the only option provided is to comment with a blogger account, but I wish to comment with my wordpress name and URL. Most blogger blogs let me do that. Anyhow, here is what I said “Great links Anne, including books I know or have read. That’s always a plus. I love your colour coding of the links. Nice.”

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