Six degrees of separation, FROM Hamnet … TO …

Woo hoo! A New Year at last after what has really been a doozy for us all, in one way or another. So glad to see the back of it. I hope you all had a lovely Christmas wherever you were and however you were able to spend it. Now though to that thing that stayed with us unchanged all through 2020, come hail or shine, come fire or covid, and that thing of course is our Six Degrees of Separation meme. If you don’t know this meme and how it works, please check out meme host Kate’s blog – booksaremyfavouriteandbest.

Book cover

The first rule is that Kate sets our starting book. This month, she’s chosen a book was one of many readers’ loved books last year – Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet! I haven’t read it – but what’s new? I wouldn’t be averse to reading it, I must say, because its topic of Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet, who died in his youth, sounds intriguing.

Book cover

There are various directions I could go in, but I’ve chosen a pretty obvious one, a book that, like Hamnet, is historical fiction breathing life into a marginal historical figure. The book is Craig Cormick and Harold Ludwick’s On a barbarous coast (my review), and the figure, James Mario Magra. Magra was a midshipman on the Endeavour and is believed to have authored an anonymous journal about that journey. Cormick drew from that journal for his characterisation of Magra.

Dorothy Johnston, Through a camel's eye

Staying with the coastal theme – but shifting time (to the contemporary not colonial era), setting (to southern Victoria, not Far North Queensland), and genres (to crime not historical fiction) – I’m linking to Dorothy Johnston’s Through a camel’s eye (my review). This novel introduces Constable Chris Blackie, meaning that …

Through a camel’s eye is the first of Johnston’s latest series, her Sea-change Mysteries. I’m not, as you know, a big reader of series, but in 2020 I did read the first in another series, Steven Carroll’s The lost life (my review), which starts his Eliot Quartet series.

I’m being a bit cheeky with my next link because I’m taking us to a literary app, rather than a book, The waste land app for TS Eliot’s poem cycle of the same name (my review). This was an exciting foray into the possibilities of using apps for the reading and study of literature, but I’m not sure it has taken off. It was, I’d say, expensive to produce and may just not have got the market size they needed. A shame. (The pic here is of a book edition of the poem, not of the app!)

Winterson, Oranges are not the only fruit, book cover

The Wasteland app contains many academics, writers and actors reading, critiquing and reflecting on this major poem. One of those involved was the English novelist Jeanette Winterson, so it’s to her book Oranges are not the only fruit (my review) that I am linking next.

Francesa Rendle-Short book cover Bite your tongue

Jeanette Winterson has quite a bit in common with our Francesca Rendle-Short, but the most relevant to my link here is that both were raised by mothers who were religious zealots. Oranges are not the only fruit is a semi-autobiographical novel, while Bite your tongue (my review) is a sort of hybrid fiction/memoir, but both cover protagonist-daughters’ struggles against highly restrictive maternal upbringings.

Coincidentally, we’ve somehow ended up on a topic – religion and God – relevant to last month’s starting book, Judy Blume’s Are you there God? It’s me Margaret.

So, this month, half of my books are by men and half by women. We haven’t travelled far, staying in Australia except for a trip in the middle to England, but we have traversed a couple of centuries. I do like how we started with the starting book’s lovely cool blue cover and ended with Rendle-Short’s fiery one. I hope that’s not telling us something about the year to come!

Now, the usual: Have you read Hamnet? And, regardless, what would you link to?

45 thoughts on “Six degrees of separation, FROM Hamnet … TO …

    • Thanks Theresa. I have to say that I rarely find this meme hard, though I do sometimes box myself into a corner that I have to extricate myself from! This time I had a great inspiration for the first link a couple of weeks ago, but forgot to write it down. When I came to do it, could I remember it? Not a chance in hell, so had to give up on that and ponder again. It was an inspired link – at least, I seem to remember it was, whatever it was! Haha.

  1. The only one I’ve read from your list is the Winterson (which I really loved).

    Initially I didn’t plan on reading Hamnet – I’m not mad on historical fiction – however my best IRL-reading-buddy said it was her favourite for 2020, and given that we have similar taste, I’ve added it to the list.

  2. Long time since I read Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit – but re your question about the orange in your review – I recall that the orange signified the single and repressive morality of the mother (who only ever offered oranges as fruit). The main character saw it as carrying the meaning of the strict heterosexuality that was repulsive to her.

  3. Hi Sue, I have not read Hammet, but intend to. I like how you did your connections. My chain took different links, and are Atonement by Ian McEwan; Home by Marilynne Robinson; Cakes and Ale by Somerset Maugham; The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler; The Childhood of Jesus by J M Coetzee and The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante.

  4. *scratching forehead to stir up brain cells* I think I downloaded that app for The Waste Land. It’s probably on that iPad that I bought for the kids at school to use, and the last time I got that out to do something it demanded to be updated and I could not remember my password…

    • Oh dear Lisa … I’m sure you could hack into it somehow, but it won’t be easy, and I suppose not worth it given you clearly don’t find a use for iPads. Seriously though, the app was a really great app. I’d love to have seen more of the style.

  5. I did enjoy Steven Carroll’s The Lost Life! I put one of the librarians onto it at the library here and now she’s enjoying it. I love it when I suggest a book to someone and they enjoy it too!

  6. I enjoyed your chain – such good links! Referring to your comment about the covers of your starting and last books I hope they’re not telling us about the coming year too – the Great Plague in London in 1665 was followed by the Great Fire in 1666 – just saying …

  7. Oh you are off to a good start already! I have not read Hamnet, though it has gotten lots of buzz in the US. Not sure if I will ever read it, but it is always nice to know there are good books out there ready and waiting 🙂

  8. This is so interesting! I’ll have to dig further into several of your mentions here, in particular, check out The Waste Land app. and also some of your reviews. BTW, heard about the changed word in your national anthem. ‘One’ instead of ‘young’? Way to go for a new year! Happy 2021 WG! 🙂

    • Thanks Arti. Do check out the Wasteland app. It really is impressive – and I’m impressed that you saw that piece of news. As many of us feel, change the anthem word-by-word is not really the way to go but it is way better than doing nothing. (Did you know that in 1984, the opening line was changed from “Australia’s sons let us rejoice” to “Australians all let us rejoice”!

      • I saw it in our national TV news. I think we have close ties as members of the British Commonwealth. Ours had to change too: “in all thy sons command” have now been replaced with “in all of us command” changed in 2018.
        On another note, I just found out the book Hamnet (in US and UK) is the same book as Hamnet & Judith (in Canada). I have borrowed it from the library and have been wondering about the title. But why a different title in Canada? Haven’t started it yet but will soon.

        • Thanks Arti. Oh yes, I feel we have those ties, though it diesn’t seem to play out much in our news. We occasionally hear about Canada, but I hadn’t heard that news.

          Different titles are always interesting. Judith was Hamnet’s sister wasn’t she? But that title suggests it’s as much about her. You’ll have to tell us what you think after you’ve read it!

          One of the titles I’ll never forget is Miss Smilla’s feeling for snow, that was published in the US (and Carda?) as Smilla’s sense of snow! Go figure, as they say. Did they think ” Miss” Smilla would put Americans off?

  9. Yes, I have read- and enjoyed – Hamnet, and it even appeared in one of my previous chains. But all your books are unknown to me – and look well worth following up. Thanks!

  10. I have not read Hamnet, but yesterday encountered on the street a friend who had, and had enjoyed it. Anyway,

    1. Ulysses since Hamnet comes into discussion in the library scene early on.

    2. Telemaque by Fenelon, since Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses is a stand-in for Telemachus. I’ve read only a little of Telemaque, but it was quite sufficient to see how little the French of that day sympathized with Homer.

    3. A Sentimental Education since Pound in the first section of “Hugh Selwyn Mauberly” writes “His true Penelope was Flaubert.”

    4. The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald, because she was a true Penelope.

    5. Heinrich von Ofterdingen by Novalis, since he is the subject of The Blue Flower.

    6. De l’Allemagne by Mme. de Stael, since she wrote thoughtfully of Germany, when many of those mentioned in The Blue Flower–but not, unfortunately Novalis–were alive and productive.

    A bit arbitrary, yes.

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