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Six degrees of separation, FROM Hamnet … TO …

January 2, 2021

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 Comments leave one →
  1. January 2, 2021 10:28

    A fascinating chain, you made that look effortless! I have read (and enjoyed) Hamnet and I thought that might make coming up with my chain easier. It didn’t!

    • January 2, 2021 16:11

      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.

      • January 2, 2021 16:59

        I definitely boxed myself in when turning to my post last night.
        I shouldn’t laugh at your forgetfulness with the inspired link, but I couldn’t help it!

        • January 2, 2021 22:43

          You’re allowed to laugh! I wouldn’t have told you if I weren’t prepared for that!!

  2. January 2, 2021 10:47

    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.

    • January 2, 2021 15:46

      I used to say I wasn’t mad on historical fiction too Kate, but then I realised that it was formulaic genre historical fiction that I’m not mad on. There’s a big difference I think.

  3. January 2, 2021 11:08

    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.

    • January 2, 2021 15:49

      Of course Carmel … silly me. That makes sense. I think I was overthinking it, getting caught up in the “orange” factor (not seeing the forest for the trees). Thanks.

  4. Meg permalink
    January 2, 2021 12:24

    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.

    • January 2, 2021 16:08

      Wow, an interesting chain, Meg. I love it. Partly because I have read or know all the books!

  5. January 2, 2021 13:07

    *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…

    • January 2, 2021 16:17

      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.

  6. January 2, 2021 14:12

    I haven’t read Hamnet but would have linked to John Marsden’s Hamlet. Or something by Rosalie Ham. Not very subtle.

    • January 2, 2021 14:35

      LOL Rose, it’s January, none of us have high-functioning brain cells in January…

    • January 2, 2021 16:19

      Rosalie Ham … I reckon that’s got legs, in particular, Rose, but, really, every link has something to offer. Theresa chose the original Hamlet and then headed off in an interesting direction.

      • January 3, 2021 12:27

        Legs! You just made me snort with laughter 🙂
        I’ve read five or six posts from this month’s Six Degrees and they have all gone in entirely different directions.

        • January 3, 2021 13:03

          Glad to provide a laugh Rose! We need that!

          It’s such a fun meme isn’t it – even when you think the first link will be obvious, it rarely follows through all the post.

  7. January 2, 2021 15:10

    Lovely chain… an app for a poem cycle… I had no idea. Here’s mine

    • January 2, 2021 16:18

      Thanks Davida … you should check it out if it’s still around. It’s an inspired thing.

      Meanwhile, I’ll come visit your chain as I always enjoy your explanations.

  8. January 2, 2021 21:01

    Great chain! I’m intrigued by the Wasteland app!

  9. Sue permalink
    January 2, 2021 22:06

    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!

    • January 2, 2021 23:01

      So do I, Sue. I’m glad. It was an interesting read. I’d love to read the rest of the quartet but …

  10. January 3, 2021 01:09

    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 …

  11. January 3, 2021 01:33

    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 🙂

    • January 3, 2021 03:06

      Couldn’t have said that better myself Stefanie about the books I’d like to read but know it’s unlikely. Thanks!

  12. January 3, 2021 01:52

    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! 🙂

    • January 3, 2021 03:10

      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”!

      • January 3, 2021 03:27

        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.

        • January 3, 2021 09:10

          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?

  13. January 3, 2021 04:29

    Interesting chain! I haven’t read Hamnet or any of your selected books. Through a camel’s eye sounds good – I love crime fiction, but ideally the mystery is only a small part of the story and the characters, their lives, the setting, etc are enough to keep my attention fixed. My chain:

    • January 3, 2021 09:11

      I think place is nicely described in Through a camel’s eye, Stargazer, so you might like it.

  14. January 3, 2021 07:58

    Wow! I had not heard of the Wasteland app. Is it still available? Is it expensive? I’m intrigued whenever someone finds a way to use new technology to study literature. Thanks!

    • January 3, 2021 09:40

      It was fairly expensive as I recollect, Mary, like around $18, and it does seem to be available but the price doesn’t show on the store for me as I have It so it just shows OPEN where the price would be.

      Here is a review: from when it came out. Another article saud it recouped its costs very quickly, so why not more. The company did do one on Shakespeare’s sonnets which I also bought. I should post on that sometime.

  15. January 3, 2021 08:01

    Great chain! I joined in for the first time this month, so much fun!

  16. January 4, 2021 00:40

    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!

    • January 4, 2021 07:47

      Thanks Margaret. Given a lot of my books tend to be Aussie, I think it’s common for people not to know them. I’ll come visit you.

  17. George permalink
    January 4, 2021 09:26

    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.

    • January 4, 2021 13:47

      But interestingly so, George, and perfectly logically so, actually. Love the jump to Penelope. I suppose that’s the most arbitrary but I loved it.

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