Six degrees of separation, FROM Shuggie Bain TO …

It is now autumn here Down Under, and, like our summer, it’s a strange one – cooler and wetter than “normal”. Oops, we need to get used to the fact that in this world of change, there is no “normal” anymore, “new” or otherwise. Anyhow, ’nuff said. Let’s get onto our Six Degrees of Separation meme. If you don’t know how it works, please check out meme host Kate’s blog – booksaremyfavouriteandbest.

The first rule is that Kate sets our starting book – and after a two-book run, we are back to normal (did I say that!) by which I mean to a starting book I haven’t read, Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain. It won several awards, including the 2020 Booker Prize. I’d like to read it.

Now, I considered many links for this – subject, titled for main character, Scottish setting, but in the end I’ve gone with the obvious, another Booker Prize winner. I used to read them all, but since blogging I’ve only read a handful, but I did have a choice, and the one I’ve chosen doesn’t really have any other obvious links with Shuggie Bain besides both being winners, but I’m sticking with it, New Zealander Eleanor Catton’s The luminaries (my review).

Book cover

It’s an historical novel set on the goldfields of New Zealand’s West Coast, and is grand and ambitious in its conception. Somewhat less grand, but nonetheless, also an historical novel set in a mining community is South African writer Karen Jennings’ Upturned earth (my review). Inspired by a real character, it’s primarily about corrupt powerful men destroying the lives of the powerless men in their employ, and the challenge of standing up to them.

Another novel about corrupt men – in this case police and justice officials – destroying the lives of powerless others is the crime novel I read in March for Kim’s (Reading Matters) Southern Cross Crime Month, Garry Disher’s Bitter Wash Road (my review). It is set in a tiny, poor community in rural South Australia and is about a demoted police officer’s struggles to solve a crime in a situation where he doesn’t know which colleagues he can trust.

My next book is also titled for the name of a road, but it is set in one of the world’s busiest capital cities, Helene Hanff’s delightful book, 84 Charing Cross Road (my review). Now a classic, you probably know it, but if not, it comprises the charming letters between American writer and bibliophile Helene Hanff and bookseller Frank Doel of Marks & Co, a London bookshop which specialised in secondhand and antiquarian books.

Maria Edgeworth, Leonora

For my next link, we are staying in England, and sticking with letters, this time with a classic epistolary novel, Maria Edgeworth’s Leonora (my review). Published in 1806, it lacks the subtlety of Austen’s novels, the first of which was published in 1811, but it’s interesting for Edgeworth’s exploration of English and French “sensibilities” during Napoleonic times.

And so, I’m going to stay with this time period and conclude with Caroline Moorhead’s Dancing to the precipice (my review) which is a biography of French aristocrat Henriette-Lucy, Marquise de La Tour-du-Pin-Gouvernet, from her birth in 1770 to her death in 1853. It’s a wild ride, but a fascinating story about survival in tricky political times.

So, again we’ve roamed around a bit, from Scotland to New Zealand to South Africa, over to Australia before returned to Europe where we stayed for the last three books. We time travelled a bit covering many time periods between the late 1700s to contemporary times. Five of my links were written by women.

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

55 thoughts on “Six degrees of separation, FROM Shuggie Bain TO …

  1. Hi Sue, Despite Shuggie Bain, been a sad and confronting read, I found it a terrific read.
    So my links are Working Class Boy by Jimmy Barnes; How Late it Was, How Late by James Kelman; Maggie and Me by Damian Barr; Docherty by William McIlvanney; Muma’s Last Hug by Frans de Waal, and Normal People by Sally Rooney. (In five of the six books I nominated, the characters wanted to be considered ‘normal’, and their mother’s love!)

  2. I have to confess that I have never read 84 Charing Cross Road, but now I want to! I haven’t read Shuggie Bain yet, but I did hear Douglas Stuart being interviewed on The Book Show late last year, and that alone made me add it to my ever-growing TBR pile.

    • Every reader and writer MUST read 84, Charing Cross Road at some time Melinda! Actually, I don’t believe in musts, but it is a lovely read, that has so much about love of books, but also about the differences between Americans and the English (particularly when it was set but true probably still now.)

  3. Nice chain. Of course, any chain that includes 84 Charing Cross Road is a good one for me! Loved, Loved, Loved that book (and I don’t read non-fiction). By the way, Frank Dole lived in the same apartment complex as my husband when he was a boy! His father remembered the family, too!

  4. Some great books there. Same as you, I had many different ideas how to tackle this prompt since I haven’t read the first book. I read “84, Charing Cross Road” and absolutely loved it. I’m sure it’ll turn up on one of my “Six Degrees of Seperation” lists one day (this is only my third and, so far, I haven’t read any of the starter books).

    My Six Degrees of Separation led me to Dreams of a Red Chamber by Xuequin Cao.

    • Thanks Marianne. My best record of reading starting books was a couple of years ago when I’d read 6. Most years I seem to score about 4. I suppose that’s not bad given all the books in the world Kate could choose!

      • So true. It probably means that you like the same kind of genre and “listen” to the same kind of people recommending books but it’s alwas great to find such a reader where one can just use one of their recommendations and like them.

        I’m sure one day I will have read one of her books. Looking forward to seeing many other interesting chains until then.

  5. Your chain tooking some very interesting turns. I wasn’t expecting that leap to Charing Cross Road! I’ve read and loved Shuggie Bain, one of the rare occasions recently when I’ve been delighted with the Booker judges’ choice.

  6. You haven’t read the starting book and I haven’t read any of the books in your chain 😀 (actually, I think I read Charing Cross Road but decades ago so it really doesn’t count).

    As for Shuggie – it’s superb.

    • Of course it counts – even if you barely remember it Kate!! How can we remember the details of every book we read?

      But thanks re Shuggie Bain. I don’t know when I’ll be able to fit it in but maybe I could get my reading group to read it!

  7. I’ve been meaning to read 84 Charing Cross Road for such a long time, but never got around to it. I’m certain, I would enjoy it. The Luminaries sounds good to me. Opposite you, I do read mysteries, but I only enjoy the ones, which include interesting and nuanced characters. Also, I don’t think, I’ve read many novels with a New Zealand setting.

    My chain:

  8. This is a great rendition of #6Degrees through world travel! I’ve read Luminaries and watched the Netflix show too, and 84 Charing Cross Road is definitely a classic.

    But it was Upturned Earth which caught my eye, can’t remember the last time I came across a book set in South Africa. And I’ve read Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda, which I found too melodramatic by half, but I still want to try out Leonora — thanks for mentioning that book.


      • Hmm, I think you’re right about Austen being the trendsetter!
        I thought the Netflix Luminaries well-directed; they bring out the “supernatural” from the very beginning though. Much more active than the book, where the book was more about characterizations at the start…

  9. Yay for Charing Cross Road… it was given to me on my first xmas in the UK by a fellow Aussie backpacker I met. It was such a great choice of book because I had been trawling the bookshops on that road for months.

  10. I have not read Suggie Bain; my knowledge of fiction set in Scotland is pretty spotty after Sir Walter Scott.

    “Bean” is Irish/Gaelic for “woman”, so degree one is Harold Brodkey’s Women and Angels, of which I have read half (the woman part).

    Degree two is Stephen Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature, which I have not read, and which argues that we are all gettting to be better to one another.

    Degree three is the Speeches and Writings 1859-1865 of Abraham Lincoln, since “the better angels of our nature” are the concluding words of Lincoln’s first inaugural address.

    Degree four is De Rerum Natura, “On the Nature of Things” by Lucretius, since somebody ought to speak up for things.

    Degree five is Burnt Njal’s Saga, since very important matters are considered (and fights take place) at a Thing, the Icelandic equivalent of a town meeting or legislative plus judicial session.

    Degree six is Set This House on Fire by William Styron, since setting his house on fire was exactly how Njal got burnt. (As I recall, the title comes from a sermon of Donne’s and nothing is literally set alight in the book, which I did not read through.)

    • You have entertained me even more than usual with this one George. I would like to think that we are all “getting to be better to one another” and I agree that someone ought “to speak up for things”. (I do all the time, which is why I’m hopeless at decluttering!) I’ve never heard of Burnt Njal’s Saga, but I’m intrigued.

      BTW I’m not good on fiction set in Scotland either, though if we were crime fans we’d immediately jump to Ian Rankin I believe.

  11. Being reminded of 84 Charing Cross Road made me smile too. Otherwise, I’ve added Leonora to my list of books to read and will most likely read Shuggie Bain if it comes my way, too. I can’t think of anything to link it to, but thought Meg’s idea of linking to Jimmy Barnes’ Working Class Boy to be very clever.

    • Thanks Rose. Glad you agreed about Meg’s link. Inspired I thought.

      And glad you also liked being reminded of 84, Charing Cross Road. I clearly had a hit with that one!

  12. 84 Charing Cross Road, which I read long ago, probably in the Reader’s Digest Condensed version (hey, I was in junior high school, OK?), brings to mind a couple of books that the bibliophiles here would likely enjoy: first, Books by the late Larry McMurtry, a memoir of his time in the used book trade; second, Phantoms on the Bookshelves by Jacques Bonnet, a man who at the time of writing had forty thousand books.

    McMurtry professed to have thirty thousand. My recollection is that Helen Hanff had relatively few books at any time, being ruthless in culling, something probably more important in a New York City apartment than in a Texas house.

    • Thanks George. Yes. I saw on your blog that McMurtry had died, and intended to comment. I usually hear of literary deaths but his passed me by. His Books certainly sounds up my alley.

      I haven’t heard of Jacques Bonnet, but 40,000 books. My oh my. I do have a few myself, but nothing like that many, and I am gearing myself up to divest soon, as heartbreaking as that will be. I wish Hanff had left her culling criteria for us!!

  13. Awww, how can any book lover not resonate with 84 Charing Cross Road? Although sadly there are fewer and fewer bookshops on Charing Cross Road – too much of prime real estate and therefore unaffordable for most booksellers! You’ve also reminded me I still have to read The Luminaries – I’m not much of a reader for sprawling sagas and wasn’t much of a fan of the TV adaptation, but it nevertheless intrigues me.

    • Exactly Marina. That’s sad though about Charing Cross Road. It’s decades since I’ve been in London.

      It sounds like the TV adaptation of The luminaries might have a different emphasis to the book, from what Lexlingua writes above.

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