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Six degrees of separation, FROM Second place TO …

September 4, 2021

Little did I know when I wrote my last Six Degrees, that I would have just completed three weeks of lockdown when writing my September edition, but that’s, indeed, where I am. I am aware that among most eastern state Australians, the ACT has been relatively lucky. However, we have been feeling for some time that we’ve been living on borrowed time and that time ran out. Australia did a great job last year of suppressing the virus but the Delta variant, combined with problems in vaccine supply and delivery, left us exposed. We can only hope that … oh well, what more can I say. Let’s get onto our Six Degrees of Separation meme, which, as most of you know, is run by Kate. Check her blog – booksaremyfavouriteandbest – to see how it works.

We start, of course, with the book chosen by Kate and this month it’s another book I’ve not read, Rachel Cusk’s Booker Prize longlisted Second place. I haven’t read Cusk yet but she’s been on my radar, and is even moreso now.

Jennings Finding Soutbek

I haven’t, in fact, read any of the longlisted books, but I’ve read previous works by some of them, so this is where I’m going first. The author I’ve chosen is South African author, Karen Jennings. I’ve read two of her books, but as I recently linked on one of them, I’m democratically selecting the other, Finding Soutbek (my review), which I remember enjoying for adding to my knowledge and understanding of her country.

Book cover

Another South African-born writer who has provided me with insights into his country, is JM Coetzee. He has also been longlisted for the Booker prize and, in fact, has won it twice. But they are not the books I’ve chosen here. That one is Diary of a bad year (my review), mainly because it’s the only one of his I’ve reviewed on my blog, although I have read a couple of others, including the unforgettable Disgrace.

Those of you who have read Diary of a bad year will know that it is quite challenging to read, not so much because of its language but its structure: it has three storylines, one running at the top, one in the middle, and the other at the bottom of each page. How do you read that? In fact, once you decide your way to read it, it’s perfectly readable. Another book that seemed confronting to read – this one because of its almost complete lack of punctuation – is Bernadine Evaristo’s Booker Prize-winning, Girl, woman, other (my review). It, too, turned out to be easy to read.

Sticking with potentially challenging books, I’m next linking to my latest read, Douglas Stuart’s Booker Prize winning Shuggie Bain (my review). It is set in Glasgow, and much of its dialogue is in Glaswegian vernacular. This was off-putting for many English readers, a commenter on my post said, but I found it much easier to read than I expected, and quite musical in fact.

Waverley book cover

For my next link, we are leaving this little subterranean linking of Booker-related books, and delving back into the past with Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley (my review of volume 1). I’m sure you’ve guessed my link – yes, Sir Walter Scott, like Douglas Stuart, was born in Scotland. There’s not much else to link these books on except, I suppose, that both are named for their male protagonists!

Book cover, The forgotten rebels of Eureka

And finally, for something completely different, we are going from Waverley the novel, to a work of history that in 2014 won the previously named Nib Waverley Award (but which since 2017 has been known as the Mark & Evette Moran Nib Literary Award.) Waverley is the name of the municipal council which manages this interesting award which focuses on research as well as writing. 2014’s winner was Clare Wright’s The forgotten rebels of Eureka (my review).

I haven’t read our starting book, so can’t comment on whether there’s much to link back to, but I think I could say that Clare Wright wrote her book because, for too long, women in history have taken second place! How does that sound?

Now, the usual: Have you read Second place? And, regardless, what would you link to it?

40 Comments leave one →
  1. September 4, 2021 10:24

    Diary of a Bad Year sounds strange. Not sure how I would tackle that structure… perhaps read it three times, focusing on one story at a time? I seem to have less energy for this kind of literary magic these days, but appreciate the cleverness.

    I didn’t find the language in Shuggie difficult, and certainly fell into the rhythm of it quickly. Like you, I found it to be musical and often reread sections, not o make sense of them but because they were musical.

    I’m a third of the way through Second Place at the moment. Not sure why I thought Cusk was a potentially impenetrable (I had in mind a book by Siri Hustvedt that was so dense with language that I abandoned it), because so far, sailing through.

    • September 4, 2021 10:42

      Thanks Kate. I suspect Diary of a bad year is not a lock down book, but it’s worth looking at for multiple reasons, including form and content. It is entertaining too, in its own way.

      Clad you are enjoying Cusk. Now it’s off to our lovely local cafe, which has reopened this weekend for takeaway – their gf watermelon cake is to die for and we’ve missed it! And they are sweet young people.

      • September 4, 2021 12:18

        Watermelon cake sounds interesting!

        • September 4, 2021 12:28

          It is delicious – and gf. The fancy little NGV cafe (the one upstairs) also sells it (or did earlier this year as we checked it out to compare with ours!)

        • September 4, 2021 19:32

          Is it the watermelon cake made by Black Star? I have had that and it’s delicious!

        • September 4, 2021 20:47

          Yes, I’ve just Googled Black Star Kate, and that’s it. Until lockdown I was having a piece every weekend. (They only make it on weekends.) It’s about the best GF cake I’ve ever had.

      • September 4, 2021 12:19

        And yes, I highly recommend eating and drinking your way through lockdown.

        • September 4, 2021 12:29

          What else can you do? Besides reading while you eat and drink, I mean.

  2. George permalink
    September 4, 2021 10:52

    Degree one is Instant Replay, by Jerry Kramer. Kramer was a guard on Green Bay Packers teams that won NFL championships, and writes of how much the coach, Vince Lombardi, despised the Pro Bowl, the game in which the second-place teams in each conference met. (I was not and am not a Packers fan, for I grew up outside of Cleveland.)

    Degree two is The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien.

    Degree three will have to be Henry Adams’s History of the United States of America During he Administrations of James Madison, since Madison was the fourth president of the United States.

    Degree four is The Fifth Business by Robertson Davies.

    Degree five is Henry VI, part 1, by Shakespeare.

    And what could degree six be, but Concerning the Seven Sacraments by Henry VIII? His successors have carried DF, Defensor Fidei, on their coins ever since.

    I really don’t know how much of Henry VI I’ve read, and Henry VIII’s work I have not read at all, except I think for the title page at the Tate’s “Holbein in Britain” exhibition.

    Ms. Cusk I have barely heard of, and I have not read her novel.

    Doesn’t Waverly have something going on with second place? If I am remembering correctly, the hero enjoys the patronage of an uncle, a second son whose conscience was flexible enough to take the place that the older brother wouldn’t after the accession of William and Mary.

    • September 4, 2021 12:21

      Loved your taking numbers as your linking mechanism George. And I also love your adding another link to the starting novel for Waverley. I haven’t read any of your links, but I have read some Flann O’Brien and a novel by Robertson Davies.

      (And thanks for picking up that copy-and-paste problem. Fixed!)

  3. Meg permalink
    September 4, 2021 11:48

    Hi Sue,I liked how you connected your links, but I was worried when I read your sixth link. But, again your explanation was excellent. I have read Second Place, and I did like Rachel Cusk’s trilogy novels. My links are: The Labyrinth by Amanda Lohrey; Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead; The Drover’s Wife by Leah Purcell; Turns Out I am Fine by Judith Lucy; To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf; and Levels of Life by Julian Barnes

    • September 4, 2021 12:23

      Haha, my 6th link was tricksy wasn’t it. I love sneaking in things like that to keep us all on our toes.

      As always, thanks for playing along. I don’t know Maggie Shipstead at all.

  4. September 4, 2021 13:42

    On the subject of challenging books, have you seen this article by Terri-Ann White?

    • September 4, 2021 14:48

      No I hadn’t. Very interesting eh? Though not surprising.

      • September 4, 2021 15:01

        I think she’s wonderful. I’ve subscribed to her new venture at Upswell books and am about to do a giveaway!

  5. Sue permalink
    September 4, 2021 15:28

    I enjoy Rachel Cusk, especially Transit.

    Our cases of covid in the Central West get worse and worse! Would so like to get out of lock down but doubt we will for a while yet. Two weeks until my second A-Z jab – nowhere here feels safe! Sorry about the ACT Sue but thought you were doomed when NSW took off. Good to hear the take away is open!

    • September 4, 2021 16:00

      Yes did too Sue -was just a matter of time. Same for the rest of NSW, eh? So sad.

      I must read Cusk. Thanks for the encouragement.

  6. September 4, 2021 18:35

    Nice sixth link! Hope you will be out of lockdown soon x

    • September 4, 2021 19:07

      Thanks Cathy… We are so keen to see our kids in Melbourne but their lockdown is probably going to.last longer than ours.

  7. September 4, 2021 19:27

    I have read Second Place but haven’t written about it yet. I enjoyed it.

    I enjoyed reading your chain. Diary of a bad year certainly sounds challenging and the lack of punctuation in Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, woman, other has put me off so I’m glad to see that it turned out to be easy to read.

  8. September 4, 2021 22:02

    Some good ones here. I really must read something by Sir Walter Scott… such a hole in my literary education!

    • September 5, 2021 17:44

      Thanks Davida … I’m not sure about “must” but I have liked the little Walter Scott that I’ve read.

  9. September 5, 2021 01:46

    I enjoyed reading your chain! It’s interesting when an author tries an alternative structure one way or another. Not sure how I would get on with Diary of a bad year, though. Also, I strongly dislike experimentation, when it doesn’t add anything to the story or the reading experience. Then you get the feeling the author is just trying to be edgy and get attention. In Girl, Woman, Other I think the (lack of) punctuation did to some extent add to the novel. It emphasised its impressionistic character, where small bits and pieces were flowing together to create the full picture.

    • September 5, 2021 10:23

      Yes, very good points stargazer. Experimentation has to be in aid of meaning. IN Diary of a bad year the three story lines do “comment” on each other – the theoretical and the personal. In Girl woman other, yes, I think the style captures something about the people, and their lives – one could make all sorts of suggestions about it. I like your description of its effect.

  10. September 5, 2021 10:54

    It worries me that I did read Disgrace and do not remember it at all!

    • September 5, 2021 17:53

      It happens Con! For me, not that one, but I have books on my read shelves that I have no recollection of at all. I’m learning not to worry about that!

  11. September 5, 2021 21:27

    Diary of a Bad Year sounds like it would be a challenging read, but well worth it!

  12. September 6, 2021 02:32

    Shuggie Bain and Girl Woman Other were in previous chains of mine, but I don’t know your other choices. Should any of them make my TBR, I wonder? Not sure …

    • September 6, 2021 09:05

      I’m not sure either. Wright is Australian history, but Coetzee is a Nobel prizewinning author so worth a look.

  13. September 6, 2021 03:16

    Clever you to get the chain into a circle with the link back from number 6 to the starting point.

    How DID you decide the best way to read Diary of a bad year? All the entries at the top of the page first, then start again with the middle ones or are you meant to read a page at a time??

    • September 6, 2021 09:10

      More or less a page at a time, Karen, but you can’t do that perfectly because often at least one of the storylines on the page would finish mid sentence or mid para. I’d turn the page to finish it then go back to the others. However I wouldn’t go onto the next chapter until I’d finished all three lines.

      • September 9, 2021 06:36

        I couldn’t cope with all of that – I think I would find it too frustrating

        • September 9, 2021 09:16

          Fair enough. It probably depends on how we read in the first place? l quite like mulling over what an author is doing. It’s only frustrating for me if what they are doing is boring or too mystifying!

  14. September 7, 2021 11:51

    Fun connections!

  15. September 11, 2021 01:20

    Love how you linked from Waverly the novel to Waverly the award. 😀

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