Six degrees of separation, FROM What are you going through TO …

Woo hoo! This last month, we in Canberra, New South Wales and Victoria came out of lockdown. Vaccination rates are high, and it is still spring (here down under) so things are looking good in our neck of the woods. I sure hope it is for all of you, too.

But now, with the weather and pandemic report out of the way, 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 with the book chosen by Kate, and it is Sigrid Nunez’s What are you going through? As happens more often than not, I haven’t read it, but, among other things, it is about two friends and assisted dying.

Spare Room

For my first link I’m breaking my personal “Six Degrees” rule which is to only link to books that I’ve read and reviewed on this blog. My link is Helen Garner’s The spare room. It’s about two friends, one terminally ill with cancer but so desperate to not die that she engages in expensive and ultimately useless alternative therapies – to the immense distress of the caring friend. Bill has reviewed it, so here’s his, because, like me, he likes the novel!

Margaret Rose Stringer, And then like my dreams

From here, I’m linking to a memoir, which is particularly appropriate given Garner’s work falls into the autofiction genre. The book is Margaret Rose Stringer’s (M-R to those of you who read comments on my blog) And then like my dreams (my review). M-R wrote this as a tribute to the love of her life, who died from cancer. Her journey with him through life, illness and death, is beautiful to read. This link is doubly apt because M-R is a keen Garner fan.

Book cover

Next, we return to fiction, but stay with the idea of grief, in Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet (my review). The trigger for this book is Agnes’ grief over the loss of her son Hamnet. Most of you will know that Hamnet was Shakespeare’s only son, and Agnes is a name used by Shakespeare for his wife Anne Hathaway. The novel ends on Shakespeare’s play Hamlet.

From here we are going to another book which riffs on the backstory behind a piece of literature, though in this case rather more is known about the story. The work is Steven Carroll’s The lost life (my review). It is the first in Carroll’s “Eliot Quartet” which explores, obviously, TS Eliot’s Four Quartets. The first quartet is “Burnt Norton”, and Carroll’s novel is framed by the story of Eliot and Emily Hale, who visit Burnt Norton manor in 1934. Like Hamnet in O’Farrell’s novel, Eliot, himself, is a fairly shadowy figure in the story.

I loved TS Eliot as a student and, while his life and views have become problematic, I’m still moved by his work. I was therefore thrilled when an app appeared for another of his major works, The Wasteland (my post). This app is an impressive application of modern technology to the enjoyment and study of literature and I’m sorry that it seems not to have taken off. (I don’t have a pic of the app, so you get a print edition instead!)

Title page for Ch. 16, Sylvia Nakachi
Ch. 16, Sylvia Nakachi (Used under fair dealing provisions for purposes of review)

However, people are exploring the use of modern online and interactive technologies for literature, and one organisation doing this is/was If:Book. (It may now be defunct, or it has transformed into something else.) Produced under its auspices was Writing black (my review), edited by Ellen van Neerven. She saw a digital-only production being “moulded by possibility”, saying that the enhancements available in such an approach “lifts the imagination”. I haven’t seen a lot of work going down this path, perhaps because most readers still love books, but I love that creators experiment with the new. It keeps the arts fresh.

So, this month we have strayed far from the beginning. I can’t see any link, as we’ve gone from death and grief to exploring the new. I think that’s a good way to be!

Now, the usual: Have you read “What are you going through”? And, regardless, what would you link to it?

47 thoughts on “Six degrees of separation, FROM What are you going through TO …

  1. I’m going to have a very busy Saturday catching up with the best part of a week’s blogging, but why not start here, where I get a mention! And Hi to M-R who, deservedly, gets a much more substantial mention.

  2. Hi Sue, I have read What Are You Going Through, a sad and good read. I too have Spare Room in my selection, and of course I should have thought of The Waste Land. My links are Kafka on the the Shore by Haruki Murakami; The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak; A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness: Five People you Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom; Grief is the thing With Feathers by Max Porter; and The Spare Room by Helen Garner;

  3. Oh, I remember when the Wasteland app came out. My Other Half is mildly obsessed with TS Elliot and he’s a techie, so bringing his two loves together in this way was like all his Christmases come at once! And wasn’t it read by Irish actor Fiona Shaw? Triple whammy (cos he’s Irish too).

    Interesting chain. I started with the Garner too but then found my chain getting increasingly more morbid and dark (more than usual) so I scrapped it and started again. It’s still a dark chain but one I felt a bit more comfortable about.

  4. I was half-expecting a clean sweep of Garner-first-links – it was the first book that came to my mind and I couldn’t get off it then. As it happens, I haven’t actually read it, and not sure I will. I had started it many years ago and was only a short way in when I got a call from my dermatologist to say I had a Stage III melanoma. Suddenly cancer stories were not what I wanted to be reading! Needless to say my melanoma was swiftly and successfully operated on, but I have not returned to The Spare Room.

  5. I thought of Helen Garner’s The Spare Room too, so got a thrill when I saw you had selected it!
    As a Victorian, I’m deeply envious of the ACT’s vaccination rates. The connection between a highly-educated population and high vaccination rates are clear. Glad to hear you’re out and about again and enjoying spring.

    • Haha, Rose, I don’t like doing the obvious but I just wanted to do this one.

      think you are right Rose about that connection. There are some amti-vaxxers here of course but very few. Our percentage, too, is 12+, which is extra special I think. I hope you are enjoying freedoms too?

  6. I started with the obvious link too but decided to move away from books about cancer after that. I enjoyed reading your chain which includes two other books I’ve read, Hamnet and The Wasteland – I wasn’t aware of the app, it does look very interesting!.

  7. I am in awe ..
    Considering how often I go off-topic here in your Comments, or make controversial claims, or just monster you gently, I can’t get over your generosity, ST !
    There is the point to be considered of the quality of your review; it opened my eyes to the whole reviewing thing. Before you I hadn’t understood the depths to be plumbed within a quality reviewer’s work.
    Thanks from the heart. From the soul, even ..

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