Six Degrees of Separation – From Ishiguro to…

Chain links…

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Books Are My Favourite and Best. I’ve often been tempted to join in when I’ve come across other bloggers’ posts, so since my on-going reading slump has led to a severe shortage of reviews, now seems like a good time! The idea is to start with the book that Kate gives us and then create a chain of six books, each suggested by the one before…

never-let-me-go

This month’s starting book is Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. I haven’t read it, but looking at the blurb tells me it’s the story “of a group of students growing up in a darkly skewered version of contemporary England”. People who have read it frequently describe it as disturbing. It made me think of…

the children's home

Charles Lambert’s The Children’s Home. This is a book about a man living in isolation due to a horrific facial disfigurement, whose life is disrupted by the mysterious arrival of a group of children who turn up one by one as if from nowhere. In many ways the setting feels contemporary but as we learn more we discover that something terrible has happened to the world – something hugely destructive that has left people in fear and caused the rich to retreat behind heavily guarded walls.

Female Austrian Wax Teaching Model 1850. Creepy, isn't she?
Female Austrian Wax Teaching Model 1850.
Creepy, isn’t she?

It has the feel of a dark and corrupted fairy tale, which reminded me of…

we have always lived in the castle

Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, about two women living in a house where a horrific crime had been committed. The villagers are sure that the older sister, Constance, poisoned most of her family; while through Merricat, the younger sister’s, eyes we see how the women isolate themselves from the outside world. Merricat is a wonderful creation and I love how Jackson inverts the usual Gothic themes.

Merricat, said Connie, would you like a cup of tea?
Oh no, said Merricat, you’ll poison me.
Merricat, said Connie, would you like to go to sleep?
Down in the boneyard ten feet deep!

The book reads to me like the ‘true’ story behind the old witch tales, but seen from the perspective of the witch – I came to believe the castle may have been made of gingerbread.

grimm rackham illustrations

Which made me think of…

Pleasures of the Table

Pleasures of the Table: A Literary Anthology edited by Christina Hardyment which contains, amongst a feast of other goodies, Emily Dickinson’s recipe for Gingerbread. This anthology is filled with excerpts and quotes from literature, poetry and recipe books, and is gorgeously illustrated from the British Library’s own collection, often the specific illustrations that accompanied the original text.

 “Weal pie,” said Mr Weller, soliloquising, as he arranged the eatables on the grass. “Wery good thing is weal pie, when you know the lady as made it, and is quite sure it ain’t kittens; and arter all though, where’s the odds, when they’re so like weal the wery piemen themselves don’t know the difference?” Charles Dickens, Pickwick Papers
“Weal pie,” said Mr Weller, soliloquising, as he arranged the eatables on the grass. “Wery good thing is weal pie, when you know the lady as made it, and is quite sure it ain’t kittens; and arter all though, where’s the odds, when they’re so like weal the wery piemen themselves don’t know the difference?”
Charles Dickens, Pickwick Papers

My favourite section was Childish Things, which included an excerpt from the picnic in…

the wind in the willows

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. This is a book I have always loved and return to regularly. It’s not for the story of Mr Toad of Toad Hall that I love it, fun though that is. The chapters I love most are the ones that explore Ratty and Mole’s friendship, the sense of community amongst the heavily anthropomorphised animals (even as a child I knew that they were people really), the attractions of travel, the comfort of and longing for home.

Today, to him gazing South with a new-born need stirring in his heart, the clear sky over their long low outline seemed to pulsate with promise; to-day, the unseen was everything, the unknown the only real fact of life. On this side of the hills was now the real blank, on the other lay the crowded and coloured panorama that his inner eye was seeing so clearly. What seas lay beyond, green, leaping and crested! What sun-bathed coasts, along which the white villas glittered against the olive woods! What quiet harbours, thronged with gallant shipping bound for purple islands of wine and spice, islands set low in languorous waters!

wind-in-willows-e-h-shepard-ratty-and-mole-in-a-boat

I credit this as the book that first made me appreciate not just the story in a book, but the wonder of beautiful writing for its own sake. And that made me think of…

the blue guitar

John Banville’s The Blue Guitar. This book was my introduction to Banville. It tells the tale of narcissistic but loveable Olly Orme, who stole his friend’s wife and is hiding from the consequences. Many long-term fans felt this one didn’t have as much substance as some of his earlier books, but I was dazzled by the beauty and sparkling wit of the prose and the wonderfully entertaining, quirky character Banville created in Olly.

What I saw, with jarring clarity, was that there is no such thing as woman. Woman, I realised, is a thing of legend, a phantasm who flies through the world, settling here and there on this or that unsuspecting mortal female, whom she turns, briefly but momentously, into an object of yearning, veneration and terror.

Wonderful, quirky characters always lead me back to…

martin chuzzlewit

Dickens. His descriptions are never of the “he had black hair and piercing blue eyes” category. Instead he paints word pictures that show us the person’s innermost character etched in his physical appearance. Here he is in Martin Chuzzlewit, describing Scadder, a bit-part in the novel, but still Dickens takes the time to create something unique – a pocket-sketch that tells us not only what Scadder looks like but exactly what kind of man we’re dealing with…

He was a gaunt man in a huge straw hat, and a coat of green stuff. The weather being hot, he had no cravat, and wore his shirt collar wide open; so that every time he spoke something was seen to twitch and jerk up in his throat, like the little hammers in a harpsichord when the notes are struck. Perhaps it was the Truth feebly endeavouring to leap to his lips. If so, it never reached them…

Each long black hair upon his head hung down as straight as any plummet line; but rumpled tufts were on the arches of his eyes, as if the crow whose foot was deeply printed in the corners, had pecked and torn them in a savage recognition of his kindred nature as a bird of prey.

General Choke and Mr Scadder by Sol Eytinge, Jr.
General Choke and Mr Scadder by Sol Eytinge, Jr.

* * * * *

So Ishiguro to Dickens via skewed societies, corrupted fairytales,
gingerbread recipes, scrumptious picnics, sumptuous prose
and wonderfully quirky characters.

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

44 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation – From Ishiguro to…

  1. Oooooh, wonderful! I especially enjoyed your thoughts on Wind in the Willows, which I plant to re-read again soon, and the skilful characterisation that is such a mark of Dickens’ prose. I’m currently reading The Old Curiosity Shop and have been thinking exactly what you’ve described: what a master he is! Great journey …. enhanced by gingerbread rather than chocolate 😉

    • Thank you – glad you enjoyed it! 😀 I love Wind in the Willows – a book I re-read often, or just dip into whenever I need a mood lift. For some obscure reason I haven’t read The Old Curiosity Shop – I’ve been meaning to for ages, but always end up re-reading one of the others instead. Must correct that! I usually try to fit a Dickens in around Christmas, so maybe this year! Haha – we could always put chocolate icing on the gingerbread… 😉

  2. I did enjoy the journey thanks. And your chain of stories made me think of Anthony Marra’s Tsar of Love and Techno – linked short stories which resonate back and forwards to the stories before and after – bleak and uplifting.

    • Glad you enjoyed it! Oh, I haven’t come across that one, but have just checked out the blurb – looks intriguing! I don’t think I’m up to ‘bleak’ at the moment what with Brexit and Trump and all, but I’ll stick it on the wishlist for when my joie de vivre returns 😉 Thanks for the recommendation!

      • It’s just so unthinkable this Trump thing. I can’t begin to imagine how the boundaries of human decency will be stretched to breaking…

        • I think I’m shell-shocked! Everything that’s happened this year has been worse than the thing before. Thank goodness it’s November! Though it’s perfectly possible Trump and Putin will get together and bomb Santa’s Grotto…

  3. Wow! This is really interesting – not to mention very clever! This was a delight to read on this very… er… interesting morning. I am already bored of the whole Trump thing. Where are my books?! 😉

    • Thank you – glad you enjoyed it! 😀 I haven’t actually been to bed yet! I’m too tired to go. It all makes me feel a bit better about Nigel Farage though… and Boris! Suddenly they look almost normal… 😉

      • Oh, did you stay up? I was up at 5, feverishly checking the news websites. Can you imagine if we had Boris as PM and Trump as POTUS! I hate Michael Gove but I think he did us a favour. What interesting times we live in. Have a nice cup of tea and some chocolate – then fall asleep in front of some bad TV 🙂

        • They could have done a double-act though – the Blonde Bombshells, a slapstick routine involving juggling nuclear warheads. The problem is I’m so exhausted I may never move again – in four years time when the next election comes around my skeleton will still be watching CNN, with one finger stretched towards the off button…

          • It would have been quite a spectacle! Whether the world would survive to tell the tale is another matter…
            You poor thing! I hope your lovely kittens will come and at least give you a little snuggle 🙂

    • Thank you! 😀 I’ve been looking at this meme for ages and thinking it’s a great idea, so finally got around to joining in. The Wind in the Willows is great for either re-reading in its entirety or for dipping in and out of – I often just read a chapter if I have a bit of time and not feeling inspired by a heavier read…

  4. Very clever, FIctionFan! I think what especially impresses me is the variety of books that you’ve chosen – from all over the spectrum, really. It looks like you had doing it, too, which is even better.

  5. You know, I’m probably being supremely arrogant, but I really can’t imagine that any dedicated reader of a wide range of fiction of reasonable quality and matter could in a million years espouse inward looking ‘populism’ Fiction, especially from or about other lands and times, or even imaginary worlds and times, whether the writing or the reading, forces an engagement with ‘the other’ . AND forces self-reflection and the thinking about what you are reading, not just a knee jerk response. If I ruled the world………….and was interviewing successors, I would question them about their reading habits. You’ll pass muster, I’ll put you on the A list….Wind In The Willows shows early introduction to the understanding of ‘other’. If only Badger had stood…………or Ratty and Mole on a combined ‘friendship matters, especially friends who are quite different’ . I think any meme of mine at the moment would be dreadfully gloomy.it’s probably time to dig out Wodehouse…….

    I did go to bed…with the radio, and kept waking every half hour or so to turn it on, and hurriedly turn it off in despair, drifting off for a short while, waking with a bad dream, wondering if it had all been a bad dream and turning on the radio again, ad infinitum. I had an awfully bad feeling about this one even before the results which would begin to show things filtered through.

    I have a whole stack of books to review and just have lacked any oomph to do it for a while, all down to depressing following on the news.

    If only there was a way to kidnap dangerously aggressive and stupid arrogant political demagogues, bundle them into a rocket and fire them off into space, with no astronauts on board, unhackable controls, and insufficient fuel to do anything except get them outside the earth’s gravitational field.

    • You know, partly what depresses me about it all is that we have more and more educated people each year and yet we seem to be regressing in terms of concern for each other and awareness of history. It does make me wonder whether it’s worth the taxes to send half the population to university if they learn nothing useful. I’ve always believed that education would be the thing that would finally make the world a better place, by producing entire generations of thoughtful, well-informed people. Of course, what’s considered useful in our wonderful world of today is what makes people employable – not in ‘real’ jobs like plumbing, nursing etc, but to go into the City or become ‘business leaders’. It’s not a matter of left or right any more – it’s the tendency to go to the extreme in either direction. But I don’t know why I’m worrying – Trump will reverse any hope of progress on climate change, so even if he doesn’t start a nuclear war, he’ll still manage to destroy the planet. At least we won’t have to worry about the ever-advancing retirement age any more…

      The only book I’m managing to read at the moment is the Universe book – it reminds me of our utter insignificance, which is rather comforting. Plus it reminds me that with luck we could be obliterated by a massive comet at any time! I think I need sleep… 😉

          • Well, yes, it was a rhetorical question, and invited the answer you gave. I have certainly seen changes over the years I have been involved in adult education. It seems harder to get people to think for themselves, and there is a great tendency to cite the sources (fine, nothing wrong with reading round) but not try out analysis through a kind of self-reflection. Or maybe I’m just getting old and grumpy and want more than just to read what the same source is saying, over and over!

            • Yes, I’ve noticed much more emphasis on source-citing too. I don’t particularly remember that as part of my own Uni experience. I think we were supposed to read and absorb the sources and then produce our own interpretation rather than direct citing.

  6. That Dickens — he’s just a master of description, isn’t he? I imagine books written today with that much description would never see the light of publication, sad to say. Modern readers just seem to want rat-a-tat sentence structure plus the freedom to come up with their own descriptions. Sigh. Lovely chain you’ve got going on here (and yes, that wax thing is creepy!)

  7. interesting idea, which I may try someday. Teddy and I have retired to bed with a roast beef sandwich – comfort eating much? This is why I read so much fantasy – reality is getting too much for me. Fortunately, I have chocolate……..

    • It was quite fun to do (and didn’t take long since it’s a cut and paste job from the reviews, so that’s a bonus… 😉 ) Having stayed up all last night, I’m trying to hold out till at least 10 before going to bed or my sleep pattern will be even worse than usual! Might have nightmares though…

    • Gotta say, after the pollsters getting our last general election and Brexit horribly wrong, I had a real premonition of disaster last night, but hoped maybe American pollsters were better at it. Maybe he’ll get so bogged down in Washington in-fighting he won’t be able to do much. Maybe… 🙂

  8. What a great chain and so beautifully presented. Wind in the Willows was a surprise because the previous title had me thinking of food books–and food and chocolate!

    I love where Kate’s prompt is leading everyone.

    • Thank you! 😀 Yes, I love seeing the way everyone heads off in completely different directions, plus it’s fun thinking back over some of the great books I’ve read – only the great ones or the really awful ones stay in my memory… 😉

  9. What a journey it was – I love how everyone takes such different leaps in this meme – yours were both inspired and gave a real sense of the books you chose – of course I particularly loved the Wind in the Willows stop.

    • Thank you! 😀 Yes, that’s what I love too, that everybody heads off in completely different directions. I thought it might be quite hard, especially with my rotten memory, but actually once I started, it just seemed to flow…

  10. Thanks so much for joining in. I love your little ‘extras’ – that wax model is really creepy (and if you do like creepy books, Never Let Me Go is a ripper).

    I’d been meaning to hunt down Pleasures of the Table – thanks for the reminder. And I love that it lead you to Wind in the Willows – I have a soft spot for that book as it’s the first ‘chapter’ book that I remember being read to me (by my dad, a little each night for what felt like weeks).

    • Thanks for creating such a fun meme! 😀 Somehow or another after all this Never Let Me Go seems to have snuck on to my wishlist! At least I’ve already read next month’s starter book…

      Pleasures of the Table is great, as is the companion volume London: A Literary Anthology – in fact, I preferred the London one. I love Wind in the Willows – I suspect for a lot of us it was probably our first introduction to ‘real’ books – ie, what we might think of as ‘literary fiction’. It certainly helped to make me love reading… 😀

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