Six Degrees of Separation – From Yates to…

Chain links…

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Books Are My Favourite and Best. 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…

revolutionary-road

This month’s starting book is Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road. This is a book that blew me away when I read it as part of the Great American Novel Quest a couple of years ago. It’s a book about failure – of individual hopes and dreams, of a marriage, of the American Dream.

Long after the time had come for what the director called “really getting this thing off the ground; really making it happen,” it remained a static, shapeless, inhumanly heavy weight; time and again they read the promise of failure in each other’s eyes, in the apologetic nods and smiles of their parting and the spastic haste with which they broke for their cars and drove home to whatever older, less explicit promises of failure might wait for them there.

The film can’t quite match the depth of the book, but it’s excellent nevertheless.

kate winslet in RR

It stars Kate Winslet, which made me think of…

enigma 2

Robert Harris’ Enigma. A first rate spy thriller, written with all the qualities of literary fiction, this story is set amid the codebreakers of Bletchley Park during WW2. A great depiction of the almost intolerable pressure placed on the shoulders of these mainly young men at a time when the course of the whole war depended on their success.

enigma 1

The WW2 setting reminded me of…

vertigo

Vertigo by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. The book from which the famous Hitchcock film was made but, unlike the film, the book is set in wartime France, with the first section taking place in Paris just as the war is beginning and the second part four years later in Marseilles as it is heading towards its end. This gives a feeling of disruption and displacement which is entirely missing from the film, set as it is in peacetime America. For once, despite my abiding love for Mr Hitchcock, on this occasion the victory goes to the book!

vertigo-alfred-hitchcock-865414_1024_768

And thinking of Hitchcock reminded me of…

the birds

The Birds and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier. The title story is of course the one on which Hitchcock based his film of the same name, but my favourite story in this great little collection tells the tale of a recent (unnamed) widower, bereaved but not bereft. Frankly, he had found his wife Midge irritating for years. So he happily admits to himself, though not to the world, that her death from pneumonia was more of a relief than a loss. And suddenly he’s enjoying life again – until one day he looks out of his window and spots that one of his apple trees bears an uncanny resemblance to the hunched, drudging image of his late wife…

Up and down went the heavy axe, splitting and tearing at the tree. Off came the peeling bark, the great white strips of underwood, raw and stringy. Hack at it, blast at it, gouge at the tough tissue, throw the axe away, claw at the rubbery flesh with the bare hands. Not far enough yet, go on, go on.

That story is called The Apple Tree, which made me think of…

the color master

The Color Master by Aimee Bender. The first story in this excellent collection of modern folk tales is called Appleless, and has undertones of the story of Eve and the fall from grace. The quality of the stories varies but the quality of the writing is so high that it easily carries the weaker ones in the collection.

“…I did what the Color Master had asked, and went for blue, then black, and I was incredibly slow, but for one moment I felt something as I hovered over the bins of blue. Just a tug of guidance from the white of the dress that led my hand to the middle blue. It felt, for a second, like harmonizing in a choir, the moment when the voice sinks into the chord structure and the sound grows, becomes more layered and full than before. So that was the right choice.”

donkeyskinOne of the stories I particularly liked is The Devourings, which tells the story of a woman who married a troll. And that made me think of…

the shapeshifters

Stefan Spjut’s strange but rather wonderful The Shapeshifters. In many ways, this is a traditional crime novel set in modern Sweden – but in this version of Sweden trolls still exist in some of the more isolated places. There’s a folk-tale feel about the whole thing as if the fables of the old days have somehow strayed back into the real world. As with so much Nordic fiction, the weather and landscape plays a huge role in creating an atmosphere of isolation – all those trees, and the snow, and the freezing cold.

Scandinavian Fairy Tale illustration by Theodore Kittlesen 1857-1914
Scandinavian Fairy Tale illustration by Theodore Kittlesen 1857-1914

 

Thinking of crime novels set in Sweden reminded me of…

the voices beyond

The Voices Beyond by Johan Theorin. The bulk of the book is set in the present day, but there’s another strand that takes the reader back to time of the Great Terror in the Stalinist USSR, and it is this strand that lifts the book so far above average. This time of horrors is brilliantly depicted – no punches are pulled, and there are some scenes that are grim and dark indeed. Theorin doesn’t wallow, though, and at all times he puts a great deal of humanity into the story which, while it doesn’t mitigate the horrors, softens the edges a little, making it very moving at times.

Stalin poster

* * * * *

So Yates to Theorin via Kate Winslet, WW2, Alfred Hitchcock,  apple trees, trolls, and Swedish crime.

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

29 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation – From Yates to…

  1. I did, indeed, enjoy the journey, FictionFan! Very clever! Very happy to see some top work by Alfred Hitchcock along the way, too. As you know, I’m very much an admirer of this work. And I have to say, I like the different turns your journey has taken – lot of variety here! 🙂

    • I do find this meme fun to do – I never have any idea myself where I’m going to end up! And it’s a great way to remind myself (and hopefully other people) of some of the great books I’ve read. Glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

  2. I did enjoy the journey and like the way you link in films as well as books. I’m a fan of Hitchcock too – I saw the film of The Birds before I read the short story and was surprised at how different they are. I really enjoy the Six Degrees posts – never knowing where they’ll end up.

    • Yes, I love the way we all head off in different directions too, and it’s great fun to be reminded of so many great books. I’ve been enjoying watching the ‘film of the book’ this last year or two, so I think I’ve become a bit obsessed by it now! And I’ve been especially enjoying reading some of the books that inspired Hitchcock films to see what he’s done with them – he always adds his own interpreattion to the original…

    • I love the way everybody heads off in completely different directions from the starter book. And it’s great fun thinking back over some of the great reads of the last few years… my memory really only goes back as far as the blog!

    • Thanks! 😀 I loved The Apple Tree – so shivery! I always love the way du Maurier’s horror is so ambiguous – could be all psychological, could be supernatural… what a great writer she was!

  3. I love how one book reminds you of another … and another! Just goes to show, doesn’t it, that the world is chock full of ideas, all of which have been thought of before! Sigh. Makes it rather challenging to be a writer nowadays (though I suspect writers have always felt that burden … even back in the days of caves, ha!)

    • I loved doing these because I have no idea myself when I start where I’ll end up. Ha! Yes, it’s hard to think of anything that hasn’t been ‘done’ a million times before, but the stories change depending on the time they were written, so there will always be room for new versions… 🙂

    • Ha! I actually did it twice this month because the first time around I was a book short, and when I started again I went off in a completely different direction! So who knows where I’d go in six months…

  4. Great choices! I’ll have to try doing one of these chains myself one day. Thanks for reminding me about Johan Theorin – I read some of his books a few years ago and enjoyed them, so I must read The Voices Beyond at some point.

    • Glad you enjoyed it! I love doing these – I never know where I’m going to end up when I start and it reminds me of all kinds of books I’ve enjoyed. I really meant to read the other books in Theorin’s Oland Quartet (of which The Voices Beyond is the last!) but still haven’t got around to them. But although I believe they’re linked, that one worked fine as a standalone, and the writing was excellent… enjoy!

    • Thank you! I didn’t know either till I came across that collection. It’s a bit different from the movie but equally excellent. Well worth reading – the whole collection is, in fact. 🙂

  5. I loved seeing the leaps from one story to the next. I haven’t read The Birds, but will look out for it, was terrorised by the movie at a slumber party as a teenager and couldn’t go outside for months without checking over my shoulders for magpies, crows, willy wagtails, cockatoos, rosellas…

    • Hehe! I do find that movie particularly terrifying, partly because I’m kinda scared of birds anyway, but also because there’s no reason for it… he just leaves it totally unexplained! The story is excellent too – kinda different, but the terror element is much the same. And some of the other stories in the collection are great too…

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