Six Degrees of Separation – From Martin 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…

This month’s starting book is Shopgirl by Steve Martin, a book I’ve not only not read, but have never heard of before! The blurb tells me…

Lonely, depressed, Vermont transplant Mirabelle Buttersfield, who sells expensive evening gloves nobody ever buys at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills and spends her evenings watching television with her two cats. She attempts to forge a relationship with middle-aged, womanizing, Seattle millionaire Ray Porter while being pursued by socially inept and unambitious slacker Jeremy.

Hmm… not for me, I think, though it sounds quite amusing. But any mention of evening gloves inevitably makes me think of the wonderful…

American Pastoral. Roth’s brilliant novel tells the story of Seymour “Swede” Levov and the collapse of the 1950s American Dream. Swede owns a factory where skilled craftspeople lovingly create luxury gloves for the fashionable, but his daughter is of a different generation – the Vietnam generation that blew the old certainties apart as surely as Swede’s daughter blew up the local Post Office…

“Those assumptions you live with. You’re still in your old man’s dream-world, Seymour, still up there with Lou Levov in glove heaven. A household tyrannized by gloves, bludgeoned by gloves, the only thing in life – ladies’ gloves! Does he still tell the great one about the woman who sells the gloves washing her hands in a sink between each color? Oh where oh where is that outmoded America, that decorous America where a woman had twenty-five pairs of gloves? Your kid blows your norms to kingdom come, Seymour, and you still think you know what life is!”

As part of my GAN Quest, American Pastoral was the first book to which I awarded the title of The Great American Novel. Only one other novel shares that honour so far…

Toni Morrison’s wonderful Beloved. This story of one woman’s escape from slavery to liberty and the sacrifices she makes along the way is full of anger and sorrow, and some of the most savagely beautiful writing I have read.

They sang of bosses and masters and misses; of mules and dogs and the shamelessness of life. They sang lovingly of graveyards and sisters long gone. Of pork in the woods; meal in the pan; fish on the line; cane, rain and rocking chairs.

And they beat. The women for having known them and no more, no more; the children for having been them but never again. They killed a boss so often and so completely they had to bring him back to life to pulp him one more time. Tasting hot mealcake among pine trees, they beat it away. Singing love songs to Mr Death, they smashed his head. More than the rest, they killed the flirt who folks called Life for leading them on. Making them think the next sunrise would be worth it; that another stroke of time would do it at last.

Oprah Winfrey as Sethe revealing the “tree” on her back

Much though we sometimes like to pretend, slavery isn’t a thing of the past though its forms may be a little different today. Which made me think of…

The Night Ferry by Michael Robotham. The plot of this one is hard-hitting, involving illegal immigration, sex trafficking and forced commercial surrogacy. The trail takes police detective Alisha Barba to the sleaziest parts of Amsterdam, where she’s soon in trouble not just with the bad guys but with her superior officers back home. But she’s become too involved to pull back – too many lives are dependent on her, some of them very vulnerable. Robotham doesn’t hold back in the picture he gives of the exploitation of women trafficked as sex slaves from some of the war-torn places of the world and he has clearly done his research as thoroughly as always.

The book stars with Alisha attending a school reunion. Which made me think of another book that begins that way…

John Gaspard’s The Bullet Catch, the second in his excellent Eli Marks series. This is a series of murder mysteries with the hugely likeable stage magician Eli taking on the role of detective. A little too gritty to be cosy, these are nonetheless on the lighter side of crime fiction, filled with warmth and humour. Each book is named after a magic trick and Gaspard is brilliant at making the tricks come to life on the page while respecting the magicians’ code not to reveal how they’re done…

Another series set in the world of stage magic began with…

The Zig-Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths, book 1 in her great Stephens and Mephisto series. Edgar Stephens and Max Mephisto worked together during WW2 in a top-secret army unit dubbed the Magic Men, with the aim of misleading the enemy. Now, shortly after the war, Max has gone back to his old role of stage magician while Edgar has become a policeman in Brighton. When the various body parts of a beautiful young woman turn up in three boxes, it makes Edgar think of an old magic trick so he turns to his friend Max for help in solving the crime…

(The Zig-Zag Girl trick…)

Griffiths brings the post-war Brighton setting brilliantly to life. My last book is also set there…

Erin Kelly’s The Ties That Bind marries together two periods in the life of this ever-changing town – the ’50s and ’60s, when it was home to some seriously violent gangsters (the location, of course, for Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock), and today, when it has a brighter reputation as the UK’s gay capital and as the place where weary Londoners go to relax, soak up a little sea air, and party. Kelly shows that the town still hides a murky underbelly beneath the surface glitter though, in this well-written thriller with elements of redemption and revenge.

Brighton’s iconic West Pier

 * * * * *

So Martin to Kelly, via gloves, Great American Novels, slavery, school reunions, stage magicians and Brighton!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

43 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation – From Martin to…

  1. Very clever as ever, FictionFan. I honestly don’t think that Shopgirl would be for me, either. But I’m glad you mentioned the Kelly. That one has been on my radar for a while…

    • Glad you enjoyed it! 😀 I thought The Ties That Bind was great – her depiction of Brighton in both past and present felt spot on, and it has an interesting plot too. If you read it, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did…

  2. I didn’t even think of gloves as a starting point – very clever! This book has really sent people in different directions this month (perhaps it’s because not many of us have read it, forcing us to be a little more creative??).

    • Ha – I can never see the word “glove” now without thinking of American Pastoral! Yes, sometimes the less you know about a book the easier it is to go off in a quirky direction. Great fun to participate in this as always… 😀

  3. From gloves to sex trafficking, magic tricks to Brighton! Bravo! Gloves are a bit like hats, no one seems to wear them anymore. I quite like gloves but they are difficult to do anything practical when wearing them. Or maybe my hands are just too small and they don’t fit properly. The Zig Zag Girl is on my list, it sounds brilliant. Always a delight to end up in Brighton and I love it when the most cheerful of places have a dark under-belly 😉

  4. Evening gloves! You probably don’t know (generation gap), but one of the jobs I did when I was a student was selling posh gloves in Watt Brothers! It left me with a life-long passion – I must have at least twenty pairs, in every colour and material under the sun, including two pairs of evening gloves!
    I’m waiting with baited breath for the next Griffiths, and the Kelly sounds a good one – I used to escape to Brighton a lot when I lived in London.

    • I knew about your passion for gloves but no, I didn’t remember you working in Watt Bros! I went through a brief passion after reading American Pastoral, but I just couldn’t master the art of doing things with gloves on. I love the Griffiths series, and I suspect you’d enjoy that Erin Kelly one – so much better than her most recent bog-standard domestic thriller…

      • Actually, doing things with gloves on is a useful skill for me at the moment – I dislocated my thumb last week, my right hand too, so have been functioning one handed for a week. Such fun!

        • Oh dear! You’re not having a very good time this last few weeks, are you? Hope it’s on the road to discovery… you really must stop punching politicians! 😉

  5. How clever you are, FF!! I’m not a gloves sort of person — even in the winter months, I’m more partial to mittens, ha! But I love looking at old photos when all women wore gloves and looked so elegant. I’ve never read Beloved and must remedy that. It sounds like hard, emotional reading, but surely that’s what turns a book into a classic, right?!

    • Haha – thank you! 😀 Yes, I’m more of a mittens girl too – I like the idea of gloves more than the reality! Beloved is an immesely powerful read and not easy for that reason, but it’s worth it for that reason too, and for the wonderful language…

    • Haha! Thank you! 😀 Yes, I spent way too much time watching videos of magic tricks when I was reviewing these books – still can never see how any of them are done!

  6. Very entertaining journey! I even found a couple of books I’m interested in (The Zig Zag Girl and The Ties that Bind.) I’ve read Shopgirl, a long time ago, and it was okay. Steve Martin’s second novel, The Pleasure of my Company, was much better in my opinion.

    • Glad you enjoyed it, and two excellent choices there – I think you’d probably enjoy them both. The blurb of Shopgirl doesn’t appeal much to me, which given the state of my TBR I’m quite happy about! 😉

  7. I’d never heard of Shopgirl either – but that’s not unusual with so many books out there as I haven’t come across John Gaspard Eli Marks series either. I must have missed your review the first time round. They sound like my sort of books.

    And I make my chain in the same way you do – it’s not cheating! And I have to do it quickly without thinking too much about it because if I start thinking about it I keep changing my mind and it takes ages.

    • I love the Eli Marks books and really wish they had a wider readership. They’re on the fun end of crime fiction but with excellent plotting – kinda like updated versions of Golden Age, so you get things like his take on a locked room mystery and so on.

      Haha – it’s probably one of my quickest posts actually, which is why I enjoy doing it. And always a great way to try to push some favourite books too, though occasionally I have to pick a book I didn’t like just to keep the chain going… 🙂

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