Six Degrees of Separation – From Kingsolver 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 The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I haven’t read it but it’s been sitting on my TBR since 2015, so maybe I’ll get to it soon! The blurb tells me…

The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it — from garden seeds to Scripture — is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.

Another book set in the Congo, though this time in what was once the French Congo, is…

Brazzaville Beach by William Boyd. As Hope Clearwater sits on the beach outside her home in the Republic of the Congo, she looks back over the circumstances of her life that have brought her here: her marriage to mathematician John Clearwater, and her later work at Grosso Arvore, a chimpanzee research project run by the world-famous primate expert, Eugene Mallabar. I loved this book, with its themes of the pursuit of scientific fame, evolution, war and, on a more personal level, the breakdown of a marriage.

I stopped and filled my lungs, smelling Africa – smelling dust, woodsmoke, a perfume from a flower, something musty, something decaying.

I also loved it for its observations of the lives of the chimps, which seems like an excellent cue to reprise one of my favourite gifs…

I can’t ever think of chimps now without being reminded of another wonderful book…

The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel – this is a beautifully written novel in three parts, each of which relates to a small town in the mountains of the title. Again it has a theme of evolution running through it, this time the old debate of faith versus science, and the chimps appear as both real and symbolic throughout. But that aside, the sheer quality of the writing along with the more overt themes of grief and love make it a wonderful read. It gets my highest recommendation – one that has left some indelible images in my mind.

If a job was left unfinished at the end of a day – the coop not repaired, a row of vegetables not weeded – we knew that one of us had sat down and wept. That’s the nature of grief: it’s a creature with many arms but few legs, and it staggers about, searching for support. Frayed chicken wire and a profusion of weeds became expressions of our loss. I can’t look at chicken wire now without thinking of my lost son. There’s something about the warp and weft of it, so thin yet strong, so porous yet solid, that reminds me of how we loved him. Later, because of our neglect, chickens died at the jaws of a fox that slipped into the coop, and the crop of vegetables was not so bountiful – but so it goes: a son dies and the earth becomes barren.

Another book where the stories in it all link back to a mountain is…

Fujisan by Randy Taguchi. This rather strange but very moving collection of four stories is centred round the iconic Mount Fuji. There is a spiritual feel to the book; these characters are seeking something that will enable them to explain themselves to themselves and their searches take them in strange and surprising directions. ‘Blue Summit’ tells of an ex-cult member now working in a convenience store and learning how to live outside the cult. ‘Sea of Trees’ is a disturbing tale of three boys confronting death while spending a night in the woods of Mount Fuji. ‘Jamilla’ is a compulsive hoarder and this is the tale of the social worker detailed to clear her house. And lastly, in ‘Child of Night’ a walk up the mountain becomes a journey of self-discovery for a nurse who is struggling with the ethics of her job. Stories that have stayed in my mind in the five or six years since I read them.

The story ‘Sea of Trees’ in this collection tells a strange and disturbing story of young people in a wood, and so does…

In the Woods by Tana French. In 1984, three children went into the woods in Knocknaree. Only one returned, with blood – not his own – in his shoes, so traumatised he is never able to remember what happened. The other two children have never been found. That traumatised child is now a detective on the Murder Squad, Rob Ryan. And when another child is found murdered in Knocknaree, he and his partner Cassie are given the case. I enjoyed this début in French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, with a few reservations as to overwriting and over-padding, and really must read more of her books someday

A book set in Dublin that I enjoyed with no reservations at all is…

The Visitor by Maeve Brennan. This novella is an early, previously unpublished work of Maeve Brennan’s, discovered in a University archive after her death. It is a wonderful study of loneliness, self-absorption and selfishness, of thwarted love, both romantic and familial, and of a longing for that nebulous thing we call ‘home’, and is beautifully written.

She walked out along the shallow path. At the gate she turned to look up at Miss Kilbride’s window. It was blind and closed, like a person sleeping. Like Miss Kilbride, lying on her back in difficult slumber. And later, waking to dream of a doubtful deathly union with her long-lost hero, with whom she had once struggled in valiant, well-dressed immodesty on a small settee, for love’s sake.

Regulars will know I always try to find an author pic for my reviews, and the picture of Maeve Brennan is one of my favourites. I want to be on the other side of that table, listening…

Maeve Brennan

Another of my favourite author pics is this one…

So my final book will be…

Docherty by William McIlvanney. On a December night in 1903, Tam Docherty lifts his new-born son and declares that this one will never go down the pits – this child Conn, his youngest, will work with his brains, rise out of the poverty of his heritage. The book covers the next twenty years or so, telling the story of Conn and his family, and most of all of Tam himself, a man who may be “only five foot fower. But when yer hert goes fae yer heid tae yer taes, that’s a lot o’ hert.” A beautiful book, written mostly in standard English, but with some excellent Scottish dialect…

“Son, it’s easy tae be guid oan a fu’ belly. It’s when a man’s goat two bites an’ wan o’ them he’ll share, ye ken whit he’s made o’. Listen. In ony country in the world, who are the only folk that ken whit it’s like tae leeve in that country? The folk at the boattom. The rest can a’ kid themselves oan. They can afford to hiv fancy ideas. We canny, son. We loass the wan idea o’ who we are, we’re deid. We’re wan anither. Tae survive, we’ll respect wan anither. When the time comes, we’ll a’ move forward thegither, or nut at all.”

* * * * *

So Kingsolver to McIlvanney, via the Congo, chimps, mountains, woods, Dublin and author photographs!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

46 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation – From Kingsolver to…

  1. What a great bunch of books! I’ve read four, and have read other books by two of the authors; the unfamiliar one is Fujisan, which does look like a book I’d like to open .

    • Fujisan was one of the first books I got for review when I became an Amazon Vine reviewer and, although I found the translation clunky, the stories have all stuck in my mind. In fact, it was reading that book that led me to venture into a little more into the discombobulating world of Japanese fiction…

  2. A most enjoyable escapade through literature! And a lovely little monkey gif too, how marvellous. That is a super picture of Maeve Brennan and I agree – I would love to be sat opposite, listening to her. And maybe help with whatever was in those fetching glasses, too… 😉

    • I do love that little chimp! Always good to have an excuse to bring him back. 😀 Yes, it looks like it was an enjoyable party – good food, good wine, good conversation!

  3. I like those links, FictionFan. And you’ve made it quite an international journey from Kingsolver to McIlvanney. I especially think it’s clever that you used images to do part of this journey. I’m impressed. And I do need to read that Martel. It sounds fabulous.

    • My chain seemed to jump around in an even more random fashion than usual this month! Most of my author pics are simple headshots, but there have been a few over the years that have stood out so I always like an excuse to show them again. The Martel is wonderful – highly recommended! 😀

  4. Love the monkey gif!
    What a great journey! I wish I’d brought snacks.
    Maeve’s photo is priceless! Though I have to wonder if she’s commenting on the martinis. “I told you shaken, not stirred!”

    • Haha, the chimp might let you have some of what he’s eating – he seems to be enjoying it!

      It’s a great pic, isn’t it? Ha, whatever she’s saying, she looks as if she means it… 😉

  5. Very nice! As usual, you introduce me to books that I’m not familiar with, but you also make them very appealing. Ha! The only one I’ve read is In the Woods and, yes, you must read more of Tana French’s books. Quickly. Run now to get them. LOL LOL

    • Haha – I’ll get them! I’ll get them! I promise! 😉 These chains are actually dreadful for TBRs – every month I end up adding several books to my wishlist…

  6. Brilliant journey! I’m not terribly fond of monkeys, but that little guy is rather cute, and I can’t help thinking he’s probably chomping on a bit of chocolate!!

  7. That’s the only Tara French book I’ve read – I loved it and meant to read more of hers! And it’s the only book in your chain I’ve read – apart from the Poisonwood Bible – I hope you’ll enjoy it, I did.

    • The problem is all her books are huge! I could read five novellas in the same time… 😉

      Yes, I need to find a reason to let my chimp gif out to play every now and then… 😀

      • I’m not sure you’d like Life of Pi actually, but it’s one of those books you should read just so you can see what everyone else is talking about, ya know?

        • Interesting – the reason I didn’t read it when it came out is that I also am not sure I’d like it. But because I loved his later book so much, I’m now willing to at least give it a try. Plus as you say, EVERYBODY’s read it except me!

  8. A great chain! 😀 So diverse – although far too many books that now insist upon adding themselves to my list 🙈

    I loved The LIfe of Pi and who knows why I’ve never read anything more from Martell? This one sounds wonderful. And Brassaville Beach… I’ve enjoyed almost everything of Boyd’s that I’ve read – so why have I never considered this one? Maybe your chimp has the answers? If I bribe him with chocolate maybe he can tell me how to squeeze in a few more reading lifetimes? 🙊

    Then there’s Maeve Brennan. I’ve never heard of her but that extract (and that photo) are enough. I have to try her. I’ve never heard of William McIlvanney either. I’m now feeling deeply ignorant. But you’ve got me adding his name to the list as well. 🙈🙈🙈🙈🙈

    *sigh* maybe I won’t bribe the chimp…. maybe I’ll try boosting my reading abilities by eating that chocolate myself 😋😆😉

    • Hahaha – between you and the chimp I’m getting worried there might be a world chocolate shortage soon!

      This is the only book by Martel that I’ve read, though Pi is on my TBR. But it really is wonderful – one of the most outstanding reads of the last few years for me. And Brazzaville Beach is probably my favourite Boyd so far though I’ve still got several of his books to read. Maeve Brennan happily wasn’t terribly prolific in terms of books – she was a columnist more than a novelist and collections of columns have never appealed to me much. But McIlvanney is an essential read! It is my mission in life to force his books on everyone so you might as well just give in straight away – Docherty would be an excellent one to start with… 😀

      • Docherty it shall be 🙂 As for Brennan, now this fascinates me – knowing nothing, I looked at that photo and thought ‘contemporary Irish writer’. Only now you’ve spoken of her in the past tense have I had a quick look and learned more of when she was writing. That photo becomes even more amazing now I have more context.

        • I know what you mean – she looks seriously contemporary. I think that’s what I like about it so much – she looks like someone who would have stood no nonsense back in the days when nonsense was par for the course for women. I also was stunned that The Visitor hadn’t been published – if this is the quality she kept in a drawer as ‘not good enough’ I can only wish she’d written far more fiction…

  9. What a terrific picture of Maeve Brennan! I just adored The Visitor and am so glad I read it (and that it was published in the first place.) The Poisonwood Bible is very good, but it’s been probably 15 years or so since I’ve read it. I do remember sobbing, which is probably why I haven’t reread it yet!

    • Isn’t it a great picture? She looks so full of personality! Haha – well, sometimes sobbing can be fun. 😂 All these chains have made me want to push The Poisonwood Bible up the priority list – but my priority list is getting to be nearly as long as my TBR these days… 😱

  10. We’re wan anither. Tae survive, we’ll respect wan anither. When the time comes, we’ll a’ move forward thegither, or nut at all.” What a great philosophy of life!

  11. Adding Fujisan to my TBR wishlist now – we’ve just spent 3 rainy days driving around mt Fuji hoping for a glimpse but she’s a shy little thing!

    • Oh, what a pity – she could have at least put in a brief appearance! I do hope you enjoy Fujisan – I found the translation a bit clunky sometimes, but the stories have stuck in my head for years – always the sign of a good book for me.

    • Thank you! Ha – I must say picking pictures and gifs is one of my favourite bits of blogging, so I’m always on the lookout for excuses to bring back some of my favourites… 😀

  12. This is really good fun! And full of books I haven’t read (Yann Martel looks particularly good) but I have read The Poisonwood Bible and it’s fabulous!

    • Oh, that’s good to hear about The Poisonwood Bible – I’m going to have to prioritise it! These posts are always great fun to do, so I’m glad you enjoyed it. I never have a clue where my chain is heading until I reach the end… 😀

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