Six Degrees of Separation – From Hustvedt 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…

What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt. I haven’t read it but the blurb tells me…

This is the story of two men who first become friends in 1970s New York, of the women in their lives, of their sons, born the same year, and of how relations between the two families become strained, first by tragedy, then by a monstrous duplicity which comes slowly and corrosively to the surface.

Sounds rather good! Nothing like a bit of monstrous duplicity to get a plot going!

My first pick is to another book set in New York…

Three-Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell. It’s 1958, and in the hipster scene of Greenwich Village we meet the three characters who take turns to narrate their own stories. Eden, a young woman determined to make it in the male-dominated world of publishing. Rich boy Cliff who thinks he can write and is pretty sure he just needs a break to make it big. And Miles, a black man just about to graduate from Columbia, and working part-time as a messenger-boy for one of the publishing houses. When their lives intersect, a chain of events is started that will change the courses of their lives. Great writing from one of my favourite young authors.

Looking back on it now, I see that New York in the ’50s made for a unique scene. If you lived in Manhattan during that time you experienced the uniqueness in the colors and flavors of the city that were more defined and more distinct from one another than they were in other cities or other times. If you ask me, I think it was the war that had made things this way. All the energy of the war effort was now poured into the manufacture of neon signs, shiny chrome bumpers, bright plastic things, and that meant all of a sudden there was a violent shade of Formica to match every desire. All of it was for sale and people had lots of dough to spend and to top it off the atom bomb was constantly hovering in the back of all our minds, its bright white flash and the shadow of its mushroom cloud casting a kind of imaginary yet urgent light over everything that surrounded us.

An entirely different kind of meal in my next choice…

The Dinner by Herman Koch. Paul and Claire meet for dinner with Paul’s brother Serge and his wife Babette quite often but, on this occasion, things are more tense than usual because the two families need to talk about an incident involving their children. When it becomes obvious they’re not going to agree on how to handle the situation, the tension begins to grow and the conventions of polite behaviour begin to fall apart. The question the book asks is – how far would you go to protect your children? Disturbing, morally twisted and darkly funny.

Now that we’re at dinner, it’s time to pick the meal…

Braised Pork by An Yu. One morning, Jia Jia finds her husband dead in the bathtub in an odd position that leaves it unclear as to whether his death was accidental or suicide. Beside him is a piece of paper on which he has drawn a strange picture of a fish with a man’s head. As she tries to come to terms with the sudden change to her life and her expected future, Jia Jia finds herself thinking more and more about this fish-man, and decides to retrace her husband’s last trip to Tibet to try to find out its significance. Gradually she finds herself drifting into a place where the lines between reality and dreams become blurred. An excellent debut!

Even vegetarians would admit that the pigs in my next selection deserve to become pork…

Animal Farm by George Orwell. Inspired by a dream, the animals of Manor Farm rebel against their human master and throw him off the land. They agree to work the farm for their own mutual benefit, sharing the work and the produce fairly, each according to his ability and need. Being the most intelligent animals, the pigs take over the planning, both of how to maximise the farm’s yield and of how to protect themselves from outside hostility. But, as we all know, power corrupts…

This allegorical fable didn’t work quite as well for mature FF as it did long ago for young FF. But on both readings it was the story of Boxer the horse who caused the most sniffling. There’s another Boxer in my next choice…

The Cricket on the Hearth by Charles Dickens. We meet little Mrs. Peerybingle, Dot as she is known affectionately to her husband John, as she waits for said husband to return home from his work as a carrier. Dot is a young thing, very young indeed, and John is well into middle-age, but despite this disparity they seem an idyllically happy couple, especially now they have their own little Baby to make their lives complete. The little house is blessed by having a resident Cricket which lives on the hearth and chirps merrily when all is well. But this contented little household is about to be shaken to its core. A stranger arrives who seems to disturb Dot’s usually cheerful state of mind…

Boxer is Mr Peerybingle’s lovely dog, who adds much fun to the proceedings…

He had business elsewhere; going down all the turnings, looking into all the wells, bolting in and out of all the cottages, dashing into the midst of all the Dame Schools, fluttering all the pigeons, magnifying the tails of all the cats, and trotting into the public-houses like a regular customer. Wherever he went, somebody or other might have been heard to cry, “Halloa! here’s Boxer!”

My last pick involves a different kind of cricket…

Selection Day by Aravind Adiga. Two brothers are being groomed by their father to become the greatest cricketers in India. Radha, the elder, with his film-star looks and love of the game, is the better of the two, and it’s accepted that he will be the star. But as they grow up, Radha’s skill diminishes, just a little, but enough for him to be eclipsed by the younger Manju, whose attitude to the game is more ambivalent. This is a story of sibling rivalry, tied in with a wider picture of corruption in society shown through the corruption in cricket. Adiga’s writing is always pure pleasure to read, insightful and serious but always uplifted by delicious touches of humour…

“People thought I had a future as a writer, Manju. I wanted to write a great novel about Mumbai,” the principal said, playing with her glasses. “But then…then I began, and I could not write it. The only thing I could write about, in fact, was that I couldn’t write about the city.

“The sun, which I can’t describe like Homer, rises over Mumbai, which I can’t describe like Salman Rushdie, creating new moral dilemmas for all of us, which I won’t be able to describe like Amitav Ghosh.”

* * * * *

So from Hustvedt to Adiga via New York, mealtimes, meals, pigs, Boxers, and cricket.

Hope you enjoyed the journey! 😀

42 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation – From Hustvedt to…

    • I ended up making myself quite hungry by the time I got to the end of my chain! 😉 I love Rindell – each of her three books have been quite different so far, and she always seems able to create authentic voices for the time and place she chooses as her settings. New one coming out this month!

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  1. Great chain as always. Dinner rings a bell from somewhere, but I’m associating it with a play for some reason, it must have been something I saw with similar themes. I’ve still to read Dickens’s festive stories apart from A Christmas Carol of course. Maybe this winter.

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    • Glad you enjoyed it! I can actually see that The Dinner would work quite well as a play so I wonder if perhaps someone dramatized it? I read Dickens’ other Christmas stories a year or two ago and enjoyed them, though none of them is the same standard as A Christmas Carol. And several of them are distinctly un-festive!

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  2. I love the clever way you move through this, FictionFan. And you’re able to string together such different sorts of stories. Funny you’d mention The Dinner. I found it a bit unsettling, and I don’t mean that’s necessarily a problem. I still think about it, which is high praise for a book. And I remember being drawn to Boxer the horse the first time I read Animal Farm. Funny, that one didn’t work as well for me, either, as I got older, but still, it’s a classic tale.

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    • Glad you enjoyed it! Yes, Koch’s characters are done very well, so that even when their behaviour is extreme they still feel credible – frighteningly so! I think in general we get more cynical about politics as we age, or at least we realise things aren’t quite as clear cut as we sometimes feel in youth. My adult brain felt that Orwell hadn’t quite made his argument fully coherent – my younger self just gave in to the injustice of it all!

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  3. This was such fun! I was shouting out what I thought the next book would be on several occasions! (In my head, you understand. It would not be seemly for mature Sandra to shout randomly into the ether: ‘Cricket, yes! She’s going for that book by what’isname about a Scotsman in England which features a cricket match!’ People might begin to wonder… 😨 Perhaps with good reason…)

    On a more grown-up note: an excellent chain, FF, with a nice balance for me of books I know, books I’ve read, books I now want to read (groan). The Dickens in particular has me intrigued. I’m hoping that’s a short story at least!

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    • Hahahaha! Now I want to do a post where everybody has to guess what’s coming next! 😉 WHAT book about a Scotsman in England and a cricket match?? I want to read that one, I think! We’d never wonder about your sanity… never…

      The Dickens is one of the Christmas books, so about the same length as A Christmas Carol. It’s quite fun, but not at all festive and not nearly as good as ACC – none of the other ones are. However I did like Boxer…

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      • I am mightily relieved to hear that no one would question my sanity. Phew!

        https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/847987.England_Their_England?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=xMXgzPy27M&rank=2 Scotsman in England, cricket match….

        I shall add the Christmas Dickens, duly adjusting my expectations. Might be nice to have a little variety in my annual festive Dickens 😊

        And did you know that yesterday (I think) was apparently International Chocolate Day? I missed the opportunity for a extra square or two… 😣

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        • Ooh, I must say England, Their England sounds like great fun – a definite TBR addition! The English are so weird… 😉

          Enjoy the Christmas Dickenses, but bear in mind they’re mostly not about Christmas. I shall be reading The Mystery of Edwin Drood this Christmas…

          International??? But I don’t want Johnny Foreigner eating all my chocolate. They should restrict it to Scottish Chocolate Day and have it every day. 😀

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  4. Brilliant, FF!! The only one on this grouping that I’ve read is Animal Farm; how I missed the Dickens is beyond me. I can see I’m going to have to return to the classics of yesteryear if I’m to be truly educated. Why my teachers didn’t insist on it, I’ll never know!

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    • Glad you enjoyed it! Ha – given that I’ve been reading classics on and off all my life and have still barely scratched the surface, I’m kinda glad they didn’t make me read them all at school – I’d still be there! Mind you, that might not be so bad… 😉

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  5. Hm, interesting connections! Must say that the porker connection tickled me to no end. I might have been tempted to connect Three-Martini Lunch with Selection Day, but that would have been too much of a straight line. That excerpt from Selection Day intrigued me. Very meta.

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    • Haha! I’m a bit concerned at the idea of eating talking pigs, but the ones in Animal Farm definitely would have been improved by roasting… 😉 I love Adiga’s writing and I thought that passage probably came from something he felt himself one day while staring at a blank piece of paper. I’d put him right up there with the authors he mentions though – above one or two of them, in fact!

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  6. Good job!! I put The Dinner on my wishlist years ago and promptly forgot about it. Maybe I should consider it again? I loved The Cricket on the Hearth. Seems like I read it was his most popular Christmas story before the first film version of A Christmas Carol was made.

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    • I did enjoy The Dinner so I think it’d be well worth your while – it’s quite disturbing but also has quite a lot of black humour. I can see why The Cricket on the Hearth would have been popular – it’s very Dickens! Personally I preferred A Christmas Carol, but I thought Cricket was far and away the next best of the Christmas books.

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  7. I love the look of Three Martini Lunch! Any book about the publishing industry pulls me in, I have a fascination with this industry that I used to work in/sort of work in now. It’s drama drama drama all the time LOL

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