Six Degrees of Separation – From O’Farrell 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…

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. I haven’t read it but the blurb tells me…

Hamnet is a luminous portrait of a marriage, at its heart the loss of a beloved child. Warwickshire in the 1580s. Agnes is a woman as feared as she is sought after for her unusual gifts. She settles with her husband in Henley street, Stratford, and has three children: a daughter, Susanna, and then twins, Hamnet and Judith. The boy, Hamnet, dies in 1596, aged eleven. Four years or so later, the husband writes a play called Hamlet.

All the glowing reviews of this have tempted me to read it, but I believe it’s present tense (ugh!) and for some unaccountable and pretentious reason O’Farrell has chosen to refer to Anne Hathaway as Agnes, which would irritate me profoundly every time she was mentioned. In my first choice of books, she’s Anne…

The Secret Life of William Shakespeare by Jude Morgan. Shakespeare may get the title billing, and I loved his story as imagined by Morgan, but for me the standout feature of the book was the character of Anne – her love for Will, her fear of losing him, her strength to let him follow his driven path despite the cost to herself. She has to provide the strength that can make their relationship survive his absence, that gives him the freedom to be something she never fully understands. Will says:

‘You made Will Shakespeare, Anne. And without you there wouldn’t be a life, but the unformed shape of one, never to be.’ 

And such is Jude Morgan’s skill that this reader believed this completely.

Morgan introduces us to Shakespeare’s theatre friends and rivals, including Kit Marlowe, who stars in my next choice…

Crimson Rose by MJ Trow. It’s the opening night of Marlowe’s new play Tamburlaine Part 2 at the Rose Theatre and everyone is expecting it to be spectacular, especially the bit where they shoot the Governor. But as the guns go off, screams are heard from the audience and a woman falls dead, shot through the neck. This is a clever and funny mystery where Shakespeare is shown as a kind of hick just up from the country, while Marlowe is a 16th century James Bond. Great fun, especially the interactions among the theatre company.

More theatrical fun in my third book…

Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens. I adore the wonderful section when Nicholas falls in with the travelling company of actors under the headship of actor-manager and all-round ham, Vincent Crummles. Who could ever forget the Infant Phenomenon…?

.‘May I ask how old she is?’ inquired Nicholas.
….‘You may, sir,’ replied Mr Crummles, looking steadily in his questioner’s face, as some men do when they have doubts about being implicitly believed in what they are going to say. ‘She is ten years of age, sir.’
….‘Not more!’
….‘Not a day.’
….‘Dear me!’ said Nicholas, ‘it’s extraordinary.’
….It was; for the infant phenomenon, though of short stature, had a comparatively aged countenance, and had moreover been precisely the same age–not perhaps to the full extent of the memory of the oldest inhabitant, but certainly for five good years. But she had been kept up late every night, and put upon an unlimited allowance of gin-and-water from infancy, to prevent her growing tall, and perhaps this system of training had produced in the infant phenomenon these additional phenomena.

Moving away from fiction but staying with Dickens and the stage takes me to…

Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World by Simon Callow. A superbly readable and affectionate account of the great man’s life, viewing it from the perspective of how Dickens’ love for the world of the theatre influenced his life and work. Interspersed generously with Dickens’ own words, taken from his correspondence with friends, we get a real feel for his massive personality, his sense of fun, his unstoppable energy and, yes, his occasional pomposity too.

Simon Callow as Dickens

Simon Callow has often performed as Dickens, and he also appeared in the film Shakespeare In Love, set during the period when Shakespeare was writing Romeo and Juliet. My next choice is set in that same period, though that’s where the resemblance ends!

Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell. A new playhouse is opening in London and the owners are determined to make it a huge success. Actors are easy to get hold of but new plays are the magic that bring in the playgoers. Over at the Theatre, Richard Shakespeare is struggling to survive on the measly wages he receives. He’s getting too old to play women’s roles and his older brother Will won’t promise him roles playing men. He seems like the perfect target for the new playhouse – offer him regular well-paid work and perhaps he’d be willing to steal the two new scripts Will is working on – A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet. This is a light-hearted historical mystery, which may not be one for purists but gives a great depiction of how theatre operated in Shakespeare’s day.

Shakespeare wrote some pretty good plays, but I feel his main claim to fame is as the creator of the fretful porpentine, our very own star of Tuesday Terror! The porpy, who rather neatly comes from Hamlet, also turns up in my last book…

Joy in the Morning by PG Wodehouse. With sundered hearts all over the place, drunken uncles dressed in Sindbad costumes and pestilential Boy Scouts to deal with, it’s surprising that Bertie and Jeeves have time for a little literary discussion…

….Do you recall telling me once about someone who told somebody he could tell him something which would make him think a bit? Knitted socks and porcupines entered into it, I remember.”
….“I think you may be referring to the ghost of the father of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, sir. Addressing his son, he said ‘I could a tale unfold whose lightest word would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres, thy knotted and combined locks to part and each particular hair to stand on end like quills upon the fretful porpentine.’”
….“That’s right. Locks, of course, not socks. Odd that he should have said porpentine when he meant porcupine. Slip of the tongue, no doubt, as often happens with ghosts.”

* * * * *

So from O’Farrell to Wodehouse via Shakespeare, Kit Marlowe, theatricals, Dickens, Simon Callow, and the fretful porpentine.

Hope you enjoyed the journey! 😀

39 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation – From O’Farrell to…

  1. I did indeed enjoy your creative book linking and the snapshots of theatrical lives, stages and elusive quotes. That is such a wonderful quote from Wodehouse, it brings a smile no matter how often I’ve read it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • One of the reasons I enjoy doing this post is that it allows me to recycle favourite quotes and images from reviews. 😀 This one drifted into theatricals – I hadn’t realised I’d read so many books about Shakespeare, and Dickens and the theatre just seem to go together…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think I may have come across a real Inphant Phenoninon in the theatre, Dickens certainly knew what he was talking about. The Callow biography looks fun, I’ve never heard of it, and the Secret life of William Shakespeare may also be worth a look. Great chain.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahaha! I suspect there are a few theatricals who may have been the same age for several years! The Callow bio is great – much less dense than most Dickens bios because he takes the theatre angle as his central theme, and very convincingly shows how theatre informed the way he wrote his novels. I think you’d enjoy it! And I loved The Secret Life – not usually my kind of thing, but it’s so well written, and again convinced me completely.


  3. These are great, FictionFan! I really like the way you’ve woven theatre into this – very clever! And you make an interesting point about Hamnet. I don’t like present tense, either, as you know. Still, I am interested in reading it. I’m happy to see you’ve worked Dickens into this one, too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Margot! The theatre theme just sort of took over – I hadn’t realised I’d read so many books set around Shakespeare, and Dickens and the theatre just seem to naturally go together. Yes, I don’t know why she decided to call Anne Agnes, but I know it’s the kind of thing that would grate on me every time she used the name. Plus, present tense… ugh!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I like your theatre theme! Normally, I am quite a keen theatregoer and your chain reminded me how much I miss it. Well, it will happen again. One day! I am not sure, I even notice if a book if a book is written in present or past tense. What is wrong with present tense?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love theatre too – it’s what I missed most when I moved back up here from London. (Not that we don’t have theatres, of course, but we tend not to get as many of the really big theatre stars up here.) Ugh, present tense is a real pet hate of mine – it doesn’t feel natural and so many authors aren’t good at using it, so you end up with clumsy sentences, like “Next morning I am in a coffee shop…” No, you mean THIS morning! Or there was one particular example where the author had fallen in water “I am falling. I am drowning.” and all I could think was, just as well you’ve got a waterproof notebook and pen with you then… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • I wonder how common it is – perhaps I haven’t read any books in present tense? More likely, I have read some, but it hasn’t bothered me. I will try to pay attention to this in the future. Perhaps I ought to read Hamnet, just to check!

        Liked by 1 person

        • It’s incredibly common in contemporary crime fiction – one of the major reasons I’m so off it these days. Vintage crime is almost invariably written in past tense. When it’s done really well, I don’t notice it much either, but so often it’s done badly that I avoid it as much as I can. I think Wolf Hall is present tense if you’ve read it, and parts of Bleak House, but then they could both write…

          Liked by 1 person

  5. I wasn’t a fan of Hamnet – the present tense and the Agnes thing irritated me, as well as the way Shakespeare was never referred to by name, which I found quite distracting. I did enjoy the Jude Morgan book, which I also have in my chain, and Fools and Mortals, which I very nearly included in my chain!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, I didn’t know she never referred to Shakespeare by name – that would annoy me too. Sounds like she was trying too hard – style over substance. The Jude Morgan was great, though, and convinced me completely, and Fools and Mortals was fun!


  6. Sometimes the use of the present tense irritates me so much I won’t bother reading a book. In Hamnet I felt in distanced me from the story and was distracting. Parts of the book are overwritten, but despite that I was, strangely, fascinated by it. I think I’d enjoy Jude Morgan’s book – the Anne in that sounds more likeable. I loved Fools and Mortals!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it’s very rare for me to be able to enjoy a present tense book – I try to check now before I get a book, and actively avoid present tense ones. The Jude Morgan one was excellent (and past tense!) and I was completely convinced by Anne’s character. Fools and Mortals was great fun! Must check if he’s done a follow-up…


    • I love Wodehouse – they’re all the same plot basically, but the joy is in the way he uses language! The Simon Callow bio is great – not as dense as some Dickens’ bios but gives a real feel for what he was like as a person and performer.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Brilliant, FF!! And what’s not to like about one of these separation posts that includes my favorite porpy?!! But I’m still reeling over that ten-year-old fed unlimited gin and water from infancy. Cake? Maybe, but then I guess she’d be overweight instead of just aged!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahaha, yes, who knew gin and water would keep you from growing tall?? Those Victorians! 😉 The porpy does like to be the centre of attention, but he deserves it after all he has to put up with… 😱🦔

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Crimson Rose sounds like the real standout to me. There’s something appealing about a mystery that plays with real-life historical figures this way, it just snags my interest for some strange reason.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. pestilential – what a great word, love it and so early in the year! A great set of links and now I’ve got to add the RSC Nicholas Nickleby to my list, sounds brilliant!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahaha, I can’t take the credit – I love Wodehouse’s vocabulary though! 😀 Oh, I hope you can get hold of the Nicholas Nickleby – it’s really wonderful. I should warn you it’s about nine hours long though, so prepare sandwiches…

      Liked by 1 person

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