Six Degrees of Separation – From Ozeki 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 Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki. The blurb on Goodreads says…

After the tragic death of his beloved musician father, fourteen-year-old Benny Oh begins to hear voices. The voices belong to the things in his house — a sneaker, a broken Christmas ornament, a piece of wilted lettuce. Although Benny doesn’t understand what these things are saying, he can sense their emotional tone; some are pleasant, a gentle hum or coo, but others are snide, angry and full of pain. When his mother, Annabelle, develops a hoarding problem, the voices grow more clamorous.

I fear I thought Ozeki’s previous novel, A Tale for the Time Being, was one of the silliest books I’ve ever had the misfortune to be hyped into reading, so I certainly won’t be falling for the hype around this one, which sounds equally nonsensical.

Using voices as the link leads me to my first choice…

The Voices Beyond by Johan Theorin

The fourth book in Theorin’s Öland Quartet, this atmospheric crime thriller begins when a young boy has a terrifying experience when he takes his dingy out in the middle of the night. Drifting in the darkness, a sudden shaft of moonlight shows a boat approaching and he doesn’t have time to get out of the way. He manages to climb aboard the boat before his dingy is sunk, but what awaits him there is the stuff of nightmares – dying men (or are they already dead?) on the deck stalking towards him and calling out in a language he doesn’t understand. The book has a 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.

And Stalin leads me to my second book…

The Man Who Loved Dogs by Leonardo Padura

The story the man who loved dogs tells is of Ramón Mercader del Rio, a young Spaniard caught up in the Spanish Civil War, who is recruited by the Stalinist regime to assassinate Stalin’s great enemy, Trotsky. This introduces the two main strands of the novel which run side by side. We follow Ramón through the Spanish Civil War, learning a good deal about that event as we go, and seeing the idealism which drove many of those on the Republican side to believe that the USSR was a shining beacon to the masses of the world. And we meet Trotsky just as he is exiled from the USSR, with Stalin re-writing history to portray him as a traitor to the Revolution.

I’m spoiled for choice when I use the Spanish Civil War as a link! I’ll go for…

In Diamond Square by Mercè Rodoreda

One evening in the early 1930s in Barcelona, Natalia dances with a young man at a fiesta in Diamond Square. They fall in love, marry and have children, but the political situation is deteriorating and soon the nation will be plunged into civil war. This is the story of Natalia’s marriage and life, before, during and after the war. It is a fascinating picture of someone who has no interest in or understanding of politics – who simply endures as other people destroy her world then put it back together in a different form.

We didn’t get up on Sundays so as not to be so hungry. And we took the kid to a [refugee] camp in a lorry Julie sent our way after I’d done a lot of persuading. But he knew he was being lied to. He knew better than I did that it was a lie and I was the liar. And we talked about sending him to a camp, before we actually did, and he’d look down and clam up, as if we grown-ups didn’t exist. Mrs Enriqueta promised she’d visit him. I told him I’d go every Sunday. The lorry left Barcelona with us in the back and a cardboard suitcase held together by a piece of string, and it turned down the white road that led to the lie.

Barcelona takes me to my next novel…

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Barcelona, 1945. Young Daniel Sempere’s father takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books – a mysterious place full of labyrinthine corridors where rare and banned books are piled randomly on shelves. There, Daniel is told he should select a book and it will then be his responsibility to ensure that his chosen book survives. Daniel selects a book called The Shadow of the Wind by a forgotten author called Julián Carax. As Daniel comes under the spell of the book, he finds himself searching for the truth of what happened to Carax…

Under the warm light cast by the reading lamp, I was plunged into a new world of images and sensations peopled by characters who seemed as real to me as my surroundings. Page after page I let the spell of the story and its world take me over, until the breath of dawn touched my window and my tired eyes slid over the last page. I lay in the bluish half-light with the book on my chest and listened to the murmur of the sleeping city. My eyes began to close, but I resisted. I did not want to lose the story’s spell or bid farewell to its characters just yet.

This series of anthologies is itself a library of forgotten stories. I’ve picked the second in the series, which to my mind is the best… 

Bodies from the Library 2 edited by Tony Medawar

This collection of fifteen stories includes some of the biggest names of all, like Sayers and Christie, some of the authors who are currently being resurrected for a modern audience, like ECR Lorac and John Rhode, and some whose names were unfamiliar to me, though they’re probably well known to real vintage crime aficionados, like Helen Simpson or C.A. Alington. Described as ‘forgotten’, the stories are previously uncollected and in several cases unpublished, so even those who have read quite widely in this genre will find some real treats here.

One of my favourite stories in the collection is by Christianna Brand, which leads me to my final selection…

Green for Danger by Christianna Brand

World War 2 is underway and a military hospital has been set up at Heron’s Park in Kent. When a patient at the hospital dies unexpectedly on the operating table, at first it’s assumed the death was no more than an unusual reaction to the anaesthetic, but when Inspector Cockrill is called in to confirm this, he learns a couple of things that lead him to suspect the death may have been murder. But before he can find out who did it, he first has to work out how it was done…

This has everything you would hope for from a true Golden Age mystery, and is exceptionally well written to boot.

Alastair Sim as Inspector Cockrill in the film version of Green for Danger

* * * * *

So from Ozeki to Brand, via voices, Stalin, the Spanish Civil War, Barcelona, forgotten stories and Christianna Brand!

Hope you enjoyed the journey! 😀

27 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation – From Ozeki to…

  1. Not tempted by Ozeki’s book either. The Shadow of the Wind is one I’ve been meaning to read for ages – I hope I will one day. I haven’t read any of Brand’s books but Green for Danger looks like a good place to start.

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    • I loved The Shadow of the Wind – it’s one that deserved the hype, I think! Green for Danger is still the only novel of Brand’s I’ve read, but she turns up often in anthologies and I always enjoy her stories. I really must read more of her!

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  2. A very clever chain, FictionFan! And you’ve got some fine entries. I liked Green For Danger very much – such a great sense of claustrophobia in that one! And Theorin writes such wonderfully atmospheric novels. All that and the Spanish Civil War, too! That’s quite a world jaunt!

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    • Doing this reminded me that I’ve still not read any more of Brand’s novels, though she turns up often in short story anthologies and I always enjoy her. Must correct this omission! Ha, yes, I was pleased my chain actually escaped from Britain for once – my reading tends to be so insular!

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  3. What a journey!
    I keep forgetting about Christianna Brand! Someone else (though it might have been you come to think of it) mentioned her years ago. I’m glad she was a link in the chain. I know about Nurse Matilda, but didn’t know she wrote mysteries! I’m always glad to discover classic mystery authors I haven’t yet read.

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    • I loved Green for Danger but as usual I’ve never got around to reading any more of her novels. She pops up quite often in anthologies though, and I always enjoy her stories. Ha, it was only through comments that I learned she’d written children’s books!

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  4. Voices is a great first link! I really struggled to get started with this month’s chain – I just couldn’t think of anything at all. I must read The Voices Beyond soon. It’s the only book in the Oland Quartet I haven’t read and I loved all three of the others!

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    • Sometimes I can’t get a first link at all – it’s much harder when you haven’t read the book and only have the blurb to go on! I’ve read the first and fourth of the Oland Quartet but not the two in the middle – I really need to do a course on organisational skills… .)

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    • Ha, I was so annoyed at the ending of A Tale for the Time Being that I doubt I’ll ever read another Ozeki, but I’m glad to hear this one worked for you! Yes, it was good to get back to some lighter books at the end of the chain – the first few were all pretty grim!

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  5. Bravo, FF!! You’ve once again nailed this chain challenge! I must confess, I’m not too tempted by the Ozeki either, but I’m glad it provided such a nice jumping-off point for your chain.

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  6. You didn’t really grab me until you got to Shadow of the Wind. Thanks to you (and two others I mentioned it to after reading your review, who also had good things to say), I’ve tagged it at the library.

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    • I preferred the Japanese sections too, but it was the ending that really made me want to throw it at the wall! This one sounds even worse and anyway, I don’t forgive easily… 😉

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  7. Oh I loved The Shadow of the Wind! I did enjoy Ruth Ozeki’s Tale for the Time Being, but it is one of the strangest books I’ve ever read. I didn’t love it, I liked it. But I didn’t even know how many stars to give it, which is rare for me. I’m not too keen on the sound of the new one from her. Which is fine – plenty of other books to keep me busy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Shadow of the Wind is one of my favourite reads of the year, for sure! Ha, there were bits of A Tale for the Time Being that I enjoyed but that silly ending made me want to throw the book at the wall! This new one sounds even worse, and anyway, I don’t forgive easily… 😉

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