Six Degrees of Separation – From Baird 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…

Phosphorescence by Julia Baird. I haven’t read it but the blurb tells me…

A beautiful, intimate and inspiring investigation into how we can find and nurture within ourselves that essential quality of internal happiness – the ‘light within’ that Julia Baird calls ‘phosphorescence’ – which will sustain us even through the darkest times.

Not one for me! Life is quite tough enough without me suddenly starting to glow in the dark, thank you very much! I’ll stick to chocolate when I need some internal happiness…

The star of my first choice might have benefited from reading Phosphorescence though…

The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side by Agatha Christie

Poor movie star Marina Gregg! Despite fame, adulation and a string of handsome husbands she has found lasting happiness elusive, as her doctor explains…

….“The trouble with her is that either she thinks that at last she’s got to that spot or place or that moment in her life where everything’s like a fairy tale come true, that nothing can go wrong, that she’ll never be unhappy again; or else she’s down in the dumps, a woman whose life is ruined, who’s never known love and happiness and who never will again.”
….He added dryly, “If she could only stop halfway between the two it’d be wonderful for her, and the world would lose a fine actress.”

She could always seek advice from the hero of my second pick…

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Scrooge is a bit of a misery too, as his dear friend, Jacob Marley, deceased, has noted. So Jacob rattles his ghostly chains and gives Scrooge a warning…

“It is required of every man,” the Ghost returned, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow men, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world—oh, woe is me!—and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!”

Whatever you do, don’t go to the author of my third choice for advice on achieving happiness!

Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorn

I found the message in this chilling tale of a man giving his soul to the devil pretty unfathomable. It appears that if one goes over to the dark-side one might be damned for eternity but otherwise everything will be quite jolly. But if one rejects the Devil and all his works, one is destined to be a miserable old so-and-so for the rest of one’s life and die in gloom and despondency! As the Devil himself puts it…

“Lo, there ye stand, my children,” said the figure, in a deep and solemn tone, almost sad with its despairing awfulness, as if his once angelic nature could yet mourn for our miserable race. “Depending upon one another’s hearts, ye had still hoped that virtue were not all a dream. Now are ye undeceived. Evil is the nature of mankind. Evil must be your only happiness. Welcome again, my children, to the communion of your race.”

Well, that’s a cheery thought, eh?

My fourth author drove me into the depths of depression with his unremittingly pessimistic and lightless view of life. But I felt much happier as soon as I abandoned the book halfway through…

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

Having put his poor undeserving characters through every kind of hell you can think of plus several you can’t, Mistry proceeds to assure them that even their memories will conspire to add to their misery…

But nobody ever forgot anything, not really, though sometimes they pretended, when it suited them. Memories were permanent. Sorrowful ones remained sad even with the passing of time, yet happy ones could never be recreated – not with the same joy. Remembering bred its own peculiar sorrow. It seemed so unfair: that time should render both sadness and happiness into a source of pain.

But even Mistry’s misery pales in comparison to my fifth choice…

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Dear me! I can only assume Steinbeck’s happiness therapist told him to write down all his miserable thoughts and then burn them. Unfortunately he forgot to do the last bit. Here he is giving advice to shy young men on finding the route to happiness…

There is great safety for a shy man with a whore. Having been paid for, and in advance, she has become a commodity, and a shy man can be gay with her and even brutal to her. Also, there is none of the horror of the possible turndown which shrivels the guts of timid men.

OK, I can’t finish it like that! Here’s a more optimistic quote that aligns far more closely to my own philosophy of finding happiness…

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Fanny is such a sensible heroine. Life has taught her not to expect too much but she never gives up on hope, and we all know that Ms Austen will give her the happy ending she deserves.

There will be little rubs and disappointments everywhere, and we are all apt to expect too much; but then, if one scheme of happiness fails, human nature turns to another; if the first calculation is wrong, we make a second better: we find comfort somewhere.

Ah, that’s more like it! Another chocolate and my internal happiness will be sorted for the day!

* * * * *

So from Baird to Austen via elusive happiness, miserly misery, the temptations of the Devil, unrelenting pessimism, misogynistic piggery, and finding comfort!

Hope you enjoyed the journey! 😀

The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side by Agatha Christie read by Joan Hickson

Starring Marina Gregg…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

From the oldest inhabitants to the newest of newcomers in the new housing development, all of St Mary Mead is agog. Gossington Hall has been sold, and the buyer is the famous movie actress Marina Gregg and her fourth – or is it fifth? – husband, film producer Jason Rudd. The villagers’ first chance to see the star up close is when Marina hosts a charity event in support of the St John’s Ambulance Society. While most of the villagers are restricted to attending the fête in the grounds of the Hall, a select few are invited to join Miss Gregg inside for cocktails. One of these lucky people is Heather Badcock, local representative of the Ambulance Society and lifelong fan of Marina Gregg. In fact, it’s while she’s boring Marina with a long story about how they met once before long ago that Mrs Badcock is taken suddenly ill, and then dies. Mrs Bantry, the previous owner of the Hall, witnesses the whole thing and rushes off to relay the story to her old friend, Miss Jane Marple…

First published in 1962, this is one of the later Christie stories, at the tail end of her own golden age, just before the quality of her books began to show serious decline. There is a bit of rambling and repetitiveness in this one, but not too much, and the portrayal of the changes to the village and a very elderly Miss Marple coping with modern life are great. I always feel that in these later books especially, Christie used Miss Marple as a conduit through which to muse on her own reactions to ageing and the changes in society.

Marina Gregg was played by the beautiful and much-married Elizabeth Taylor in the 1980 film, opposite a marvellous performance from Kim Novak as Lola Brewster, her rival and now to be her co-star. This is a bit of a deviation from the plot of the book but the two women ham it up for all they’re worth and make the parts so much their own that now, when I read the book, it’s them I see in the roles. I always felt that Marina’s life mirrored Elizabeth Taylor’s own scandalous (for the time) life, and wondered if Agatha Christie had had her in mind while writing. However, wikipedia tells me Christie probably had a different actress in mind, but Marina will always be Elizabeth Taylor to me! (Do not look this up on wikipedia if you intend to read the book, as it is a major plot spoiler.)

Inspector Dermot Craddock is assigned to the case. He already knows Miss Marple from a previous case so has no hesitation in discussing this one with her and seeking her assistance in understanding the locals. It’s good to have Mrs Bantry back too – one of my favourite occasional characters. I find it a little sad to see Miss Marple quite so old and physically frail in this one, although her mind is still as sharp as ever. But the star is the star – Marina Gregg’s personality and presence dominate the book, and Christie gives an excellent and credible portrayal of the mixture of egocentricity and vulnerability of this woman, always on show, never able to be scruffy or rude, loved by so many but unable to find true happiness in her private life.

….“She’s suffered a great deal in her life. A large part of the suffering has been her own fault, but some of it hasn’t. None of her marriages has been happy except, I’d say, this last one. She’s married to a man now who loves her dearly and who’s loved her for years. She’s sheltering in that love, and she’s happy in it. At least, at the moment she’s happy in it. One can’t say how long all that will last. The trouble with her is that either she thinks that at last she’s got to that spot or place or that moment in her life where everything’s like a fairy tale come true, that nothing can go wrong, that she’ll never be unhappy again; or else she’s down in the dumps, a woman whose life is ruined, who’s never known love and happiness and who never will again.”
….He added dryly, “If she could only stop halfway between the two it’d be wonderful for her, and the world would lose a fine actress.”

The plot is great, with one of Christie’s best motives at the root of it. It is fair play but I’d be amazed if anyone gets the whole thing – the who perhaps would be possible, but the why is brilliantly hidden in plain sight. One of my pleasures in re-reading these Christies is knowing the solution and so being able to spot how cleverly she conceals the real clues among the red herrings. She hardly ever cheats and it’s a joy to see a mistress of the craft at work. And, of course, Joan Hickson is, as always, the perfect narrator for the Miss Marple books. Great stuff!

Audible UK Link
Audible US Link

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….That I still “funked” Michael Bristow was certainly no fault of Hilda’s, who has never funked anything in her life.
….For I fear that “funk” is the true description of my attitude. I funked him as one may begin to funk an acquaintance who shows signs of becoming a criminal or a lunatic, or of developing some loathsome disease. I thought about him and his peculiarity and his affairs as little as I possibly could. I do not like oddities. And I could no longer conceal from myself that he was definitely an oddity. I even feared secretly that, as Hilda thought, he might be a momentous sort of oddity, though this I would never admit even to myself. In spite of Hilda, I avoided witnessing any systematic demonstrations of his power; yet I was always coming up against little differences, odd scraps of knowledge and intuition in him, which disturbed me more than I would acknowledge.
….There was the evening when Hilda made him detect a new cigarette-case in my pocket from several yards’ distance. I never liked to see his moving, groping, hesitating fingers, as it were, pick up the scent.

~The Man with Six Senses by Muriel Jaeger

* * * * *

….Memories – they are all the aged have. The young have hopes and dreams, while the old hold the remains of them in their hands and wonder what has happened to their lives. I looked back hard on my life that night, from the moments of my reckless youth, through the painful and tragic years of the war, to the solitary decades after. Yes, I could say that I had lived my life, if not to the full then at least almost to the brim. What more could one ask? Rare is the person whose life overflows. I have lived, I have travelled the world, and now, like a worn out clock, my life is winding down, the hands slowing, stepping out of the flow of time. If one steps out of time what does one have? Why, the past of course, gradually being worn away by the years as a pebble halted on a riverbed is eroded by the passage of water.

~The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng

* * * * *

….“She’s suffered a great deal in her life. A large part of the suffering has been her own fault, but some of it hasn’t. None of her marriages has been happy except, I’d say, this last one. She’s married to a man now who loves her dearly and who’s loved her for years. She’s sheltering in that love, and she’s happy in it. At least, at the moment she’s happy in it. One can’t say how long all that will last. The trouble with her is that either she thinks that at last she’s got to that spot or place or that moment in her life where everything’s like a fairy tale come true, that nothing can go wrong, that she’ll never be unhappy again; or else she’s down in the dumps, a woman whose life is ruined, who’s never known love and happiness and who never will again.”
….He added dryly, “If she could only stop halfway between the two it’d be wonderful for her, and the world would lose a fine actress.”

~The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side by Agatha Christie narrated by Joan Hickson

* * * * *

….It is in the nature of revolutions to throw up moments when all the more brilliant dreams of the human race seem about to be realized, and the Catalans with their expansive and self-dramatizing character were not behind other peoples in this respect. Visitors to Barcelona in the autumn of 1936 will never forget the moving and uplifting experience and, as the resistance to the military rebellion stiffened, the impressions they brought back with them spread to wider and wider circles. Spain became the scene of a drama in which it seemed as if the fortunes of the civilized world were being played out in miniature. As in a crystal, those people who had eyes for the future looked, expecting to read there their own fate.

~The Spanish Labyrinth by Gerald Brenan

* * * * *

….The up-and-at-’em start time was all for show. For humanity divided into two mutually hostile camps: bounders out of bed and burners of the midnight oil. The distinction went way beyond schedule. The late nighter was synonymous with mischief, imagination, rebellion, transgression, anarchy, and excess, not to mention drugs, alcohol, and sex. The early riser evoked traditional Protestant values like obedience, industry, discipline, and thrift, but also, in this gladness to greet the day, a militant, even fascistic determination to look on the bright side. In short, rise-and-shiners were revolting, and being flapped by so many birds getting the worm felt like getting trapped in an Alfred Hitchcock remake. These bouncy, boisterous, bubbly people loved their seven thirty start, which shouted earnestness and asceticism, and any attempt to move the time to noon for the next year would trigger a riot.

~The Motion of the Body Through Space by Lionel Shriver

* * * * *

So… are you tempted?