Six Degrees of Separation: from No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency to England, Their England

Six Degrees of Separation is hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Every month she provides the title of a book as a starting point and the idea is to link it to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t have to be connected to all of the others on the list – only to the one next to it in the chain.  I’ve often enjoyed reading the chains created by others, and it’s fascinating how different they all are.  I’ve thought about joining in several times.  I’m a little late in the month, but I’m going to dive in anyway.

51gHa8BdyML._SX316_BO1,204,203,200_The starting book for this month is The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith.  McCall Smith is a prolific author.  I’ve not read this book though I have read a few of his Sunday Philosophy Club series featuring another of his lady creations, Isabel Dalhousie.  But I enjoyed the tv series based on the Ladies Detective Agency, which starred the lovely Jill Scott as Precious Ramotswe, who opens her detective agency in Botswana using an inheritance from her father.  I wish they’d made more of this gentle series, though I now see there’s been a fair few radio programmes made from the books.  Perhaps I should give them a try.

51rwagQFSjL._AC_US218_My thinking for the chain however, took me away from McCall Smith’s books to another country in Southern Africa and to a book that I read last year: Mama Namibia by Mari Serebrov.    This opened my eyes to the genocide that occurred in the opening years of the last century which all but wiped out the indigenous Herero people.  The story is told through the words of Jahohora and Kov.   Jahohora is young Herero girl, and Kov joins the German army as a Jewish doctor.  Both begin their accounts as children; they are adults when their stories end.   The book is based on real events.  It’s a tale of survival: harrowing but also filled with human spirit.

Mama Nambia was supposed to have been my first foray into early reviewing on Librarything. I am ashamed to confess that I never wrote the review, though I am about to do so now (and can maybe claim mitigating circumstances).  But this sent my thoughts to the second book I received from Librarything (which I will also review now, despite it being long overdue) and so it forms my next link in the chain.


Black Creek White Lies by Murray Bailey is set in Cornwall.  No prizes for guessing why I asked to review it!  However, it’s a contemporary thriller, a genre I’m really not familiar with, which makes it difficult for me to assess how well it’s written, plotted etc.  That said, I enjoyed the book and raced through it wanting to know what happened next.  And the Cornish aspect felt authentic.


download (1)Now that my thoughts are in Cornwall, it’s hard to drag them away.  It’s no surprise then, that my third book also features Cornwall.  I haven’t read this book yet but I’ve read a lot about the author and I’m determined to try her books this year.  Signs for Lost Children by Sarah Moss is set in the late 19th century and travels between Truro in Cornwall and Tokyo in Japan.  A newly-married young couple are separated by their work: he travels to build lighthouses in Japan and she remains as a doctor at the Truro asylum.  I have to say the premise sounds grim but there are many elements of the story that catch my attention: old Japan, old Cornwall, mental health institutions and lighthouses are all interests of mine.  (Though I admit they do sound very peculiar when listed together like this.)  I note that this book is a sequel though, so I shall need to read the forerunner before tackling this one.

51MflsxaKhL._SX300_BO1,204,203,200_Immediately I recalled the Japanese aspect in Signs for Lost Children, I had my next book linked.  I read The Ginger Tree by Oswald Wynd a few years ago.  It was a book club choice.  I don’t recall it being particularly well-received by the group overall, but I liked it very much.  This book begins in 1903 with Scottish-born Mary McKenzie travelling to China to marry an English military attaché.  A loveless marriage leads to an impassioned affair and a pregnancy – and to Mary fleeing to Japan where she builds a life, albeit a lonely one, as an independent single woman.  A criticism of this book by the book group was that it’s writing style is somewhat flat.  (Something that could also be said of Mama Namibia.)  For me the style suited the subject matter and protagonists in both books and I would happily read The Ginger Tree again.

download (2)I’m only just noticing that several of these books are set around the turn of the last century and several of them feature conflicts.  My final choice is set a little later in the 20th century and the closest it gets to armed conflict is a notorious English cricket match.  England, their England by A G McDonnell is basically the report by a Scotsman on the English as he finds them in the 1920s.  It’s frequently funny and pokes gentle fun at middle England between the wars and is a refreshing contrast to some of the more sombre subject matter earlier in the chain.  This book won the James Tait Black prize for fiction in 1933 and was also a book club choice a few months before we read The Ginger Tree.  The two are conflated in my mind because I awarded the James Tait to The Ginger Tree by mistake, and had to be swiftly corrected by fellow members.  I’d been so sure I was right; forever now if I think of The Ginger Tree, I think of England, Their England.

Now I come to think about it, the protagonist in England, Their England  embarks on his study of the English having been invalided out of WW1 so I’m still not escaping wars.  But that conflict doesn’t feature heavily as I recall and at least the book brings me safely home to roost in good old Blighty with a smile on my face after what at times was a harrowing whistle-stop tour.   I’ve visited Botswana, Namibia, Germany, Cornwall, Japan, Scotland and China before returning to home shores.  I’ve been embroiled in genocide, the Boxer Rebellion and World War Two, with a touch of WW1.  No wonder the notion of a simple village cricket match appeals.

It’s been a lot of fun creating this chain.  I’m looking forward to February’s book to kick off the next Six Degrees: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders – a book I very much want to read but will not have read in the next few weeks.  I have no inspiration for what my next book in the chain might be but it will be fun finding out when the time comes!













25 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: from No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency to England, Their England”

  1. This is indeed a fun endeavour – I very much like your ‘January’ chain. I too saw that LitB was the book to kick things off for February. I have tried, and failed, to read it & I heard that it was much more accessible in the audio version, read as it is by different actors – I am looking forward to giving it another go in that format (and of course, to hearing how you get on with it!).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting that you haven’t managed LitB, Liz. I’ve been quite afraid of it, convinced in part that the subject matter isn’t to my taste and also wondering quite how all those voices work. The more I’ve read about it though, the more I want to try it for myself. Perhaps I’ll get a library copy. Then if it’s not for me – nothing lost 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sandra, I just only now realise HOW MUCH I LOVE CORNWALL – because I checked out which writers who wrote novels taking place in Cornwall or being from Cornwall I have been buying and reading over the years. And don’t forget, I’m a Swiss woman, and I’m living in France….
    I just state the in no particular order and if the one or other writer is not or little known by you, I guarantee you YOU ARE IN FOR A TREAT:
    JANIE BOLITHO (sadly she died I think in 2002 & performed the most amazing range of professions and occupations before being a full-time writer)
    Daphne du Maurier OF COURSE as well as
    Helen Dunmore
    Rosamund PIlcher
    LISA WOOD (I only read Diving Bells, extraordinary)
    (Excuse the mix of capital and non-capital writing, I have a finger in a bandage and this just happens)

    I also have read, I think, just about every Alexander McCall Smith book – but I always wait for a while until they become more affordable. I especially like the ‘first series’ of his Mma Ramotswe, it’s written in a very easily understandable English, has plenty of fun and laughter and many a good advice for a ‘good life’ and we have given copies of these books to quite a few younger readers who are not yet fully immersed in the English language. I love the Isobell & Bertie series too and could wax lyrically over his other oeuvres for days….

    Should you by any chance be available early August to come to TQ, I could bring you a large collection of those books which I treasured and most of which are in absolutely ‘like new’ condition. My eye-sight is getting worse and I won’t be able to re-read these my favourite writers any more, I can’t keep them for the sake of owning them and would be delighted to see them going to a really good place.

    Love, Kiki

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Kiki, Cornwall is a treasure trove of great writers isn’t it! Thank you for the list. It includes several names new to me – Liz Fenwick and Mary Balogh are new, and I didn’t realise Kate Morton has a Cornish connection. Diving Bells has been on my list to read for a while; I really hope to read it this year.

      I found Alexander McCall Smith’s writing style easy but a little tiresome. He’s very matter of fact in his story telling. But then he’s so prolific it’s not surprising. He writes his books very quickly it seems. At the very least, I’d like to finish the Sunday Philosophy Club series one day.

      You are so kind to offer me such a gift. Plans for the summer are very vague at the moment. I’m not sure where you mean by TQ?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sandra, I apologize, TQ is the postal code for Torquay, South Devon. TQ is where we lived for over 8 yrs and we had the most wonderful time with the kindest people one can imagine. It started with a job for Hero Husband and ended also that way. We overlooked the sea from our Victorian home and love, love, love Devon….
        I agree totally with what you say about AMCS – what I DO like about his writing is that he always gives gentle advice and nearly all his personatas are mostly kind and good. I’m a sucker for a ‘good world’ as the real one is not very much so 🙂
        We will be visiting our old hometurf in summer just as we do every year – and if you have a chance to come to TQ or about, I could gift you many books. We then need to have private email addresses, or you send me your home phone number and I’ll call you from France.
        Have a lovely day in wonderful varied and much beloved Cornwall.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Apart from McCall Smith, I don’t know any of your other authors – but he’s a lovely, gently witty writer, isn’t he? I like the look of several of your choices too, and will look them out. I’m trying to get my head round the Six Degrees of Separation thing. It looks fun, but I’m not sure I ‘get’ it yet. Perhaps I need a degree in Maths, whereas I flunked my O level……

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha ha, I seemed to settle on some the lesser known authors when contemplating my chain! McCall Smith, on the other hand, is so prolific I’m exhausted just thinking about how many books he’s written. And writing was his second career to boot!

      The whole six degrees thing is quite tenuous. Apparently all of us are connected to everyone else by just six degrees of separation: knowing someone who knows someone or was in the same place as you…. After 6 such ‘connections’ using random strangers and places and events, we should have found a link with the person we’re talking to. I think that’s the theory. So I probably lived next door to someone who caught the same bus as the friend of your daughter who used to come round to your house to play… That’s only 3 steps but I ran out of ideas! 😉


      1. I still don’t get it but also I would have no way of buying even more English books since some 2-300 (yes) still wait to be read…. And I’m getting blind, so I really shouldn’t even ask (which was the first reason I didn’t ask but Margaret helpfully joined my confusion!)
        And apart from that: I HAVE experienced the incredible facts that we all ARE somewhere, and sometimes not even very far away, connected to half the world….
        To list all these surprising and sometimes scary connections would make another book, and that’s just me!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I loved The Ginger Tree and of course England, Their England. I’ve thought about doing this Six Degrees meme – maybe one day I will.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you’ve heard of The Ginger Tree, and loved it, Katrina. And I remember your post about England, Their England. I’m sure if you tried the Six Degrees meme you would develop some great chains. You’ve read so widely!


  5. I took part in this for the first time this month too. Your chain is very different from mine! Apart from the first book I haven’t read any of them, but I think Signs for Lost Children and The Ginger Tree both sound interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Love the chain – it’s so much fun seeing how differently everyone approaches this. The Scot poking fun at the English appeals to me (are you surprised? 😉 ) and my next choice would be the Cornish crime novel. I’ve missed this the last few months but must get back into it. Lincoln in the Bardo… hmm…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hope you do get back into it, FF 🙂

      And, nope, not surprised that E,T,E appeals…. There are no cats involved and no murders that I can recall. But the cricket match is excellent. As is a fire at a first class hotel which requires the toffs to repair to the roof with their champagne whilst awaiting rescue by the fire brigade. Firemen…. bet I have your attention now! 😀 (‘Course, I may be mistaken about the firemen part. And we are talking the twenties here… Would hate to get you all worked up for nothing :-|)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hahaha! My Canadian aunt has a story about firemen that she likes to tell to make my cousin feel guilty. My aunt had a minor heart attack and they called the emergency services. Apparently in Canada (don’t ask me why) firemen turn up along with the medics. My aunt claims that as soon as they arrived, my cousin forgot about my aunt and her heart and started flirting shamelessly with the firemen. I don’t believe a word of it… 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  7. What a fascinating exchange! I’d love to do the reading chain at some time……….. but time is the operative word here. So many lifetimes required to fit everything

    Liked by 1 person

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