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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!