Six Degrees of Separation is hosted by Kate at books are my favourite and best. This will be my second month of taking part. Each month Kate chooses a book as a starting point for a chain of six books, each one linked in some way to the book before. Everyone’s chains are so different! Mine this month has certainly surprised me. I’ve tried to go with the first book that came to mind as I went along. My mind certainly works in mysterious ways!
This month Kate chose Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders as the book to kick things off. This book won last year’s Man Booker Prize so there’s been a lot of publicity and discussion around it. It relates the story of a single night during which President Lincoln, grief-stricken, mourns the loss of his young son who has been laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. This is a book I do want to read, though I admit to feeling a little apprehensive. The subject matter sounds difficult and I know the novel has broken new ground in its style and composition. I’m not sure how easy it will be to read.
Anyway, where does it lead me? Bardo is a term used in Tibetan Buddhism. That immediately led me away from the controversy and my own doubts about our opening book and into thoughts about Buddhism. I remembered The Magician of Lhasa by David Mitchie. Following a much more familiar style, the book tells two stories: that of a young Buddhist monk in 1959 fleeing the Tibetan Uprising of that year, and a modern-day scientist who faces his own crises as his life takes unexpected and baffling turns.
It was an easy jump from one magician to another. For the third book in my chain I leapt smoothly to The Magician’s Nephew by C S Lewis. I adored The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe as a child but I don’t recall reading any of the others in the Narnia series. I now know that The Magician’s Nephew is the first in the sequence and I’m keen to learn how Narnia and the Wardrobe came into being. (Another book to be read!) The Magician’s Nephew links back to The Magician of Lhasa through the obvious shared word in the title but the next book to bubble up, Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, is much more of a stretch. This book tells the story of Fermina and Florentino who require a lifetime apart before finally coming together to enjoy their love for each other. Again though, the connection began with the word ‘magic’. I associate Garcia Marquez with magical realism, a genre which fascinates me. Although Love in the Time of Cholera really doesn’t come under the banner of magical realism (I ought to have chosen One Hundred Years of Solitude for that), like Lewis, Garcia Marquez explores allegory and fantasy and experiments with our concept of reality.
Love in the Time of Cholera is a book I adore and I have such vivid memories of when I first read the opening pages and discovered the depth of beauty in the language within the covers. I can’t think of Garcia Marquez without thinking of this book. That was many years ago, but it brings to mind a far more recent but equally vivid experience when I began reading All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr which becomes the next book in the chain. A Pulitzer Prize winner this time, and like Lincoln in the Bardo, another book I had some concerns about reading – concerns which had totally vanished before I’d reached the bottom of the first page. This is a novel of growing up through the Second World War and opens in Paris. It is told from the perspectives of Marie-Laure, who loses her sight in 1934 at the age of six, and Werner, an orphaned German boy, selected for elite training by the Nazis because of his remarkable gift for radio mechanics. As in The Magician of Lhasa their lives ultimately connect and their stories had me gripped, but like Love in the Time of Cholera, this will be a book that stays with me above all for the beauty of the language. All the Light We Cannot See is written in the present tense and in very short chapters which some people have found frustrating. I found myself thinking again of some of the complexities and controversies I’ve read surrounding the style of Lincoln in the Bardo.
Next comes a book I’ve owned for some time and plan to read very soon: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. There are almost too many connections to mention. Hugo is an orphan, as was Werner, and eventually Marie-Laure in my previous choice. Hugo lives in Paris (in the walls of a train station) which is where Marie-Laure lives at the start of her story. (Though she didn’t live in the walls of a train station.) Like Werner, Hugo has a great talent, though his is for fixing clocks rather than radios. Hugo’s father had worked in a Paris museum as did Marie-Laure’s father. (He had a talent for locks and puzzles.) And the book itself breaks new ground in its composition. Selznick describes it as “not exactly a novel, not quite a picture book, not really a graphic novel, or a flip book or a movie, but a combination of all these things”. Like several others in my chain it is a prize-winner, having won the 2008 Caldecott Medal. It was the first novel to do so, as the Caldecott Medal is for picture books. The book also became a wonderful film directed by Martin Scorsese.
Children have featured in a number of my choices so it seems appropropriate to move from the Caldecott Medal to the Carnegie Medal: “the UK’s oldest and most prestigious book award for children’s writing”. In 1972 the award was won by a book which featured no children – no humans at all really. Watership Down by Richard Adams is a fantasy novel in which Fiver, the rabbit, leads his companions on the search for a new home. This book also spawned a film, as well as a tv series and a no. 1 song for Art Garfunkel. It sends me back again to The Magician’s Nephew, with its fantasy world filled with its own myth and culture and possible religious symbolism. (Adams denies this.)
So, my chain has encompassed prize-winners and books which have pushed the boundaries in style and composition. I’ve dabbled a little in religion and in magic, spent some time in South America and Paris and passed the time of day with clocks and locks and radios and rabbits. And I’ve explored several imaginary worlds. A number of my choices have featured children as protagonists; some have been books written as much for children as for adults. I’ve watched lives unfold from the very young to the very old – and beyond. What a world we are offered in the company of books!
Next month’s starter for ten is The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf.