Six Degrees of Separation is hosted by Kate at books are my favourite and best. Every 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. This will be my third chain and I’ve found it the most difficult so far – but only because there seemed to be so many possibilities to choose between, especially to get off the starting block. Perhaps, given the current focus on our weather here in the UK, it’s no surprise that wintry words find their way into my chain.
I was not expecting this to happen, however – given where we start – for we begin this month with The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf: a book I’ve heard of but haven’t read. Having read the blurb, I feel I ought to have read it years ago and at the very least I should read it now. But almost certainly I won’t, which makes me feel somewhat ashamed. So, moving swiftly on…
There were so many directions presenting themselves that I felt at a loss for a while. But the word that stood out most boldly for me was ‘myth’ and that immediately reminded me of Where Three Roads Meet by Salley Vickers. Part of the Canongate Myth Series, it’s a retelling of the Oedipus myth involving Freud, who in 1939 was nearing the end of his life and began having conversations with the ancient seer, blind Tiresias. I’m not sure that I enjoyed this novella, but I was fascinated by it. Salley Vickers’ novels have always left their mark: I’ve loved some, been left cold by others.
It was her name, though, that led to my next book, by bringing to mind a cleric. Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn features the sinister and oh-so-memorable albino vicar of Altarnun, Francis Davey. He comes, he goes: appearing and disappearing at key moments in this gothic tale of sinister happenings on Bodmin Moor. Daphne describes his “two white eyes and a voice in the darkness”; I remember his great dark cloak flapping like a hooded crow.
I’m always happy to linger with Daphne’s books for a while and thinking of her works reminded me that this month sees the 80th anniversary of the publication of Rebecca – surely her most famous novel – with an anniversary edition published by Virago which looks beautiful. (I’m hopeful for Mother’s Day.) But I can’t link this chain choosing one Du Maurier after another. Instead I focused on the year Rebecca was published. What else was published in 1938 that resonates?
My choice: The Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse by Ursula Moray Williams, published in the same year as Rebecca. This was a seminal book in my childhood. The little wooden horse sets out to find a way to help his beloved Uncle Peder and save him from poverty, as his toy-making skills are no match for the onslaught of mass-manufacturing. It was such a tear-jerker! Sadly, I no longer have my copy, but I can remember its cover vividly – which is how I came to learn that I could now repurchased that edition from £54 upwards. I think not.
The link from here was an easy and obvious one. The Toy Makers by Robert Dinsdale was published this year and reviewed strongly by Margaret at BooksPlease. History, WW1, magical realism … there is so much that excites me about this book. I can’t wait to read it but I shall wait – until late autumn in fact, because the Emporium, the toy shop in the story, opens with the first frosts and closes when the first snowdrop blooms. And this of course, got me thinking about Winter.
Winter by Christopher Nicholson is a fictional account in the life of Thomas Hardy of a period in the winter of 1924. I read this quiet novel a couple of years ago and it left a strong impression on me. I’m reminded that I always intended to read more of his work so it’s an added bonus to learn now that his latest book, published last year is called, Among the Summer Snows and sounds right up my street. Another one added to the list… But again, I don’t want my final link to be a book by the author above it in the chain.
As I write, on March 1st, we are supposedly enjoying the first day of spring according to the meteorological calendar. And it’s currently snowing hard outside. So I can’t help thinking seasonally – and Winter it remains.
But a dilemma arises. The title that I immediately thought of is “A Week in Winter” – and that applies to two books I know of: one I’ve read recently and one I’d like to read soon. Which means I’ll have seven books in my chain. Two with the same title? Hopefully they’ll count as one link!
I read A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy at the beginning of the season. I’m not a fan of her books. I’ve tried several and they rarely work for me. I plucked this off the library shelf because of its title, not knowing that it was her last novel, and I did enjoy it. So often it’s a case of the right time for a book and this was the right time. No snow in it that I can recall, but an easy, poignant feel good read.
The other A Week in Winter is less well-known but one I must seek out. Marcia Willet is sometimes described as another Rosamund Pilcher. I’ve not read any of Marcia’s books so I can’t comment on that, but I used to love Rosamund Pilcher (and really must give her a reread). This particular book is described as “a moving tale of a family in turmoil in the West Country”: the beautiful family home on the edge of Bodmin Moor is to be sold. Turmoil indeed! I can’t wait! The cover suggests there will be lots of snow involved, plus it brings us back to Bodmin Moor and the sinister vicar with his brooding presence. Perfect in fact, as the winds start to gather force here and we prepare for Storm Emma.
This month’s chain has kept me primarily in the UK with a heavy dose of West Country. I’ve dipped into the nineteenth century, WW1, 1924, 1938 and 1939 amongst other years. It’s also added several more titles to my teetering pile of books I want to read. The Beauty Myth hasn’t made the cut – but the chain it spawned certainly proved fruitful!
Next month’s starting point is a personal favourite: Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha. Slightly spooky as it came into my mind last night. Before that, I haven’t thought of it in years…