For the last couple of months I have created a chain for Kate’s Six Degrees of Separation but not managed to post it. There is a risk of another month passing in the same manner. So without further ado, here is my chain for June. The background to Six Degrees can be found here.
I was careful to avoid reading anyone else’s chain before mine was complete and as usual, I marvelled at the variety and the creativity of the contributors. Mine had no intentional themes, though it does circle around quite neatly which is always satisfying.
The starting point for this month is Sally Rooney’s award-winning novel Normal People (2018). I have not read Normal People nor watched the recent tv adaptation. Just never got around to either of them which probably tells me all I need to know. Loathe as I am to admit it, I suspect I’m a generation too far removed from the world Sally Rooney depicts. But I had no problem with my first link: from Normal People to Ordinary People.
It would seem that I’m still hung up on the generation gap. My link is not to the more recent book of this name by Diana Evans; I am thinking of Ordinary People by Judith Guest (1976). Normal People is Sally Rooney’s second novel; Ordinary People was Judith Guest’s debut but as with Rooney’s book, it was a sensation when published and spawned an award-winning film. Guest’s book is a portrait of an affluent American family in the aftermath of tragedy. I read it; I watched the film. I failed to understand the purpose of either. It was all so depressing. This is what I remember of it, though it has done well to remain in my head for this long so it must have given me something more at the time.
From one Judith to another. I read When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (1971) by the wonderful Judith Kerr last year, not long after she died. My children grew up with The Tiger Who Came to Tea but I knew nothing of Judith’s background. She wrote Pink Rabbit as a way of telling her life story to her own children. Judith and her family were forced to flee Nazi Germany ahead of her father’s arrest and Pink Rabbit tells of their flight and their nomadic life before they finally settled in London. Judith tells the story very much from the perspective of her young self, who was protected from the true horrors by her parents. To her at the time, it was for the most part an adventure.
Two other writers came immediately came to mind who also sadly died early in 2019 and could thus become my next link. Which one to choose? Rosamund Pilcher – a much-loved Cornishwoman whose writings continue to boost the local coffers? Or the Pulitzer-winning American poet, Mary Oliver? It has to be Mary because I read her poetry regularly and she does provide the strap line for A Corner of Cornwall. (It’s been a while since I indulged in a Pilcher novel.) From Mary’s poetry collections, I choose Dream Work (1994), simply because it’s the one I’m picking up most often, but it could have been any one of her collections. She had a remarkable life too and I know an authorised biography is in the offing.
From one Mary to another – and also to alleviate my guilt at passing over a Cornish writer on the previous link – Mary Wesley had a strong connection to Cornwall and the West Country which forms the setting for a number of her books. Wild Mary (2004) is her authorised biography, written by Patrick Marnham. She certainly led a colourful and complicated life! The blurb on the back of my copy of the biography describes Mary as ‘a remarkable woman’ which leads me to my next link. The title of Sonia Purcell’s book, A Woman of No Importance (2019) belies the very remarkable life of its subject. The first woman to go undercover for the SOE in war-torn France, Virginia Hall preferred to be under the radar throughout her life but her accomplishments were impressive despite her dislike of praise. She was an extraordinary woman. I read A Woman of No Importance late last year; as a biography it will stay with me for a long time.
I enjoy biographies and diaries – including fictionalised ones – but I have not read my final choice which surprises me because I have read several books by this author. Diary of an Ordinary Woman (2003) by Margaret Forster is the edited ‘diary’ of Millicent King – a fictional everyday woman whose life spanned the twentieth century. I can’t understand why I’ve never read this one; I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by Forster. I’m waiting for my copy to arrive now and will remedy the omission very soon. It seems the perfect final link in the chain.
I’ve moved from normal, ordinary people to remarkable, extraordinary women and then to an ordinary one. Though really, are we not each of us extraordinary in our own ways?
Next month, when I might even manage to publish on time, we start with What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt.