Six Degrees of Separation: from Postcards from the Edge to…

(Thanks as usual to Kate, at booksaremyfavouriteand best, who does all the organising for this monthly feature.  The background can be found here.)

We begin this month with Postcards from the Edge by Carrie Fisher.  Variously described as a ‘cult classic’ and ‘a wickedly black-humour riff on the horrors of rehab and the hollows of Hollywood life…’, I don’t anticipate reading it in this lifetime despite it being a well-reviewed debut.  And I’m not a Star Wars fan, so there’s no link lurking there. Instead, I’m going for a chain more suited to the season.

I’ll begin, not with postcards from the edge, but with Postcards from the Past by Marcia Willett.  Marcia Willett has written numerous books, predominantly set in the West Country.  Her books are easy reading, usually family dramas with a wide range of relatable characters and they can often fill the bill when I need a little escapism.  This one is set in rural Cornwall and was mentioned recently by a lovely blogger.  When I found it available in my library I was very tempted to request it immediately but I’ve resisted.  I have so many books on the go right now.  I’m thinking maybe this time next year, August 2022.  This will be a summer read for next year.

Plenty of summery thoughts in my head now, so I’m shifting straight to a novella I’ve just finished, another recommendation from a lovely blogger.  Summer by Edith Wharton begins in early June and ends in the late autumn: the passing seasons echoing the arc of the romantic flowering and fading of the heroine, Charity.  I loved this book.  It’s left me with plenty to think about and an eagerness to read my next Wharton.

“She had always thought of love as something confused and furtive, and he made it as bright and open as the summer air.”

Summer, Edith Wharton

Let’s add a little more to the summer theme. Among other things, Wharton’s Summer can be described as a bildungsroman, a genre which can also be applied to a more recent classic, The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden.  This I read in August 2019 and it became another favourite.  Narrated by thirteen-year-old Cecil (a girl), it is among other things, the tale of her older sister, Joss’s, awakening to her effect on men – with tragic consequences.

“On and off, all that hot French August, we made ourselves ill from eating the greengages.

The Greengage Summer, Rumer Godden

Joss was perhaps unaware of her seductive skills but she knew that she wanted to paint.  Whilst her younger siblings enjoy the freedom of the chateau and its grounds, Joss paints and learns alongside Monsieur Joubert, an artist.  We follow this link into our next book, travelling south through France to where Arianna finds herself painting alongside others at an artists’ workshop in Drawing Lessons by Patricia Sands.  This is another book I encountered thanks to a lovely blogger and one I downloaded and have intended to read for the past two summers.  I shall be reading it this August.

… she has traveled to Arles to set up her easel in the same fields of poppies and sunflowers that inspired Van Gogh.

From the blurb on Drawing Lessons

Van Gogh features in Drawing Lessons, as he does in Susan Fletcher’s Let Me tell You About a Man I Knew which I read last summer.  Jeanne is not a painter herself but she comes to appreciate her own value through her tentative acquaintance with the troubled artist during his stay at her husband’s hospital in the south of France.  A quiet novel, beautifully written, and another favourite.

“… she has been here for thirty years… every day and night feel the same… she used to think of other countries, force doors, wear yellow silk – but those days feel like a dream she had, and she hasn’t really thought of them but she’s thinking of them now.”

Let Me Tell You About a Man I Knew, Susan Fletcher

We stay with art for my final link, and another book which I finished last month, destined to become a favourite.  Sarah Winman’s Still Life is riotous romp through the decades, set largely in Florence and studded with memorable, quirky characters.  Just as art connected Jeanne and Van Gogh, so it connects Evelyn Skinner, a sixty-something art historian, with Ulysses, a young soldier whom she meets one evening in Tuscany as war draws to a close.  Still Life covers many years and many seasons but its joy of heart and lightness of spirit means it will always be a summer book for me.

“Beautiful art opens our eyes to the beauty of the world, Ulysses. It repositions our sight and judgement. Captures forever that which is fleeting.”

Still Life, Sarah Winman

So there we are.  Links forged across France and into Italy; strengthened through art and artists; sprinkled with youth and experience; peppered with friendships and awakenings, and infused throughout with the sights, smells, sounds and memories of summer. 

45 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: from Postcards from the Edge to…”

  1. When I lived in France, Patricia Sands and I read each other’s blogs. I didn’t read her books however, as I feared that might be a bit romantic for my taste. I’ll be interested in your opinion when you’ve read this one. Sarah Winman and Rumer Godden are always good value, and do you know, I’ve YET to read any Edith Wharton? The shame.

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    1. I am expecting Patricia Sands’ book to be romantic but it was Claire who drew it to my attention and I value her judgement. Besides, I quite like a bit of romance every so often. This was my first Wharton and I doubt that I’ll read too much by her. I’m hoping for Ethan Frome later in the year though.

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        1. I was; I am. From what I’ve read of her work via other bloggers many of her books are sad or dark and I’m not sure I want that from a classic. Ethan Frome is also quite sad I believe, but short and feels doable! I’m happy to be persuaded to try more from her, I’m just not champing at the bit!

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  2. I want to read every book in your link in the order you’ve provided them! I’ve already read Postcards From the Edge so can skip that, but the rest sound fabulous! And those covers! So beautiful and summery!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rose, perhaps it was you, then, who alerted me to Postcards… ? I couldn’t remember who it was! Yes, I like the covers too 😊 And I think there are a few here which you might enjoy.

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  3. Another intriguing set. The Greengage Summer is the only one I have read, and enjoyed. I have also read Carrie Fisher’s Surrender the Pink which I don’t remember – but with me, that doesn’t mean anything 🙂

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  4. What a lovely, summery chain! I enjoyed Still Life too – I didn’t think I was going to at first, but the characters quickly won me over. I’ve been meaning to read Let Me Tell You About a Man I Knew for ages as I’ve loved some of Susan Fletcher’s other books.

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    1. Like you, Helen, it took me a while to get into Still LIfe, but the characters won me over. I love all I’ve read from Susan Fletcher so far. And I still have a fair few of hers to go 😊

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  5. Wow Sandra- a post full of Summer joy and promise for future reading. I read Greengage Summer a long time ago- a very long time ago- and would not have recognised it by the current cover. I don’t remember whether or not I enjoyed it, but I was into all things French at the time. The Susan Fletcher I love ( as all her books), and Sarah Winman is a must and already on order for my next read.I really enjoyed her ” Marvellous Ways” which is a much cherished gift from a friend and kept for a further dip. I’m looking forward to making the author’s acquaintance again. Wharton and Willett I seem to recall from my younger days but not these particular two titles.
    Did you watch Richard E Grant last Tuesday on Chanel 4 -” Write around the world”- he visited the appropriate S Italian settings for half a dozen books. Entertaining and fascinating and another source of potential reads! Appropriately- tonight his visit is to Provence. A treat at 9pm.xxx

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    1. Pat, talking of gifts from friends, did you catch my six degrees post from last month? That features a gift from a friend too … 😉 Thank you so much for reminding me about the Grant programme. I did know about it and promptly forgot to record it last week. Definitely a series to watch. I think you will love the new Winman. And of course, it was you who directed me to Man I Knew – one of my books of the year last year. Hope you’re ok? Email will follow x

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      1. I did catch your last blog Sandra and have been meaning to post a comment – Shoots and Leaves was one of my best teaching aids! Will do asap and email to follow from here too. xxx

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  6. Edith Wharton is one of my favourite authors, but I haven’t read Summer. Ethan Frome is my favourite of hers, but The Age of Innocence is also very good. I didn’t like The Buccaneers or The House of Mirth.

    I haven’t heard of Marcia Willett but next time I’m in need of some romantic escapism, I will see what is available in the library.

    I’ve heard of Rumer Godden, of course, but never read anything by her. Your pick here sounds interesting, and I love the train of artistic novels that follow behind it. I haven’t heard of any of the authors, but I like the sound of the books.

    I’m on my lunch break at the museum looking through the window at one of our buildings shrouded in tarpaulin while its roof is rebuilt, and at the new tower blocks just beyond that get taller every day. Your summery, arty chain has transported me away from my urban surroundings!

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    1. Jan, I’m glad you escaped that urban landscape for a few moments 😊 Summer was a good introduction to Wharton for me. Short and relatable but with plenty to think about. She conjured up places and the lassitude and frustration of young Charity with seemingly effortless ease and captured complicated social issues without labouring anything. Ethan Frome will be my next from her I think.

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  7. What a gorgeous chain Sandra and I’m so glad you loved Summer. I’ve read The Greengage Summer and loved that too and now want to read all the others you mention, all fabulously summery!

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  8. Wonderful chain, Sandra! I really want to try Sarah Winman. Everyone speaks so highly of her books. I’ve put Tin Man on my TBR, but have considered Still Life as well. However, Tin Man is a lot shorter, so perhaps it’s better to start there to see if I get on with her writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tin Man is the only one of her books I haven’t read but people I know and trust speak highly of it and I’ll get to it eventually. I’ll be interested in what you think, Stargazer; I’m not sure if her writing will suit you 😊

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      1. Hmm, we will see. I think, I might enjoy her writing since some bloggers with similar reading taste as me have recommended her books. I will definitely write a review, when I get that far.

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  9. Hello Sandra

    I am so late in commenting this month – one of my daughters came to stay, which was lovely and we did some fabulous walks, so that was one week gone, and throughout the past 3 months my son (my oldest) has unfortunately been quite ill, which has been a worry. (He lives about 2 hours away, and thank goodness has a wonderful wife who is super-supportive, but we have also tried to visit more.)

    But to the books! I love this chain – I do think you and I seem on much the same wavelength in our reading.

    I just yesterday finished listening to Still Life on BBC Sounds. I’d never even heard of Sarah Winman, and I just clicked on the audiobook because I wanted something for my solitary walk – and I am so, so glad I did. What an interesting, unusual, and ultimately truly moving story. It was read by Will Howard, who made an exceptionally good job of it. The characters just shone – Evelyn, Cressy, The Kid, Charley, and of course, especially, Ulysses – were so beautifully written.

    I read The Greengage Summer many years ago and can only remember it vaguely, but I do like Rumer Godden. My youngest daughter loved her children’s books too – The Diddakoi was a favourite, and especially The Story of a Dolls’ House, with the formidable Miss Marchpane. I more recently read The Battle of the Via Fiorita, but couldn’t decide about it. It’s a Virago Modern Classic for a reason, and I felt very bad about my reaction to the mother, Fanny, but sometimes I just wanted to shake her and tell her both to get some backbone and to think more about her children and less about herself. Not very feminist of me!

    I listened to Ethan Frome on sounds last year. I have other Edith Wharton books on my shelves, but I often find an audiobook is an easier way to get into a classic author. I loved it, and was particularly impressed by her sense of place. Small details brought the Massachusetts countryside alive for me. It is, as you say, a sad story, and I too don’t much want to read sad stories at the moment, but this one was worth it. I do intend to read more Wharton (when though?!)

    I like the sound of the Marcia Willett too; I am going to look her up.

    Thanks for a really inspiring and interesting chain.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Rosemary, my apologies too, for the late reply. I’ve also been spending time with family – a road trip from Cornwall to Yorkshire to Kent! Yes, we do seem to be on the same wavelength with books. I’m so pleased you enjoyed the Winman – it’s such a joyous book! I hadn’t heard of Battle of the Via Fiorita so thank you for alerting me. I too, enjoy Godden’s writing and I still have plenty more of hers to read. ‘Villa’ is now added to the list. I’m already late for the September six degrees, having not got the post finished before I went away. Hopefully it will appear soon. I do hope your son is recovering, Rosemary. No matter their ages, we will always worry about our children 😊

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  10. Oh what a delightful chain of books and a lovely surprise to see Patricia Sands Drawing Lessons there! I’ve enjoyed all her books and love how she keeps France alive all year round by setting her novels here.

    I loved Edith Wharton’s Summer too and must read more of her. I’m tempted by Still Life, there seems to be universal approval of her storytelling, and I’ve not yet experienced it.

    Thank you Sandra for this charming literary journey that passed by close to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lovely to hear from you, Claire 😊 I’m about to begin Drawing Lessons – in perfect late summer weather – and I’m sure I’ll enjoy it. Still Life is joyous. I do hope you enjoy it if you decide to give it a try.

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  11. Your mention of The Greengage Summer made me, in turn, think of The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree. It was a beautiful book, with touches of magical realism, that was listed for the International Booker Prize not so long ago. (Here is a link in case you’re interested: https://www.europaeditions.com/book/9781609455651/the-enlightenment-of-the-greengage-tree)

    But, I am not familiar with greengage trees, or their fruit. It’s so interesting that they should appear in our two titles!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! The book sounded familiar and yes, The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree is on my TBR. Two strong recommendations for it now – I need to nudge it up the list! Greengages are small green(!) stone fruits in the plum family and they have always reminded me of my childhood because for years I’ve never seen them growing or in the shops. In the last few years they seem to have made a return and I have a punnet of them to enjoy at the moment. To be honest they’re a little tasteless (though not quite ripe yet) but the nostalgia always tastes sweet!

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    1. Ah Laurie, I’m so pleased! I know just what you mean. She writes very well in her chosen genre and I always enjoy reading her books. They are perfect for certain moments in life.

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      1. You bet! Shrewd but sympathetic, she really nails it with her characters. At times, she overwrites, especially where emotions are concerned, but I’m so drawn in by her characters that I’m willing to overlook it.

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