Six Degrees of Separation: from Second Place to …

Six degrees again and again I am late.  I didn’t quite get the post written before we headed off on a road trip around the country, catching up with family.  But better late than never.  Thanks as usual to Kate at booksaremyfavouriteandbest who does all the organising for this monthly feature.  The background can be found here.

We are beginning this month with Second Place (2021) by Rachel Cusk.   It is one of thirteen titles on this year’s longlist for the Booker Prize.  Unusually for me, I would happily read the majority of them this year but prior to the longlist announcement, I had read just one and that’s where I’m starting.

Light Perpetual (2021) by Francis Spufford begins with a tour de force description of an actual event in which several children were killed.  The book then reimagines the lives of those children over the coming decades, had they survived.  The detail in the opening paragraphs, slowing time ahead of the deaths, left me dazzled. 

Another book in which the central character – a child – dies in the opening pages of the novel and whose life is then reimagined (many times over) is Life After Life (2013) by Kate Atkinson.  Ursula Todd is destined to live many lives, each life longer than the one which came before as each time she survives the potential disaster in her path only to meet with another. 

In each of these books World War Two is central to the plot although in a background capacity.  Charles Todd is a mother and son writing team who draw on the First World War in a similar way for their long-running series of police procedurals featuring Inspector Ian Rutledge.  He is a veteran of the fighting who returns to his civilian job carrying in his mind the voice of a deceased soldier, Hamish, a member of his company.  Hamish is a constant presence for Rutledge: clamouring, chastising, undermining.  Now, Rutledge would be recognised as suffering with PTSD, then it was known as shellshock.

I’m still at the start of this absorbing series so I’m linking to the last book from it that I read, Wings of Fire (1998) (fortuitously set in Cornwall).  Unsurprisingly for a police procedural, this also features death at the start – this time of a brother and sister.  Family complications loom large.

From Wings of Fire to Draca (2020) by Geoffrey Gudgion, which also features fire and family complications and again has a war veteran at its heart.  Discharged from the Royal Marines, Jack carries physical injuries as well as mental ones.  He too is suffering from PTSD.  Jack’s war experiences and his challenging family dynamics threaten to derail him permanently.  It is only when sailing Draca – a 1905 vintage cutter beautifully restored by his grandfather (who has added a somewhat unusual figurehead) – that he finds he can escape his demons. Though perhaps other demons lurk close by…

Cove (2016) by Cynan Jones also features a man in a boat with a battle to fight, this time against the sea itself and the injuries sustained from a lightning strike.  He too, must face his fears and cope with physical injuries.  Short and spare, Cove is among the most visceral books that I’ve read and is packed with tension from start to finish. 

Cynan Jones also wrote The Long Dry, which brought to mind The Dry by Jane Harper – her debut novel.  I’ve been wanting to read it for a while but, as sometimes happens, have ended up reading her most recent book first.  The Survivors (2020) uncovers many secrets in family closets in a small coastal town in Tasmania.  There are unsolved deaths in the past and the present and storms and the sea play a pivotal role in both. The protagonist, Kieran, is not alone in battling with his mental health as the mysteries unfold. I’ve read that this may not be the best of Jane Harper’s books in which case I have some treats in store.

From early deaths and lives reimagined through the fallout of various wars to skirmishes with the sea, there is a common thread in this chain around the notion of survival.  Not at all what I expected.  As often happens, my six degrees meandered off in a quite unexpected direction.  I wonder what next month’s will bring?

25 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: from Second Place to …”

  1. Lots of books here to tempt me, Sandra. I really fancy the Spufford, and you’ve reminded me again that I want to try the Inspector Ian Rutledge series. I love your description of Cove, too – short, spare and visceral, yes please!

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    1. Cove is a quick read, Jan, startling and shocking (for me anyway). I hope you enjoy it if you try it. I think you would love the Spufford 😊


  2. I love Spufford’s writing, so am envious that you’ve already read Light Perpetual. I enjoyed Life after Life, and as you know, Jane Harper, though not that one. The rest look as though they should make it onto my TBR list – *sigh* – too long already. A really engaging list.

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    1. I recommend Light Perpetual, Margaret. If it helps, I’ve yet to read Golden Hill. I could never decide whether to give it a try. I’m decided now. The question is when? So many books… *joining you in rueful sigh*

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      1. I’ve ordered it from the library Sandra … but I think I’m in a bit of a queue. If you get on a Spufford bandwagon, I’d also recommend Red Plenty, set in 1960s Russia. You’ll hate me now. More TBR…

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        1. I can take it. Eases my guilt at having encouraged you with six degrees. Your tbr will have grown enormously as a result of that! Do let me know what you think when you finally reach the top of the queue.

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  3. Ah, another Jane Harper book makes it into a six. I actually liked this one, all her books are very different I think, apart from the fact they are all set in Australia. ‘Life after Life’ sounds intriguing.

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    1. I liked it too, Jude. Her books had gained a momentum of their own in my head and I was expecting great things that were never realistic. But I’m happy – I have her others to enjoy still.

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  4. I really enjoyed your chain Sandra and I’m glad you managed to go on a roadtrip to see your family!

    Light Perpetual sounds interesting although besides from Richard Powers’ Bewilderment, I doubt I will read any books from this year’s longlist. Your description of Cove made me think of The Old Man and the Sea, which I absolutely loved. There is something special about man’s fight with nature and the elements, which really is a fight with himself.

    I am slowly (very slowly) warming up to try one of Kate Atkinson’s books. I have a feeling I will either love her writing or it will be a complete disaster.

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    1. I’ve only read two from Atkinson and do want to read the ‘companion’ novel, A God in Ruins. Not too bothered about her Jason Brody series though. The Old Man and the Sea is one that I must read – I’ve wanted to for so long and I know it’s short. Cove is terse and shocking. Do let me know if you read it!

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      1. I would probably go for her detective series, but let’s see how it all goes. Apparently, Cove doesn’t exist as audiobook, so it will have to wait until I go on a long plane journey or something like that. As you may know, I don’t do much reading, only listening these days.

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  5. I loved Francis Spufford’s last book, Golden Hill, but for some reason haven’t felt drawn to Light Perpetual. I’m sure I will read it eventually. I’ve been meaning to start the Inspector Ian Rutledge series for years – thanks for the reminder!

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  6. I think Harper’s best writing was in “The Dry.” Maybe it is quite difficult to live up to the product that comes from a long time of writing. The later books must have been written much more quickly. They have disappointed.

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    1. That’s interesting, Elizabeth. There was so much hype surrounding The Dry; that’s a tough thing to replicate over and over, especially at the rate Harper is producing books. From my point of view I’m happy that I still have The Dry to look forward to!

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  7. A dark and deadly chain from you this month, Sandra! The only one I’ve read is The Survivors which I enjoyed – I’ve enjoyed all of her books to different degrees but The Dry is still my favourite. It really is outstanding and I hope you get to it soon!

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    1. There seem to have been a number of dark and deadly chains this month, but you’re right that it’s unusual for me. I do enjoy how these chains take on a life of their own. (That said, I have no idea what to do with October’s chain!) So many people are heaping praise on The Dry and I’ve come so close to reading it several times. It will happen!

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  8. I love the idea of a ” dark and deadly” chain- this one has given me a whole list of titles to put on my list to be read. The only one I have read is Life after Life. It had a profound effect on me- I couldn’t get it out of my mind and was unable to settle to anything else, for some time , after finishing it. The sequel was not quite the same, and I had been reluctant to start , but an excellent read nevertheless . I do love Kate Atkinson’s writing- quirky, unexpected, understated but slyly amusing , and an original way with words. One of my favourite authors. Hope to be in touch soon- life has taken on it’s own life here!xxx

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    1. It didn’t set out as a dark and deadly chain but … I remember us talking about Life After Life, Pat. And of course, Behind the Scenes… – one of our early book club choices! I hope whatever life your life has currently taken on is a pleasant and positive one; my fingers are firmly crossed that this is the case. Always a joy to hear from you whenever. And I will get something back to you before long I hope 😊 xx


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