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?