Six Degrees of Separation: from How To Be Both to Fish Have No Feet

Arriving at the first Saturday in April provides another opportunity to participate in the Six Degrees of Separation meme, hosted by Kate over at BooksAreMyFavouriteAndBest.

This month we start with Ali Smith’s How To Be Both.  I have not yet read this book but I know that its format is unusual with two versions of the same story and the reader can choose where to begin. Another book that has different starting points is Carol Shields’ Happenstance. This is a single story about a marriage which is split into two parts, each told from the husband’s and wife’s perspective.

My lovely husband bought this book for me when it was originally published in 1994. Somewhere over the years, with house moves and much sorting of shelves, I sadly managed to loose his copy. So I recently spent time hunting down a good copy of that original edition and am pleased to have it back in my collection.

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two chains for the six degrees of separation book meme

Six Degrees of Separation: From Vanity Fair to The Underground Railroad

Hooray! It’s time for another Six Degrees of Separation post. This is a meme hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a common starting point and participants then link to six other books to form a chain. It is endlessly amazing to see all the different results and I love taking part.

This time, I have something a bit different for you in my list, or should I say lists…..

two chains for the six degrees of separation book meme

The starting point is William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. When I began thinking about the first leap from here, two possible paths popped into my mind: the first being other Fair-related links; the second being VF’s intriguing subtitle, ‘A Novel Without a Hero’. I could not choose between the two, so decided to follow both paths with the aim of picking whichever one I preferred.

I could hardly contain myself, therefore, when both paths ended up with THE SAME BOOK – can you believe it!!!

So, the first chain takes us initially from Vanity Fair to Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge. This book opens at a country fair. Michael Henchard is drunk and auctions off his wife and daughter. He spends the rest of his life trying to make up for it.

This links to another book where the main character does something wrong at the start, then works to find redemption, namely Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. Ex-convict, Jean Valjean manages to create a new life for himself, becoming a wealthy factory owner and mayor of his local town.

The acquisition of a ‘new life’ provides a clear link to Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life, in which her main character experiences multiple lives. And I could not resist linking from this novel to You Only Live Twice by Ian Fleming, where we encounter one of James Bond’s most celebrated villains, Ernst Stavro Blofeld and his ever-present pet cat. So that takes me to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, by Tennessee Williams.

Finally for this chain, I thought about books set in Tennessee, which led me to Colson Whitehead’s brilliant and powerful novel, The Underground Railroad. I read this last year and also heard Whitehead speak about it at Edinburgh’s Book Festival. It has stayed with me ever since.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, let me share with you my second chain….

I mentioned above Vanity Fair’s subtitle, A Novel without a Hero. This made me think of books which very definitely do have heroes and I picked The Iliad. Homer’s epic tale set during the Trojan Wars, with the warrior Achilles fighting against King Agamemnon, links perfectly to Pat Barker’s recent reworking of this classic in the form of her novel The Silence of the Girls

Barker opens her story with Achilles leading the Greeks into battle. So how about linking to a book with another Greek character? What else could it be, but Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis. Here we have a story which starts with a young intellectual deciding to leave his books behind in favour of exploration and travel, a premise which made me think of Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad.

It is perhaps an obvious leap from there to the next book – Age of Innocence by the wonderful Edith Wharton. She won the Pulitzer Prize for this novel and guess which other book won this prestigious prize? Yep, none other than The Underground Railroad – woo hoo!!

So there you have it. Two chains for the price of one. And if you fancy even more six degrees fun, why not check out my accompanying playlist over on my music blog Leaping Tracks.

Next month, we start with Charles Dickens’ timeless seasonal novella, A Christmas Carol. Bring it on! 🙂