Six Degrees of Separation: from The Arsonist to The Ashes of London

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

The Arsonist: A Mind on Fire

This month the chain begins with The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper, a book I haven’t read. In fact, it isn’t to be published in the UK until May 2019. It’s non fiction about the scorching February day in 2009 that became known as Black Saturday, when a man lit two fires in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley.  It is also the story of fire in Australia, and of a community that owed its existence to that very element.

My chain begins by using the word ‘Saturday‘ as the link. It’s Saturday by Ian McEwan which follows one day in the life of a neurosurgeon, Henry Perowne as his life takes an unexpected turn of events. A minor car accident brings him into confrontation with Baxter, a man on the edge of violence.

Also following the life of one person in one day is Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, in which Clarissa Dalloway is preoccupied with the last-minute details of party she is to give that evening. Elsewhere in London, Septimus Smith is suffering from shell-shock and on the brink of madness. Mrs Dalloway first appeared in Virginia Woolf’s short story, Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street published in The Dial magazine in 1923.

The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie was also published in 1923, her second book featuring Hercule Poirot. She had the idea for the book after reading newspaper reports of a murder in France, in which masked men had broken into a house, killed the owner and left his wife bound and gagged. From these facts she then invented her plot, setting the book in the fictional French town of Merlinville next to a golf course and overlooking the sea.

SaturdayMrs DallowayThe Murder on the Links (Hercule Poirot, #2)The Chalk Circle ManTitus GroanThe Ashes of London (Marwood and Lovett, #1)

The Chalk Circle Man by Fred Vargas is also set in France, her first book featuring Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg. Strange blue chalk circles start appearing on the pavements of Paris and increasingly bizarre objects are found within them, including the body of a woman with her throat savagely cut. Like Poirot, Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg is a detective who works on intuition.

Vargas’s books are full of eccentric characters as is Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake, the first of his Gormenghast books.  It begins with the birth of Titus, soon to be the 77th Earl of Gormenghast. His father, Lord Sepulchrave has endured despair and then madness after his beloved library was burnt down and Steerpike, a disrespectful youth, has clawed his way out of the castle’s kitchen to a position of some power, by manipulation and deceit.

This brings me full circle to a book about fire, or rather the aftermath of a fire in The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor as people set about rebuilding London after the Great Fire had reduced a large part of it to ashes and rubble. Interwoven with a murder mystery, and the hunt for the regicides responsible for the execution of Charles I, it brings home the reality of being homeless – a refugee in your own country. I could hear the noise of the fire, smell the smoke and almost feel the heat and the pain of the victims of the fire.

So, the last link in my chain takes it back to the start of the chain, but to the results of a fire started by accident rather than arson. This month my chain has travelled from Australia to the United Kingdom, via France and the fantasy world of Gormenghast, connected by names, dates of publication, settings and eccentric characters.

Next month (April 6, 2019), the chain will begin with Ali Smith’s award-winning novel, How to be Both.

25 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: from The Arsonist to The Ashes of London”

  1. Great links Margaret. I particularly love your link to McEwan’s Saturday, and then to Mrs Dalloway. Excellent. My first link was more obvious – to another book inspired by major fires in Australia (but, short stories.)

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    1. Thanks – I liked finishing with a book to complete the circle 🙂

      I know a lot of people criticised Saturday – I’m probably in the minority in liking it. I’ve found his books very variable, Sweet Tooth for example was disappointing, better than Solar but not as good as Atonement.

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      1. I liked Saturday too Margaret, and can’t quite understand those who don’t. I have Sweet tooth, but haven’t read it. While Solar has a couple of funny scenes, overall it is low if not bottom of my McEwan list, and I’ve read most of them from Enduring love on. Enduring love is one of my favourites, along with Atonement (of course!)

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  2. I’m always impressed when anyone manages to turn the chain into a circle! I haven’t read Saturday for some reason, though I’ve read most of his other books. But I have read the Agatha Christie of course! And I’ll preserve a tactful silence over Mrs Dalloway… 😉

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  3. That’s a great chain, especially as you managed to bring it full circle. I love the Gormenghast books and have been meaning to re-read them for ages. Maybe I’ll get round to it later in the year.

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  4. It’s fun when you can link your last book back to the first, creating a circle! The only one of these I’ve read is The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie. I don’t think of Poirot as an intuitive detective, though; he prizes logic above all things.

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