Six Degrees of Separation: from What Are You Going Through to The Man on a Donkey

It’s time again for 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 chain this month begins with  What Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez, a book I’ve not read. Described as a luminous, heartbreaking and life-affirming novel about choosing to die, it is a novel about a woman with terminal cancer. She asks a friend to accompany her on a holiday where she will, without warning one day, take a lethal pill to end her life on her own terms.

My first link: My first thought was to link my chain to books about cancer, beginning with The Spare Room by Helen Garner. Nicola, who is suffering from cancer goes to stay with her friend Helen whilst she undergoes alternative therapy. She refuses to accept that she is dying and Helen struggles to cope with the situation. It is a difficult book to read, not because of the style of writing, which is fluent, but because of the agonising descriptions of Nicola’s condition and the anguish and anger that hits Helen. But I’m glad I read it; it was nowhere nearly as bad as I imagined it would be.

So then I changed my mind and the rest of the chain just happened:

My second link is a bit tenuous and is via the author, Helen Garner, an Australian author, born in Geelong. In the 1959 film of Nevil Shute’s novel On the Beach the closing scenes were filmed near Barwon Heads, a suburb of Geelong. The novel is set after a world wide nuclear war has destroyed most of the globe, and the few remaining survivors in southern Australia await the radioactive cloud that is heading their way and bringing certain death to everyone in its path.

My third link is another novel with the word ‘beach’ in the title, On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. Edward and Florence married that morning are on honeymoon at a hotel on Chesil Beach, an 18-mile long shingle barrier beach on the Dorset coast. They are struggling to suppress their fears of their wedding night to come.

My fourth link: is the name ‘Florence’. In Deadheads by Reginald Hill old Mrs Florence Aldermann instructs her great nephew, eleven year old Patrick, how to deadhead roses and explains why it is necessary. When Patrick eventually inherits the splendid Rosemount House and gardens on the death of his aunt he is able to indulge his horticultural passions without restraint. But why do so many of his colleagues keep dropping dead?

My fifth link is to a novel with the word ‘rose’ in the title. It’s one of my favourite books, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, historical fiction set in 1327. Benedictine monks in a wealthy Italian abbey are suspected of heresy, and Brother William of Baskerville arrives to investigate. He collects evidence, deciphers secret symbols and coded manuscripts, and digs into the eerie labyrinth of the abbey, where “the most interesting things happen at night.” When his delicate mission is suddenly overshadowed by seven bizarre deaths, Brother William turns detective.

My sixth link: is to The Man on a Donkey by H F M Prescott, historical fiction that features Benedictines but in this book it’s Benedictine nuns, not monks. It is set in 1536 and is about The Pilgrimage of Grace, a protest against Henry VIII‘s break with the Roman Catholic Church, the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and the policies of the King’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell.

Beginning with stories about terminal cancer my chain travels to one about Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, via tales about survivors of a nuclear war, a couple’s fears of their wedding night, a man who loves roses accused of murder, and murders in an Italian abbey.

Next month (December 4, 2021), we’ll start with the classic novella, Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. For a change the chain begins with a book I have read!

12 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: from What Are You Going Through to The Man on a Donkey

  1. Woo hoo, I’ve read your first three books. A different cover for The spare room than I’ve seen before, and I loved your link to On the beach, and then lovely going to On Chesil Beach, another book I loved. So devastating.

    I’ve heard of Hill, and Eco of course, but haven’t read either of them.

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  2. Such a clever chain, Margaret, as always! Those links are inspired. Thanks for reminding me of the Eco; it’s been a while. And it was nice to see a Hill in your group – such a good series, I think. I’ve not read the Nunez, but it sounds interesting.

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  3. Your chain is great, and I too am glad that you moved off into less depressing waters!

    I’ve never read any Reginald Hill but always meant to, and you have spurred me into action – Deadheads sounds most intriguing.

    I think I tried to read the Umberto Eco when it first came out and was quite fashionable – I was probably far too young, and I would like to try it again, so thanks for the reminder.

    I’ve read mixed reviews of On Chesil Beach – I have a copy so maybe I should just get on with reading it and see what I think. ‘Beach’ as a link was clever!

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