Six Degrees of Separation from Shuggie Bain to The Secret Life of Bees

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.

Shuggie Bain is by Douglas Stuart and it won the Booker Prize in 2020. I haven’t read it.

This is a story of a young boy growing up in poverty in a dysfunctional family in the 1980s. Shuggie’s mother, Agnes, is an alcoholic, and his father, Shug, is a taxi driver who despises his wife’s addiction to ‘the drink’, cheats on her whenever the opportunity arises, and ultimately abandons her to a low-income housing development called Pithead, a depressing colliery where residents survive on government handouts. It’s Douglas Stuart’s first novel.

My first link is to another Booker Prize winning book, The Gathering by Anne Enright, the winner in 2007. It’s a dark and disturbing novel also about a dysfunctional family. The narrator is Veronica Hegarty and it is through her eyes that the Hegarty family story is told as they gather at her brother’s wake in Dublin. Liam, an alcoholic, had committed suicide by putting rocks into his pockets and walking into the sea at Brighton. 

My second link is from a fictional character who put rocks in his pockets to drown himself to a real person who committed suicide in the same way -Virginia Woolf. In his biography of her, Quentin Bell described how she made her way to the river bank, slipped a large stone into her coat pocket and drowned herself.

My third link is from a suicide to a death that seemed at first to be a suicide but then turned out to be murder, in Gallows Court by Martin Edwards, set in 1930s London. There’s tension and suspicion about who is telling the truth, and who is not who they appear to be. You just cannot believe anything as it’s full of illusions and tricks to baffle and mislead.

Fourth, there’s another apparent suicide in The Serpent Pool, a Lake District Mystery, by Martin Edwards. Bethany Friend drowned in the Serpent Pool, a lonely, isolated place below the Serpent Tower, a folly high on a ridge. DCI Hannah Scarlet, in charge of the Cumbria’s Cold Case Team, investigates her death with the help of historian, Daniel Kind.

Fifth, from the Serpent Tower my chain moves on to the Eiffel Tower in Murder on the Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner. It combines crime fiction and historical fiction, as Eugénie Patinot takes her nephews and niece to the newly-opened Eiffel Tower in 1889. They sign the visitors’ book, and then Eugénie collapses and dies, apparently from a bee-sting.

And the final link is to bees in Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Lives of Bees, (I’ve had this book for 6 years and it’s been hidden in my Kindle ever since – unread!). It’s a coming of age tale set in 1960s South Carolina’. It tells the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. This book also links back to Shuggie Bain as both are their authors’ debut novels.

My chain began in Glasgow, moved to Dublin, various places in England and then Paris before ending up in South Carolina. The links include Booker Prize winners, dysfunctional families, suicide, murder and bees.

Next month’s chain (May 1, 2021) will begin with Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary, a book I’ve never come across before.

My Friday Post: The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

I’m currently reading A Room Made of Leaves by Elizabeth Grenville, her latest book, and have nearly finished it. I love her books and as I’ve nearly finished it I was wondering which book to read next and remembered I have one of her earlier books, The Lieutenant still waiting to be read. To my surprise when I opened it this morning I found that it is another book about one of the characters in A Room Made of Leaves. That character is William Dawes, a real person, a soldier in the first days of the Colony of New South Wales.

The Lieutenant  is about Daniel Rooke, based on real events in William Dawes’ life, using his notebooks in which he recorded his conversations with a young girl, Patyegarang, (also in A Room Made of Leaves), in his efforts to learn the language of the indigenous people of Sydney. It is a novel that stays close to the historical events. 

It begins:

Daniel Rooke was quiet, moody, a man of few words. He had no memories other than of being an outsider.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

It seemed that the natives did not like the surgeon’s music any more than they had enjoyed his performance with the pistol. Their faces were stony. After a minute they took the two pieces of shield and disappeared into the woods.

Book description:

1788 Daniel Rooke sets out on a journey that will change the course of his life. As a lieutenant in the First Fleet, he lands on the wild and unknown shores of New South Wales. There he sets up an observatory to chart the stars. But this country will prove far more revelatory than the skies above.

Based on real events, The Lieutenant tells the unforgettable story of Rooke’s connection to an Aboriginal child – a remarkable friendship that resonates across the oceans and the centuries.

Throwback Thursday: 1 April 2021

I’m linking up today with Davida @ The Chocolate Lady’s Book Review Blog for Throwback Thursday. It takes place on the Thursday before the first Saturday of every month (i.e., the Thursday before the monthly #6Degrees post). The idea is to highlight one of your previously published book reviews and then link back to Davida’s blog.

This month I’m looking back at Giving Up the Ghost: a memoir by Hilary Mantel, which I first posted in April 2008.

This is the first paragraph:

In the first chapter of Hilary Mantel’s memoir she writes, ”I hardly know how to write about myself. Any style you pick seems to unpick itself before a paragraph is done.”  She then advises herself to trust the reader, to stop spoon-feeding and patronising and write in ‘the most direct and vigorous way that you can.’ She worries that her writing isn’t clear, or that it is ‘deceptively clear’. It comes across to me as being clear, honest and very moving. She’s not looking for sympathy but has written this memoir to take charge of her memories, her childhood and childlessness, feeling that it is necessary to write herself into being.

Click here to read my full review

The next Throwback Thursday post is scheduled for April 29, 2021.

Top Ten Tuesday: Places In Books I’d Love to Live

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog.

The topic this week is :Places In Books I’d Love to Live.

Lothlorien, the Elf Kingdom in The Lord of the Rings – between the Misty Mountains and the River Anduin, the fairest realm of the Elves remaining in MiddleEarth It is ruled by Galadriel and Celeborn from their city of tree-houses at Caras Galadhon.

Heidi’s grandfather’s mountain in the Swiss Alps above the hamlet of Dorfli in Heidi by Johanna Spyri and the sequels, Heidi Grows Up and Heidi’s Children, written by Charles Tritten.

Hundred Acre Wood in Winnie the Pooh by A A Milne – we stayed in a cottage near Five Hundred Acre Wood in Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, where the Winnie-the-Pooh stories were set and played Pooh Sticks on the bridge.

Pemberley in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the home of Mr Darcy, located near the fictional town of Lambton, and believed by some to be based on Lyme Park, south of Disley in Cheshire. I’ve been there too.

Oxford in Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse books. In his poem ‘Thyrsis’ the Victorian poet Matthew Arnold called Oxford ‘the city of dreaming spires‘ after the stunning architecture of its university buildings We used to live near Oxford, so often visited. One of my favourite Morse books is The Dead of Jericho.

The Lake District as in Martin Edwards’ Lake District mysteries, featuring Hannah Scarlett and the historian Daniel Kind. I love the Lake District, and have been there many times. The first book in the series is The Coffin Trail.

Tuscany – as in Under the Tuscan Sun and Bella Tuscany by Frances Mayes – about the abandoned villa she restored and life in the Italian countryside. Tuscany is one of my favourite places in Italy and I’d love to go there again.

Atlantis’ – the fabulous, secluded castle situated on the shores of Lake Geneva in The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley a a fabulous, secluded castle situated on the shores of Lake Geneva, the home of the D’Aplièse sisters.

And finally two English fictional villages:

Fairacre in the Miss Read books (the real-life Dora Saint), with its thatched cottage, church, and school,. The first one is Village School.

St Mary Mead in Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple books. It was first mentioned in a Miss Marple book in 1930, when it was the setting for the first Miss Marple novel, The Murder at the Vicarage.

We Are Not In The World by Conor O’Callaghan

Transworld Publishers| 18 February 2021 |272 pages | Kindle review copy via NetGalley/ 2*

Heartbroken after a long, painful love affair, a man drives a haulage lorry from England to France. Travelling with him is a secret passenger – his daughter. Twenty-something, unkempt, off the rails.

With a week on the road together, father and daughter must restore themselves and each other, and repair a relationship that is at once fiercely loving and deeply scarred.

As they journey south, down the motorways, through the service stations, a devastating picture reveals itself: a story of grief, of shame, and of love in all its complex, dark and glorious manifestations.

My thoughts:

A strange, confusing and depressing book that I read as though I was in fog, never really getting to grips with the plot. It meanders and drifts through the characters, shifting between the past, the near past and the present, and from place to place, as Paddy drives the lorry from England down to the south of France. I was often not sure what was happening, when or where it was happening and to whom it was happening. It’s a stream of consciousness, as the various characters move in and out of focus.

There were times when I wondered why I was reading this, it was like a dream where the scenes move randomly through a number of sequences, and you wake up with that fearful feeling that something dreadful has been going on inside your head that was disturbing, and unsettling. There’s a sense of timelessness and of detachment from the day to day reality – they are not in the world. And yet I was compelled to read on, if only just to get to the end and see if my suspicions about what had actually happened were right. They were, although there is a little twist at the very end that I hadn’t expected.

The fairy tale of Oisin, a tale Paddy tells his daughter, interests me. Oisin was a warrior who fell in love with a fairy named Niamh. He takes her home to Tir na nOg, where they will stay forever young, but he can never return home. After three years he is homesick and returns on a magic horse, on the condition that he has to stay on the horse on pain of death. But three hundred years have actually gone by, not three, and everyone he knew is dead. He meets an old man who knew his father and moving to help him he slips off the horse, touches the ground and dies in an instant. He repeats this story several times to his daughter as they travel through France. It links with Tir na nOg, the name of his family home, now neglected and empty after his mother’s death three years earlier.

This is not an easy read, as you have to concentrate on all the different strands. Paddy’s life is a complete mess, he has lost everything: his family, his home and his sense of belonging. He looks back at the broken relationships with his parents, his brother, ex-wife, daughter, and ex-lover. It’s told in fragments and you have to read between the lines to understand it. I didn’t enjoy the book, and found it difficult to follow. It is too vague, and as soon as I thought I’d begun to understand it, it drifted away into obscurity. and I was left floundering.

My thanks to the publishers and to NetGalley for my advance review copy.

  • ASINB08119RXD6
  • Publisher : Transworld Digital (18 Feb. 2021)
  • Language : English
  • Print length : 264 pages
  • Page numbers source ISBN : 0857526855
  • Source: Review copy
  • My rating: 2*

My Friday Post: Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

This week I’m featuring Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell, one of my TBRs that I bought two years ago. It’s a standalone book, first published in 2017.

It begins with a Prologue:

Those months before she disappeared were the best. .

Chapter One begins:

Laurel let herself into her daughter’s flat. It was, even on this relatively bright day, dark and gloomy. The window at the front was overwhelmed by a terrible tangle of wisteria while the other side of the flat was completely overshadowed by the small woodland it backed onto.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 57 (page 56 is blank):

Laurel was alone. Her family was broken. There was nothing left. Literally nothing.

Blurb:

She was fifteen, her mother’s golden girl.
She had her whole life ahead of her.
And then, in the blink of an eye, Ellie was gone.

Ten years on, Laurel has never given up hope of finding Ellie. And then she meets a charming and charismatic stranger who sweeps her off her feet. But what really takes her breath away is when she meets his nine-year-old daughter. Because his daughter is the image of Ellie. Now all those unanswered questions that have haunted Laurel come flooding back.

What really happened to Ellie? And who still has secrets to hide?

Can’t-Wait Wednesday: The Girl Who Died by Ragnar Jónasson

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released.

This week I’m featuring The Girl Who Died by Ragnar Jónasson, release date 3 June 2021. I’ve read just two of Ragnar Jónasson’s books in his Icelandic Hulda series and enjoyed both of them. So, I’m keen to read this one, which is a standalone novel.

Description


‘TEACHER WANTED ON THE EDGE OF THE WORLD . . .’
.

Una knows she is struggling to deal with her father’s sudden, tragic suicide. She spends her nights drinking alone in Reykjavik, stricken with thoughts that she might one day follow in his footsteps.

So when she sees an advert seeking a teacher for two girls in the tiny village of Skálar – population of ten – on the storm-battered north coast of the island, she sees it as a chance to escape.

But once she arrives, Una quickly realises nothing in city life has prepared her for this. The villagers are unfriendly. The weather is bleak. And, from the creaky attic bedroom of the old house where she’s living, she’s convinced she hears the ghostly sound of singing.

Una worries that she’s losing her mind.

And then, just before midwinter, a young girl from the village is found dead. Now there are only nine villagers left – and Una fears that one of them has blood on their hands . . .

What upcoming release are you eagerly anticipating?

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

Just days after Raynor learns that Moth, her husband of 32 years, is terminally ill, their home is taken away and they lose their livelihood. With nothing left and little time, they make the brave and impulsive decision to walk the 630 miles of the sea-swept South West Coast Path, from Somerset to Dorset, via Devon and Cornwall.

Carrying only the essentials for survival on their backs, they live wild in the ancient, weathered landscape of cliffs, sea and sky. Yet through every step, every encounter and every test along the way, their walk becomes a remarkable journey.

The Salt Path is an honest and life-affirming true story of coming to terms with grief and the healing power of the natural world. Ultimately, it is a portrayal of home, and how it can be lost, rebuilt and rediscovered in the most unexpected ways
.

I first wrote a short post about The Salt Path in this post. I bought the book in 2018 and was keen to read it, but so many other books intervened, and it was only when I saw Raynor Winn on Kate Humble’s Coastal Walks programme on the South West Coastal Path that I remembered about her book.

Raynor and Moth Winn, a couple in their 50s, were homeless, with no means of income except for £48 pounds a week. They had lost their home, business and livelihood, after investing in one of a friend’s companies that had failed. They found out that they were liable to make payments towards the debts of the company, were taken to court and ended up losing not only their savings but also their farm and home.

Despite finding out that Moth has a rare terminal illness, they decided to walk the South Coast Path. He had been diagnosed with corticobasal degeneration (CBD), a brain disease for which there is no cure or treatment apart from pain killers and physiotherapy. The consultant told him that he shouldn’t tire himself, or walk too far and to take care on the stairs. Their decision to walk the Path and camp wild seemed to me both brave and foolhardy and I read this book with absolute amazement that they could take themselves away from medical care and set off, almost totally unprepared and not fit enough to walk 630 miles along a coast path.

At first it was really difficult as Moth struggled with pain and exhaustion, and it horrified me that he could carry on in that condition. They had reached the Valley of Rocks in north Devon, when he sat down on the rocks. He felt he was eighty and was so tired that he hurt everywhere:

Can’t tell if I’m half asleep, or wide awake. It’s like my head’s in fog and I’m walking through treacle. This is the most bollockingly stupid thing we’ve ever done. I want to lie down.(page 58)

He had been taking Pregabalin to ease the nerve pain and had been told not to just stop taking them because of the immense list of withdrawal symptoms. But that is what he had done – they had left his supplies behind them, ready to put in the rucksack, but had forgotten them. Fortunately after a while the pain lessened, he felt much better and his head was clearer. The walking had helped!

They had little to live on, their diet involved lots of rice and noodles, supplemented with wine gums and foraging for blackberries, mushrooms and dandelions. They took it at their own pace, following Paddy Dillon’s Walking Guide of the trail from Minehead on the Somerset coast right round Devon and Cornwall to Poole in Dorset, stopping to pick up their money and buy supplies along the route. But as winter was on the way when they reached Lantic Bay and Pencarrow Head they decided to take up a friend’s offer to stay with her for the winter free of rent if they could help with her building and on her farm.

However, once they stopped walking, Moth’s stiffness and his neurological pain increased and he struggled to move. He seemed to be deteriorating so quickly without the Pregabalin. But they were determined to finish the walk and completed it the next year. Once more, as they walked Moth’s condition improved. He didn’t understand how, thinking it may have ‘something to do with heavy endurance exercise‘, causing some sort of reaction that that they didn’t understand. He didn’t know how it worked but he just felt great.

Living with a death sentence, having no idea when it will be enacted, is to straddle a void. Every word or gesture, every breath of wind or drop of rain matters to a painful degree. For now we had moved outside of that. Moth was on death row, but he’d been granted the right to appeal. He knew CBD hadn’t miraculously disappeared, but somehow, for a while, it was held at bay.(page 243)

The Salt Path is not a book about walking the South Coast Path because you love walking, nor because you want the challenge of walking 630 miles, nor because you love wild camping. And it is not just about about the beauty of the surroundings and the experience of being close to nature (although that is there in Ray Winn’s beautiful descriptive writing). It is about the determination to live life, about overcoming pain and hardship, and the healing power of nature. It is about homelessness and the different reactions and attitudes of the people they met when they told them they were homeless. Some were hostile, some recoiled in horror and moved away as though they were social pariahs. Others were sympathetic and generous.

In this post I have concentrated on Moth’s health, because that is what struck me most as I was reading the book. But there is so much more in it than that. It’s one of the most remarkable books that I have read. I admired their determination and persistence in the face of all the difficulties and obstacles they met, but it is definitely not something I could ever undertake. It both fascinated and appalled me.

After I read The Salt Path I wondered how Ray and Moth are now and came across this article in The Herald, dated 20 September 2020, in which Raynor Winn looks back over these life-changing and challenging events. At lot has happened since then and the story of that is in her second book, The Wild Silence. You can follow Raynor on Twitter @raynor_winn.

  • Publisher : Michael Joseph; 1st edition (3 Sept. 2020)
  • Language : English
  • File size : 3148 KB
  • X-Ray : Enabled
  • Word Wise : Enabled
  • Print length : 280 pages
  • My Rating: 4*

My Friday Post: Not Dark Yet by Peter Robinson

Yesterday Peter Robinson’s latest Inspector Banks book, Not Dark Yet was published and once I’d read the opening pages I decided to abandon any plans I had for what to read next and started to read it properly. So this is my choice this week for Book Beginnings on Friday and the Friday 56.

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

The book begins in Moldova:

Zelda hadn’t visited Chișinău since she had been abducted outside the orphanage at the age of seventeen. And now she was back. She wasn’t sure how she was going to find the man she wanted – she had no contacts in the city – but she did have one or two vague ideas where to begin.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

Banks found himself with a lot to think about as he made his way back to Vauxhall Underground station. He had originally intended to do some shopping while he was in London, check out the big Waterstones in Piccadilly, visit FOPP in Cambridge Circus, but decided he couldn’t face it. Like everyone else, he did most of his shopping online these days. London was too hot and too crowded today; he just wanted to go home.

My thoughts exactly each time I’ve been to London – I can’t stand crowds.

This is the 27th Inspector Banks books and I’ve read I’ve several of them, totally out of order, which doesn’t seem to matter – they work well as stand alone books. I’ve also watched the TV series, which I enjoy even though they are different from the books and my vision of Banks is nothing like Stephen Tompkinson who plays him. In fact, the characters are clearly meant to be different versions of the same person; they look different, have different personalities and meet different fates in different worlds.

The 1936 Club

I read about the 1936 Club on Karen’s blog, BookerTalk. It’s being hosted by Karen at kaggsy’sbookishramblings and Simon at stuckinabook and is scheduled for 12-18 April. It’s been a while since I joined in one of their Club Reading Weeks, but when I looked at the books I’ve read and the books that I have waiting to be read I found that quite a lot of them were first published in 1936.

There is just one of these that I haven’t read – Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston. But I would like to re-read Agatha Christie’s Murder in Mesopotamia that I first read in May 2012, because I never wrote a review post about it. And there are some short stories, first published in 1936 that I haven’t read yet, such as Problem at Sea, which is included in the short story collection, Poirot’s Early Cases.