Six Degrees of Separation: From The Slap to…

Six Degrees of Separation is 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 starting point for May is The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas. A controversial and marmite book when it first appeared in 2008, it certainly established Tsiolkas’ reputation as a frank and uncompromising critic of Australian society beneath the easy-going, laid-back surface.

I haven’t read The Slap, but I was utterly charmed by Christos when I met him at the Livres sur le quai festival in Morges in 2015. I have read other novels by him and I am linking up to Barracuda, the story of a working-class lad trying to escape his upbringing through his talents as a swimmer. Shockingly frank and unsentimental look at Australia’s so-called ‘classless’ society.

Another book which explores notions of class and takes place in a school (as large chunks of Barracuda does) is Different Class by Joanne Harris. Set in St Oswald’s Grammar School for Boys, it returns to the fate of eccentric Latin master Roy Straitley who was persuaded to delay his retirement for a year – but begins to regret his decision with the appointment of a fashionable new Head, who was one of his nightmareish former pupils.

Joanne Harris is of course most famous for her book Chocolat, and another book with a strong link to chocolate is Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, which is a love story underlining the strong sensuous link between cooking and lust (or perhaps cooking as a sublimation of passion), and the prevalence of chocolate in Mexican cuisine.

Another Mexican writer I have discovered more recently is Valeria Luiselli. Her Faces in the Crowd is the story of an obsession, as the narrator, a somewhat harassed mother and writer in Mexico City, tries to remember her life in New York and her growing fascination with the life and poetry of Gilberto Owen (who was a real historical figure).

The title of the book above refers to an Ezra Pound poem, so my next link is to his volume of Cantos, which influenced me profoundly in my love for poetry and for exploring other cultures, despite what I later came to find out about his anti-semitism and collaboration with the Fascists.

Perhaps another reason why I liked Pound when I was younger was for his stylish and unconventional translations of Chinese poetry, so my last link is to one of the Chinese classics which we all had to read when I studied Japanese at university, Dream of the Red Chamber, written in the mid 18th century during the Qing dynasty. The opening poem of this epic family saga says all there is to say about the fine line between fiction and reality:

Truth becomes fiction when the fiction’s true;
Real becomes not-real where the unreal’s real.

So that was a whirlwind world tour – from Australia to the United Kingdom to Mexico to New York City to China. Where do your literary connections take you?

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35 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: From The Slap to…”

    1. Yes, it’s tough if you haven’t read the first book, but I was very much struck by the contrast between the lovely, funny person that Tsiolkas seems to be in real life and his very hard-hitting style of writing

    1. Luiselli has completely won me over, I want to read everything she has ever written (although in practice, I’ve only read some articles by her, not her other books, as my library doesn’t stock them).

  1. Wow! That was a journey and a half.

    Can I ask what you mean my ‘marmite book’ – it’s not a phrase I’ve heard before?

    Like Water For Chocolate was one of my favourites twenty years ago – I wonder if it would still appeal so much now? The Faces in the Crowd sounds fascinating – thanks.

    1. Yes, I haven’t read Like Water for Chocolate since I was in my late teens, so I suspect I might not like it as much now… Marmite is that salty vegetarian spread which the British used as a protein substitute during the war, I believe, and some people hate it, some people love it, so it’s always used as a term for something which really divides the public opinion.

  2. Very clever connections you’ve made here, Marina Sofia. Funny you’d mention Like Water For Chocolate. Years ago, when I was teaching Spanish, I used to use that book and its filmed version in class.

  3. Great links and great choices… I really didn’t like The Slap (thought he’d missed out on a golden opportunity to really get stuck into the dilemma but was just flippant almost) but so many rate his writing I must give Barracuda a try… I too am a fan of Luisella after her Faces in the Crowd… really want to read her Teeth one!

  4. Very interesting chain around the World! I have read a lot of Joanne Harris however, never heard of Different Class, I will have to look it up. I read Life Water for Chocolate while staying in a Gite in France and it was on the shelf. I enjoyed it but not a classic I think. I continue to be amazed by the variety of links starting with one book!

  5. I read Barracuda and liked it. I saw The Slap–both the Aussie and the US versions and the differences between the two were interesting and said a lot about the cultures they portrayed.

  6. I’m interested in Different Class as it does sound similar to Gentlemen and Players which I read in my pre-blog days and I do like some (not all – eg Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé) of Joanne Harris’s books. Interesting links – I’m loving how different all the chains are!

    1. Yes, the cutey depictions of French village life are sheer nostalgia and not the most interesting of her books, but she is quite a diverse writer.

  7. Very interesting post. I, too, questioned the use of marmite, but I get it. Funny I had never seen this usage before. Our language has so many idioms and variations based on country and region. I have to ask a neighbor from Birmingham what words mean that I find in crime fiction from countries in Britain.
    I haven’t read anything by Tsiolkas nor watched The Slap.
    I’ve never read Ezra Pound’s works, knowing at a young age what his political views were. Of course, if we had to read it in school, I’d do it, but never read any of his writings aside from that.

    1. Barracuda is quite a lengthy book and some of it can feel a little tedious or deliberately designed to shock, but overall I did think it was a good book, very interesting.

  8. Love seeing where all the chains go! I didn’t know there was a chocolate motif in Mexican cuisine! I may have to emigrate there now. Tell me, and excuse my ignorance, but why a Chinese classic when you were studying Japanese?

    1. I think it’s quite bitter chocolate though, not the weak European milk chocolate…
      For every language option you had to do 1-2 semesters of ‘ancient language’ – so, for Romance languages you might do Latin, for example. Or Old German for German or Middle English for English etc. Since Japanese is not really related to any of the surrounding languages, but has many cultural links, especially regarding the writing, with China, we studied Classical Chinese. I don’t remember anything about the language, but it was fascinating to compare and contrast the literature.

      1. That does sound interesting, if difficult! Mind you, I even find Middle English difficult. When I was studying Scottish history, we had to read quite a bit of medieval French – I doubt my ever more rusty French would allow me to do that at all now.

  9. WOW! What a FABULOUS “chain”!! I’ll be reading most of these, starting with Baraccuda and then Different Class–I love school stories and have posted before on some of my favorites. So many superb choices here. And I love, love, love both Chocolat and Like Water for Chocolate [and chocolate itself!].

  10. Fun connections! Isn’t Luiselli great? I just finished her new essay and it is really wow. I have not read Faces in the Crowd yet but I will!

  11. Where did you go to school; those language requirements are impressive.
    In the States, at least those I know of, one takes one language exclusively in
    middle- and -high school, but, of course, in college one can take many
    languages. But I’ve never heard of studying ancient languages as part of a course on a current language. That would certainly challenge young minds!

    1. No, this was at university in Romania, not at high school. I studied Japanese and English for my undergraduate degree. Those who studied only German or English were supposed to study Medieval German/English, but often would pick the more glamorous option of a Scandinavian language instead. I was dead jealous of them, I remember, as I always had a hankering to learn Norwegian.

  12. Fascinating that you wanted to learn Norwegian. What attracts you?
    I would like to know Swedish as I watch so many mysteries set in Sweden. When I watched two seasons of The Bridge, I was listening for differences and similarities in Danish, German and Swedish.
    There are some similar words. And since I grew up with a Yiddish-speaking parent, my ears can pick up word similarities to those she used often.

    1. I think Norway is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, think Norwegians are very friendly and lovely, love skiing and, like you, feel I understand a little bit of the language because of English and German. I also like their social policies and work-life balance…

  13. I would imagine that Norwegian women, students, working people, and mothers, have many benefits that we do not have in the States. That is certainly a big plus for the society.

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