6 Degrees of Separation – September 2017

Kate has a talent for picking interesting books as a starting point for her Six Degrees of Separation meme and this month it’s Wild Swans by Jung Chang. I loved that book when I read it, as I’ve always been fascinated by Chinese culture and history.



So for my first link I will stay with China but move to crime fiction, with Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong, featuring the very likeable Chief Inspector Chen, a poet who has to navigate his way through the political shenanigans of 1990s Shanghai.



Another poet/policeman is of course PD James’ Adam Dalgliesh and in one of the books of the long-running series Original Sin he investigates the death of the managing director of one of London’s oldest publishing houses, the fictional Peverell Press.



Another book describing life in the publishing industry, with slightly less murder but considerably more satire, is Muriel Spark’s delightfully outrageous, darkly tongue-in-cheek A Far Cry from Kensington, where the sensible Mrs Hawkins can suddenly no longer bear the frightful prose and arrogant air of one of their authors.



I always associate Muriel Spark with Barbara Pym, especially with the latter’s novel Less Than Angels, which is equally merciless and satirical about anthropologists as Spark is about publishers. Perhaps I have a soft spot for this novel (which is not necessarily Pym’s best, although it is perhaps her most light-hearted one) because it reminds me of tea-time in the common room at the Anthropology Department in Cambridge and all the characters you might meet there.


Speaking of anthropologists, one of the founding mothers of anthropology was Margaret Mead and her memoir Blackberry Winter was one of the books which ignited my life-long love for the subject. Some of her findings have since been contested – which is as it should be, research (and our respect and understanding for other cultures) should progress constantly.



Another remarkable woman who has inspired me all my life is Marie Curie. I haven’t yet read the biography written by her daughter Ève Curie, but it would be interesting to see what this younger daughter, an artistic cuckoo in a nest of scientists, has to say about her driven mother. Apparently, she used to joke that she was the disappointment of the family: ‘There were five Nobel Prizes in my family, two for my mother, one for my father, one for [my] sister and brother-in-law and one for my husband. Only I was not successful…’

So from China to the UK, Samoa and Papua New Guinea to Poland and France, this has been a meandering sort of literary link… Where will your associations take you?

14 thoughts on “6 Degrees of Separation – September 2017”

  1. Quite the glob-trotting connections here, Marina Sofia! I’m impressed. And I think you’ve made some great choices, here, too. Oh, and I’ve always felt inspired by Marie Curie, too…

    1. I keep meaning to write an article about inspirational single parents and talk about Marie Curie amongst others. But of course she is inspiring for so many other reasons too… Recently read Anne Michaels’ poem about Marie Curie mourning her husband ‘The Second Search’ and it was utterly beautiful and absorbing.

  2. Some lovely connections there. I so enjoyed A Far Cry from Kensington when I read it earlier this year. Barbara Pym is always fab, though that particular one isn’t my favourite I always enjoy her books.

    1. I know, I’m a bit of an outsider for liking that particular Pym book – it’s just the subject matter makes me laugh so much! (I like her other books too). Muriel Spark is merciless in many ways: I love reading her, but I wouldn’t have wanted to be her friend. You’d have to be really careful what you said, wouldn’t you?

  3. I love the way everyone goes in such different directions with these chains. You are one of the few people I have come across who is familiar with Qiu Xiaolong. I read a couple of his books some years ago and thoroughly enjoyed the way he reflected the political pressures on the police

    1. I actually saw him this year at the Crime Festival in Lyon – he was absolutely lovely, very modest and very honest about how he got into crime fiction and his love for poetry.

  4. I haven’t read any of the books in your chain this month (apart from Wild Swans) but love the jumps you made between books.

    Love the cover of the Spark – I’ve seen a few books with similar jackets so clearly a group of titles have been re-released and now I’ll want them all, looking gorgeous on my bookshelf! (I keep buying copies of various Fitzgerald books for this reason!).

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