Six Degrees of Separation August 2018

Is it that time already? For August’s Six Degrees of Separation, a meme hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best, the starting point is Ian McEwan’s Atonement.

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Ian McEwan: I have loved some of his books and not been overwhelmed by some of his others, so I have felt no compulsion to read all of them. Atonement is one of my less favoured ones – I like his earlier and darker ones better on the whole. But I also know that the author was accused of plagiarism, that a passage in Atonement closely resembled Lucilla Andrews’ autobiography as a nurse during WW2 (whom he acknowledges as a source of inspiration).

Another book which has been accused of plagiarism on several occasions is Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. I suppose the authors meant that their conspiracy theory ideas were stolen, rather than the style. Because if it were about the style, I would keep very shtum indeed if I were them. Dan Brown’s book ranks as one of the worst-written, most cliché-ridden piece of work that I’ve ever managed to read to the end (only just).

A much better book about conspiracy theories and historical mysteries and religion is Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco. My teenage self simply thrilled at the tragic story of the Knights Templar – although my adult self knows that all the blather about world domination and deep secrets is frankly absurd.

The next hop is a very easy one: I rely on the name of Foucault and look at Michel Foucault, influential French thinker (I like that all-encompassing term, because he was a social historian, philosopher, literary theorist and so much more, even influencing social anthropology – but nothing whatsoever to do with the Pendulum). One of his major works is Discipline and Punish which looks at the history of prisons in the Western world, as well as the philosophy of crime and punishment.

I don’t much enjoy books about prisons, but I do admire Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago about his own experience of the harsh conditions in the Soviet gulags. This is more than just an abstract compassion for the horrors,. I have a personal connection, because it is quite likely that my grandfather died in one of those.

But on to something far more cheerful for the next link: archipelago makes me think of islands, of course, and Eva Ibbotson’s Island of the Aunts (aka Monster Mission) sounds like it might fit the bill. I haven’t actually read this one, but I’ve really enjoyed other books by this author. The premise does sound rather weird: When the kindly old aunts decide that they need help caring for creatures who live on their hidden island, they know that only children can be trusted to keep their secret, so they go ahead and kidnap them.

One of the best fictional aunts is Aunt Augusta in Graham Greene’s Travels with My Aunt. Mischievous, amoral, often illegal and slightly barmy, this formidable 70 year old certainly helps her nephew come out of his shell as he embarks upon his adventures with her, travelling around Europe and South America. This is possibly Greene’s cheeriest and funniest creation.

So from England on the verge of war to a whirlwind tour of European sights via the fierceness of Siberia and imaginary secret islands… what a journey we’ve been on this month!


31 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation August 2018”

  1. Oh, I love your first connection being ‘accused of plagiarism’. What an interesting connection. Yes, I did read THE DA VINCI CODE – is there someone who didn’t? Ha! I have not read too many of his books, but I’ve picked up one or two more. Can’t even think which ones right now. Umberto Eco is an author that I’ve meant to read, but I think the book was THE NAME OF THE ROSE. I’ve meant to read it ever since I saw the movie with Sean Connery and Christian Slater. Also love how you took us from plagiarism to funny travels with an aunt.

    1. The Name of the Rose is such a good book – it is much slower than most contemporary thrillers, but it is very clever and atmospheric. Again, I read it as a teenager, so perhaps I am just nostalgic about it.

  2. I do like the plagiarism link although I’d not heard the McEwan story before. Your chain stretches far and wide this month, venturing into some tough territory for you. I’m glad it ended on a happier note.

  3. Oh, these are such great links, Marina Sofia! And I like the way you weave in your own family history, too. The plagiarism question is interesting, too, and clever. Well done

    1. Thank you, Margot. I vaguely remembered other authors weighing in and supporting McEwan when the accusation came out, but I didn’t observe it too closely.

  4. Great links- especially the first one. I have the same reaction to McEwan’s books, but Atonement is one I loved. I have read The Da Vinci Code … and Foucault’s Pendulum, but none of the other books in your chain. Travels with My Aunt appeals to me the most – cheery and funny sounds good to me.

  5. As always, your list has weighed down my TBR pile. I read Travels With My Aunt last year and agree with your assessment. DaVinci code I passed on. However, there are two that interest me. I wonder, did you ever read Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier? So far it my “best” this summer.

      1. I do understand, but I don’t believe you will be disappointed. That being said, I will try not to give any more suggestions… for now. 🙂

    1. Well, I never knew my grandfather, and my mother doesn’t remember him either. My grandmother never talked about it, so it felt more like something you know with your head rather than with your heart, if you know what I mean…

      1. I do. And I never knew my maternal grandfather who was in one of the first merchant ships to be sunk in WW2. Nevertheless I feel quite a connection with him, and also the sea. Heredity is a strange thing…

  6. I see what you mean about the two of us having rather grim lists this month. I think the only prison book I’ve ever read was Marching Powder.

    Like you I just managed to read Da Vinci Code all the way through, but it did inspire me to visit Rosslyn Church when I was in the UK in 2007.

  7. Your description of The Da Vinci Code did me me laugh Marina Sofia! Well done for getting through it – I couldn’t make it past the prologue, not a decision I’ve ever regretted.

    You’ve reminded me how much I want to read Travels with My Aunt too 🙂

    1. I’m with you, Madame Bibi . I picked Dan Brown up in the library many moons ago and just skimming the first few pages evoked a visceral response skin to chewing silver paper. Writing so bad it jarred the nerve endings..

  8. I never knew about the plagiarism accusations regarding McEwan! Interesting… and yes, I agree with your thoughts on The Da Vinci Code – loathed that book (it was a book group pick otherwise I never would have picked it up, simply not my thing).

  9. An interesting chain this month. I haven’t read Atonement and had no idea Ian McEwan was accused of plagiarism. Apart from The Da Vinci Code I haven’t read any of your other books either, but Travels with My Aunt sounds fun.

  10. Go easy on Dan Brown, he’s writing for the common man. lol. His books are pretty outrageous. They completely blew my mind in high school though. I really liked the connections you chose, they seemed so logical and thoughtful that by the end I was like, “Well where else would she have ended up?” even though I’ve only read one of those books.

    1. Ha, ha, my logic is often very twisted indeed and I have no idea where the chain will take me! Well, at least Dan Brown was more interesting than Fifty Shades – plus, anything that gets people reading is fine by me!

      1. Yeah, The DaVinci Code was one of those books that even people who didn’t read were reading. I’m all about that! Plus, I found the conspiracy theories in the Robert Langdon books to be pretty interesting. I love a good conspiracy theory! But yeah, wouldn’t want to read MORE Dan Brown, lol

  11. I loved what you said about The Da Vinci Code, even though I have not read it so have no right to an opinion. Your chain is very complex. I did read the The Gulag Archipelago … years ago when it first came out in the US, I guess.

    1. The Gulag Archipelago is one of those books that you have no wish to reread. I suppose One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is much shorter and just as hard-hitting, so I would recommend to anyone to go with that.

  12. I had no idea McEwan had been accused of plagiarism! But you did make me laugh with your comment on not admitting to it if Dan Brown had plagiarised you… 😂

  13. OH WOW! The books about the aunts sure are fun! The Island of Aunts is super, super fun sounding, even if it is about kidnapping. Though the link of plagiarism was quite fascinating too! I LOVED your chain… I tend to keep to a theme so this was fun. ❤️

    1. Hello, Dani, and thanks for your comment! The only reason I don’t stick to a theme is that I don’t think I can find enough books in my memory to go with it…

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