#6Degrees of Separation, Nov 2019

I know I promised a reveal of my Romanian book haul, but I wanted to participate in this monthly meme hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best before it gets too late. And that’s because the starting point is one of my favourite books, which I’ve referenced a few times in my poetry.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and perhaps even more Alice Through the Looking Glass were huge childhood favourites, that I turned to again and again in my adulthood and was delighted to share with my own children later. They loved them as much as I did, fortunately!

One childhood favourite that I also was keen to share with them but which they weren’t keen on was Swallows and Amazons. Perhaps the nautical terminology was just too much, or maybe they were a little too far removed in time from the children in the story (80 years or so, after all!)

Swallows and Amazons was published in 1930 and, as we saw with the recent #1930Club, there were very many good books published that year. One of my favourites of those is Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham, a bit of a fun romp and satire of the literary circles of his time.

Very unlike most of his other work, which tends to be more serious and even sinister. I am particularly fond of The Painted Veil and his short story Rain, both describing the alienation felt by colonial rulers in the countries they attempt to ‘civilise’.

A novel with ‘rain’ in the title and also set in the East (in Malaysia during the Second World War) is The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng, about a young half-Chinese, half-English son of the head of one of Penang’s great trading families, who only starts to feel a sense of belonging when he meets a Japanese diplomat there – who turns out to be a spy.

I’m not a huge fan of spy thrillers, but it’s these quieter, more subtle books about the impact of spying on families and individuals that capture my interest. Another book that succeeds in this is Exposure by Helen Dunmore, set in postwar London.

For some reason, I kept mixing up Helen Dunmore with Helen Simpson, although the latter is a short story writer and has never, as far as I know, attempted historical fiction. So I will close with Helen Simpson’s Four Bare Legs in a Bed, her first collection, which I read when I first arrived in London in autumn of 1994.

A first from me – all of the books in this month’s chain were written in English, yet we still managed to travel a fair bit: from Victorian Oxfordshire to the Lake District in the early 20th century, from 1920s Hong Kong to Malaysian island of Penang during WW2, to London past and present(ish). Where will your literary associations take you this month?

15 thoughts on “#6Degrees of Separation, Nov 2019”

  1. I really enjoyed this chain Marina Sofia! I’ve never read Cakes and Ale, it sounds fun and very different to other WSM novels. I’ve also never tried Helen Simpson, I will look out for her (I always confuse Sarah Moss and Sarah Hall for some reason)

  2. A very interesting chain! I too loved the Alice books, particularly Through the Looking Glass – I loved reciting the Jabberwocky and can still remember most of it. I also loved Swallows and Amazons, Cakes and Ale and The Painted Veil.

  3. This is such a clever chain, Marina Sofia. And even though all of your choices were published in English, I still like it that they’re each different in their way. You make some fine choices here.

  4. That’s a great chain. I’m not much of a spy thriller fan either, but I loved Exposure. I enjoyed Tan Twan Eng’s other book, The Garden of Evening Mists, so I’ll have to try The Gift of Rain.

  5. Since both The Painted Veil and The Gift of Rain are on my TBR I’m glad to know you enjoyed them. I tend to agree with your sons about Swallows and Amazons though – sadly, I never could love those the way other people did.

    1. Yes, I can see why that might be the case. I was heavily into pony stories and sailing stories as a child and thought, when I moved to the UK, that I would spend all my time either riding or sailing. I have done precisely zero of either of those!

  6. Great links and associations! It sounds like The Gift of Rain offers a different angle to the classic spy thriller. Thinking about it, I can’t recall having read a spy thriller taking place in Asia.

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