It’s time again for the monthly Six Degrees of Separation link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month Kate chooses a different book as a starting point and we all link to six other books to form some sort of thematic chain. This month we have a spooky start, namely the much-loved novella by Henry James The Turn of the Screw. I have to admit I’m not much of a ghost story fan, but this story has that frisson of not knowing quite what is going on, how much is imagination, how much is a disturbed mind, how much is supernatural.
Another story who does this creepy discomfort brilliantly is of course Shirley Jackson. The Haunting of Hill House has one particular bedtime scene which made me well and truly jump when reading it. I’d been looking forward to the TV series based on the book (‘a modern reimagining’ is what they called it), which came out in 2019, but found it rather disappointing and gave up after 2-3 episodes. There’s a second season of it as well just out now, which seems utterly uncalled for.
Speaking of unwanted second seasons or sequels or prequels, I have to admit I did not read Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. Although it was promoted as a sequel, it is more of an early draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, which I love, and I did not want to tarnish my memory of that book. I believe authors should be allowed to keep their first drafts secret.
Having said that, there is one exception. I will be eternally grateful to Max Brod that he did not burn Franz Kafka‘s work after his death, as his friend had asked him to do. I like all of his work, even his letters and diaries, but for the purposes of this month’s chain, I will choose his final (unfinished) novel The Castle.
There are lots of other books with ‘castle’ in the title, and quite a few of them rank amongst my all-time favourites (We Have Always Lived in the Castle, I Capture the Castle, Howl’s Moving Castle) but I’ve decided to link to a book that is virtually unreadable now, but when it was first published in 1764, it was such a massive hit that it gave rise to countless imitations and to a whole genre of literature, namely the Gothic novel. It is, of course, The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole. Faux medieval atmosphere, implausible and complicated plot, relying heavily on coincidences and secret passageways, ghosts and more horror cliches than you can say boo to.
This is the type of novel lampooned in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (although she specifically mentions The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Monk, which appeared later), and what a great job Austen does of it! She mocks the current (in her time) obsession with all things Gothic, but is probably secretly somewhat fond of it herself. I wonder what she would have made of Horace Walpole’s house at Strawberry Hill, which is a monstrosity of fake Gothic style that shouldn’t work at all… and yet is very endearing and even appealing to our present-day eyes.
I seem to have a bit of a manor house/castle theme going on this month, so for my last, very tenuous link, I will choose a writer who spent most of his childhood in a beautiful chateau close to where I used to live in France. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s chateau in Saint-Maurice-de-Rémens has now been bought by the region and will be renovated and transformed into a cultural centre. He mentions the property in his sort-of memoir Terre des Hommes (translated as Wind, Sand and Stars).
So my love for quirky properties and fancy chateaux has struck again. Where will October’s six degrees of separation take you?