#6Degrees March 2021: From Phosphorescence to…

6 Degrees of Separation is a meme hosted by Kate over at Books Are My Favourite and Best. You start with a different book each month and link it to six others to form a chain, the more imaginative the link, the better. I hesitated a little about participating in it this month, because I had not read the first book (it’s not available yet in the UK) and because it doesn’t sound like my kind of thing. 

Phosphorescence by Julia Baird has a beautiful cover and the subtitle ‘On awe, wonder and things that sustain you’, which sounds a little too American self-helpy for my taste. But Kate herself rates this book highly, as being comforting and illuminating, as well as well-written, so never say never about reading this.

Another book that I was convinced I wouldn’t like and yet it pleasantly surprised me was Rules for Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson. I have to admit that I reviewed Peter Swanson’s first crime novel back in the days when I was reviewing for Crime Fiction Lover and was not entirely convinced. I said there was ‘a breathless cinematic quality to it: an exciting thriller’ but ‘a little déjà vu’. So I (perhaps somewhat unfairly) never requested another of his books since. However, I came across this book at the library and, with lockdown looming, I thought I’d give it a go. I don’t think Swanson will ever be one of my favourite authors, but it was a fun read, with all of the allusions to other famous crime writers and their most famous books.

Bit of an obvious next link, the Swanson that instantly comes to mind is the inimitable Gloria Swanson, screen siren and muse, but also a woman who did not suffer fools gladly. I haven’t read this book Swanson on Swanson, but it looks very intriguing and candid, and apparently does not sugarcoat the Hollywood studio industry at all.

I’ve chosen another unusual, fragmented autobiography for my next link, namely Jean Rhys’ Smile Please – a collection of vignettes about her childhood in Dominica, her youth in theatre in London and Paris. This is the material she so successfully mined in her novels and stories, but it’s always worth bearing in mind that fiction and biography may not be quite as closely linked even in her case, and that she said: ‘A novel has to have shape, and life doesn’t have any.’

Tenuous link next, with a male author whose name is also Jean – namely French regional author Jean Giono. Regional not in any disparaging sense of the term, but because he is most associated with the Provence region in which he lived. He was much admired by Marcel Pagnol, who also wrote novels set in that beautiful area of France. He is best known for his historical novel Le hussard sur le toit (The Horseman on the Roof), which people outside France might know from the film adaptation starring Olivier Martinez and Juliette Binoche, and which seems very topical now, as it deals with a cholera outbreak in the 1830s.

Juliette Binoche is the link to the next book, Chocolat by Joanne Harris, which became a worldwide bestseller following the film adaptation with her in the starring role. It is also set in a French village (like Jean Giono’s book) and slightly historical, although the past there is far more recent, set as it is in the more traditional 1950s/60s.

For the final book in the chain, I’ve chosen another novel which was published in 1999, the same year as Chocolat and which is also set in a small village, but this time Holt, a fictional town in the American prairies. Kent Haruf’s Plainsong is a book which had been recommended to me by many fellow book bloggers, and they were absolutely right. I certainly enjoyed the pared down, detached style and close observation of a small group of characters.

Once again I’ve travelled far on my monthly Six Degrees journey: from Australia to LA to Dominica to France and Colorado. Where will your associations and links take you?

14 thoughts on “#6Degrees March 2021: From Phosphorescence to…”

  1. Everyone who reads Kent Haruf seems to enjoy his books a great deal – I know I do. I wonder why he seems – still- to remain slightly under the radar?

    1. Perhaps because books that are quiet rather than shouty or controversial, and based on close observation of human foibles, are not so much in fashion right now. I think Tessa Hadley also falls into this category.

  2. Always delighted to see Kent Haruf popping up in in the film adaptation of Chocolat. The local press was completely obsessed with Johnny Depp staying at the Royal Cresent Hotel here in Bath during the shoot.

    1. I used to rate Johnny Depp as an actor, but after he left Vanessa Paradis and his kids, I completely went off him (even before any accusations of domestic violence). Just another man going through a midlife crisis…

  3. Lovely chain. By the way, I preferred the movie to the book of Chocolat. I thought the film’s era of the 50s worked better than the newer setting of the book.

  4. You know, I was surprised by the Swanson, too, Marina Sofia. I wasn’t sure at all how I’d feel about it, but I liked it. Interesting how that happens. I think you’ve done a fantastic job of linking these books – very clever to use names, year of publication, and so on. I’m impressed!

  5. I liked Plainsong too. I had a similar reaction to Peter Swanson – I was asked to review one of his books, which was fine but not sufficiently good for me to want to read more. I saw his most recent book has really taken off! I am glad for him: having worked in publishing for many years, I know authors get judged on past sales and sometimes cannot generate enough support in the future even for a significantly better (or more marketable book).

    I haven’t read any Rhys except Wide Sargasso Sea but it’s nice to know it is there! If only there weren’t so many books piled up everywhere here to read first.

  6. It can be difficult to get started with these chains when the first book doesn’t appeal to you. Phosphorescence doesn’t sound like my kind of thing either. I haven’t read any of the books in your chain this month but Rules for Perfect Murders does sound fun.

  7. Lots of goodies here. Nice to hear about Giono! I should revisit him, haven’t read him in decades. I love Haruf’s writing, and Swanson’s is on my TBR!

  8. I’m reeling from the realisation that Chocolat is more than twenty years old! Must read Kent Haruf sometimes – his books always sound appealing but somehow have never made it onto my TBR yet.

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