#6Degrees of Separation December 2021

Last Six Degrees chain of the year, so let’s make it a memorable one. This is my favourite bookish meme, as hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best, and this month it starts with Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome. A book I have read, but such a long time ago (when I was about 16), that I would need to reread it to be able to say anything intelligent about it.

So my first link is to another book that I read a very, very long time ago, loved back then but haven’t reread since, namely The Wings of the Dove by Henry James. I found my teenage diary and this is what I had to say about it when I was 15: ‘He so calms me, this man. He is quiet, takes such small steps, little by little he lets us advance into the story. To fully appreciate him, you must read slowly, tasting every word, chewing, swallowing, and then digesting his ideas as well. Although he moves so slowly, as if he had all the time in the world, you are never bored.’ 😂

The book is about a rich but ill heiress, who is treated rather badly by a self-interested couple. My next link is to a rich heir with a disability (rather than a terminal illness) who is loved by someone who is not interested in his huge wealth: the huge bestseller Me Before You by Jojo Moyes.

I haven’t read the book, merely seen the film, and that is my next link: Millenium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson. I am currently watching the Swedish language version of the three films on BBC4 (half a film every week), but I gave up reading the books after finishing the first one The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I thought them violent, overlong and quite frankly dull at times, could have done with some stringent editing. The films are pretty violent too, it has to be said.

Lisbeth Salander is a pretty enigmatic sort of character, so for my next link I have chosen another young woman who is so enigmatic that she gives the book its title: Enigma Otiliei (The Enigma/Riddle of Otilia) by George Calinescu. It is a classic Romanian novel about the young Felix Sima who comes to Bucharest to study medicine and falls in love with his tutor’s daughter, Otilia, who seems to behave in a rather capricious way. In fact, it might be that Felix never actually gets to see the real Otilia, that he develops this ideal image of her, or makes her into what he would like a girl to be. As a not exactly flattering portrait of the early 20th century bourgeois society in Bucharest, and as an attempt for Romanian literature to catch up with the great 19th century Balzac-style novels, it is quite a landmark achievement.

The novel was adapted for film as ‘Felix and Otilia’ in Romania in 1972.

I will next turn to another author whose name was George (or at least her pseudonym was): the first book by George Sand I ever read was A Winter in Majorca, which I bought when visiting Valdemosssa on a summer holiday with my father on the island (I must have been in my very early teens and was quite a Chopin fan at the time). It is a sort of memoir and travel journal, describing their stay on the island in the forlorn hope that Chopin’s health would improve.

My final book is simply called An Island by Karen Jennings, a recent book which was a surprise apparition on the Booker Prize longlist. I am always glad to see a South African writer there (and of course a South African won it this year), and this is the kind of quiet, low-profile novel that might have gone unnoticed. I haven’t read it yet, but I have bought it and stored it safely on my shelves.

So my journey this month has taken us from London to Venice, from small-town Britain to Sweden, from Bucharest in the early 1900s, to Majorca in the late 1830s and, finally, a timeless unnamed place. I wonder where 2022 will take me – hopefully on some real journeys, not just imaginary ones!

19 thoughts on “#6Degrees of Separation December 2021”

  1. I think there are books here I shall investigate: the Karen Jennings, that Henry James, which I haven’t read, and how come I haven’t read any George Sand? I think the chances of sourcing the George Calinescu are possibly remote, which is a pity, if it’s a classic.

    1. I don’t think Calinescu has been translated… and probably never will. By the standards of French, Russian or English novels of the 19th century, it’s probably nothing spectacular. It was written later, but it was an attempt to bring that social critique and psychological sensitivity into Romanian literature. In other words, it’s probably only a classic for us!

  2. I love your aim to make the last 6 degrees of the year “a memorable one”.

    I wouldn’t laugh at what your 15-year-old self wrote. At 15 I wrote an impassioned defence of Gone with the wind, concluding that Margaret Mitchell was a better writer than Charles Dickens (I really could not get into Great Expectations when I was 14/15). Anyhow, my very lovely English teacher simply wrote, “I hope you won’t always thing so”.

    I haven’t read any of your books, but I have read two other novels by Karen Jennings, and enjoyed them.

    1. Ah, we live and learn, don’t we? I am sure I hang onto some old favourites from my teens simply for the sake of nostalgia, and that’s why I refuse to reread them… don’t want to break the spell!

  3. What a great chain you made, Marina Sofia! And you like everything in a very clever way. I agree with you about the Girl Who… films, to be honest. And thanks for sharing your teenage diary notes – I doubt I’d have the courage to do that with my own. Hope you get to travel in real life this year!

    1. That was one of the less pretentious entries in my diary… you should see me being insufferable about philosophers and the like (at least I know where my older son gets it from!).

  4. I love the sense of armchair travel! I’ve read the Wharton and Wings of a Dove, also Me Before You (her other books are much better but at least while I was reading it I was convinced).


  5. Isn’t it interesting how many of us think of Edith Wharton and Henry James at the same time? I didn’t use James in my chain, but I – maybe because I’ve listened to them both on BBC Sounds – very much have them ‘paired’ in my brain. I haven’t read The Wings of the Dove but it sounds good – I enjoyed The Portrait of a Lady and Daisy Miller. And I enjoyed your diary entry! I’m sure mine would’ve been mortifying. (And I understand what you say about your son – I have a daughter who writes very much as I think I probably did in my twenties!)

    I too still have books that were favourites all those years ago, and wonder if I could actually enjoy them now. (One of them was Peggy Woodford’s Please Don’t Go – I still haven’t re-read it, but by digging around on the internet I was relieved to see that many women of my era remember it with great fondness.)

    I haven’t read or watched the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo stories. They’ve been recommened to me many times, but somehow they just don’t appeal. I do applaud you for watching them in Swedish though – your skill in languages is so impressive.

    I’ve got A Winter in Majorca on one of my shelves, but not read it. I’ve just looked George Sand up and was amazed to see how many novels she wrote, I had no idea.

    Thank you for your – as ever – excellent recommendations.

    1. I remember thinking ‘at last, at last, a Romanian novel that is more familiar to me’ after reading Dickens, Tolstoy, Flaubert and the like… It’s probably only significant in Romanian literature, but it is quite a fun book to read.

  6. This is a nice and interesting chain indeed. I’ve read all three books in The Me Before You trilogy and loved it. The movie is great too!

    I’ve actually really enjoyed The Millenium series and has actually read a few after the trilogy too (the ones that Stieg Larson didn’t write). Haven’t watched the adaptation you are talking about yet. Will take a look!

    Have a good December and Season Greetings!

    Elza Reads

    1. Oh believe me, I was the most snobbish, pretentious and opinionated 15 year old ever. Utter cringe! Typical teen, I suppose. That was one of my least patronising statements…

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