#6Degrees of Separation: May 2022

What a pleasure it is to let the mind wander this weekend to form bookish associations in the monthly Six Degrees of Separation meme, as hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. This month we start with an Australian classic (has it really been that long?): True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey. I read it when it first came out and I remember I found it pretty hard going (the vernacular, the lack of punctuation, the toxic masculinity and violence), but it would be too easy to make my first link another novel I struggled with (there are too many!). So instead, I will refer to the fact that it took a long time – nearly twenty years – for the book to be adapted for film (I haven’t watched the film yet but hear it’s quite impressive). So what other book took ages before it was adapted?

Well, there is a notorious one, which is still under development and seems to have been for the past 2-3 years, although it is labelled a TV mini-series: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, which was published in the same year as Peter Carey’s novel above. So twenty-two years and counting…

A simple connection for the next one – the word ‘clay’ in the title – and the long-awaited novel Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak. After the huge international success of his Book Thief, everyone was waiting with bated breath for his next move… and it took him nearly 12 years to complete it. In an interview, he said something like: ‘I’m a completely different person than the person who wrote The Book Thief but also a different person to the one who started Bridge of Clay 8-9 years ago … If I don’t get it done soon, I’ll probably have to set it aside.’ Wise words of advice to me as a budding novelist, I think!

Bridge of Clay features five brothers in Australia, but the most famous ‘band of brothers’ are the Dostoevsky’s Karamazovs in Tsarist Russia. Pleasure and duty, rationality and faith, free will versus fate, everything is up for discussion in this story of family ties gone very wrong. It also features a lengthy trial scene, and this is the link to my next book.

In L’Étranger by Albert Camus we have a courtroom scene where the accused Meursault refuses to conform to expectations, justify his actions or show remorse. A cold, clinical look at crime and punishment which is in marked contrast to Dostoevsky – Meursault is a man alienated from society and from himself.

Of course, I cannot mention the Camus novel without thinking of the very powerful response to it, the much more recent Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud (translated by John Cullen in 2015), a retelling of the story from the point of view of the brother of the Arab victim who didn’t even have a name in the Camus novel.

This retelling of a famous story from the point of view of what one might call a ‘secondary character’ is what brings me to the final link in this chain: the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard is probably one of my favourite examples of witty, sophisticated and successful retellings of a classic (in this case, Hamlet). I don’t think I’ve ever read the script, but I’ve seen it performed several times and always come away with something new to marvel at.

I’ve just realised that my chain has been all male writers this month – and I wonder if my subconscious reverted to this because of the outlaw and masculinity issues arising from the starting point book. Next month the starting point is another Australian writer, but a woman, Meg Mason’s Sorrow and Bliss, which sounds much more like my kind of thing and which I might even read by June.

28 thoughts on “#6Degrees of Separation: May 2022”

  1. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is one of my favourite plays, I could read it over and over. The film adaptation with Tim Roth and Gary Oldman is also really good.

    1. I remember seeing a production of the Stoppard by the Bristol Old Vic decades ago, either at the Little Theatre in 1970 or (less likely, we had three youngsters by then) the Theatre Royal, Bristol in the mid 1980s. I’ll seek out the film now!

  2. I haven’t read the Peter Carey book, but based on your description I think I would find it hard going too. I’ve been meaning to read The Brothers Karamazov for years – I’ll get to it eventually!

  3. Great chain Marina, and it includes a few books I know or want to read (particularly Daoud) BUT only twoI’ve read, the Camus and Stoppard. I’ve read Stoppard, but somehow have never seen it performed. Have had opportunities but somehow haven’t taken them up.

    1. It’s such a different experience reading and watching plays – and some gain so much from being performed, while others are OK in both versions.

  4. Clever and interesting chain, Marina Sofia, and I like the different links you chose. You’ve reminded me, too, that it’s been too long since I read Camus. I should return to his work…

  5. Well done! By the way, if you had read Jack Maggs by Peter Carey, you could have used that as a final link and then gone full circle. The main character of the book, Jack Maggs, is the name Carey gives to Magwitch, the felon being sent to Australia that Pip helps in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I wasn’t overly thrilled with the book, but it would have made a good link!

    1. I haven’t read all of the books on my list, so I could have used that as a link anyway… but I have to admit, I’m not a huge Peter Carey fan. I found even Oscar and Lucinda a bit of a slog.

  6. What fascinating links. I recall Kavalier and Clay and remember wanting to read it but still haven’t–lol. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead was part of my worst college class (though I did not at all hate the play)–a Literature/Writing freshman class that I did not notice was on theater of the absurd! Not my thing. I was too shy to go drop the class. LOL

    1. Ha! I can’t believe you sat through a whole semester of it just because you were too embarrassed to drop the class! My worst semester was (sadly) Shakespeare, because we had a really awful lecturer who insisted on us doing things like: What happens in Act 2, scene 3 of Love’s Labour’s Lost etc. Not my idea of literature!

  7. An interesting assortment of titles! I have always meant to read (or see) R and G Are Dead but have never got around to it. I did read L’Etranger in high school French but did not care for it. Later that year we read lots of Baudelaire which I much preferred!

  8. I enjoyed much of Kavalier and Clay, but it was overlong – it would make a great TV serial though – wonder why it’s stuck in limbo? Love the Stoppard, I saw a great production at the NT with Simon Russell Beale and Adrian Scarborough, but love the film too.

    1. I can’t for the life of me remember which productions Of R&G I saw in London but I think I might have seen the same as you at some point.

  9. You always bring us such unusual and interesting books Marina. I’ve not read of any of them apart from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, which we did for A-level at school. I remember liking it, probably because I thought we were being frightfully clever and sophisticated after 5 years of being fed ‘suitable’ books (I’m sure I was a horrible teenager…) We also did Waiting for Godot, which again made us feel very clever, though I’m sure most of it went right over my head.

    That’s an interesting comment from Marcus Zusak – it makes a lot of sense. I had a quick look at the new book on Amazon but still wasn’t really sure what it was about – gets good reviews though!

    1. You certainly read more interesting books for A Level than me (although I had Baccalaureate in Romania, so it was bound to be different: I had Durrenmatt’s The Physicists and Brecht’s Mother Courage for German, The Importance of Being Earnest and Julius Caesar for English.

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