#6Degrees June 2022

Always happy to add in an extra blog post for this fun monthly meme: you start with the same book as all the other readers and then let your imagination run wild over the course of six links. For more explanations and an example of how it’s done, see the host of this meme, Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best.

The starting point this month is a book that has had quite a bit of a buzz, Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason. It’s the story of a woman who thinks there might be something wrong with her, but her husband keeps telling her everything’s fine, until the moment when he leaves her. I haven’t read it yet, but (for obvious reasons) it resonates with me and I intend to read it… after the buzz has quietened down.

I will start with another book about women’s mental health and husbands who fail to understand or sympathise (to put it mildly) – The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It’s creepy and terrifying, with no humour or happy ending (which I gather Sorrow and Bliss does have), which makes it all the more unsuitable for the marketing treatment below.

who’s gonna tell them pic.twitter.com/zrCJ7cdLYT— Meaghan O’Connell (@meaghano) June 1, 2022


This (and the responses in the thread) made me laugh nearly all of Thursday, and the next link is to another misinterpreted book, namely The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo. We recently rewatched the Disney adaptation and I was struck once more by how much it simplifies and whitewashes characters, while Hugo intended it to be more of a social and cultural critique. Quasimodo is a complex character (who wouldn’t be, given the circumstances of his birth, physical body and upbringing?), certainly not as innocent and childish as in the cartoon, but at least Hugo shows that people with disabilities can be more loving and noble than attractive people like Phoebus.

The book Wonder by R.J. Palacio was ubiquitous when my children were in primary school, as an example of a book designed to reassure children that facial disfigurement does not a lesser person make. My sons were somewhat bemused by the simplistic message, since they had already encountered plenty of classmates who did not ‘fit the norm’ already, but not everyone has those experiences, and I always appreciate books which broaden our horizons.

Very simple link comes next: the word ‘wonder’ in the title. This is a book I’ve been meaning to read for ages, hopefully I will be able to find it at the university library: The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes, and the subtitle says it all, really:  The Romantic Generation and the Discovery of the Beauty and Terror of Science.

The next choice is a play about the beauty and terror of science, more specifically physics. Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Physicists is a classic written at the height of the Cold War in 1962, after the Second World War had shown the incredible and destructive power of the atom, and how politicians are unlikely to use such power for good purposes.

In addition to being a playwright, Dürrenmatt also wrote crime fiction, first as potboilers, but then increasingly subverting the genre and introducing his own brand of philosophy about guilt and punishment and social responsibility. Another writer who is better known for his literary works, but also wrote crime novels (under the pseudonym Nicholas Blake), is Cecil Day-Lewis and I will pick his most famous novel The Beast Must Die, which has been adapted at least twice for cinema, including by Claude Chabrol (see the film poster).

A thread heavy on men and/or English language this month, I notice, but that’s where my subconscious took me. I don’t overthink these things, let whim guide me. Where will your whim take you?

10 thoughts on “#6Degrees June 2022”

  1. You have a really interesting chain here, Marina Sofia. Several of them explore how people can become marginalised (because of their sex, appearance, etc.), and it’s interesting to see how the authors deal with that. And I like the way you use titles, to, to link the stories. Well done

  2. A really interesting chain. The Palacio wasn’t part of my children’s school education -in fact I’d never heard of it. The Age of Wonder is the one that, like you, I’m keen to read.

  3. I’ve read a few of the Nicholas Blake crime novels, although The Beast Must Die isn’t one of them. I remember being surprised to find that he and Cecil Day-Lewis were the same person!

  4. I’m not familiar with any of the books you’ve mentioned, but I do like a good Golden Age mystery. Will definitely be checking out Nicholas Blake.

  5. I’m with you on the overthinking; I didn’t even think about gender balance in mine until I read your comment, and when I checked… lo! five out six of my titles are male-authored and there’s not a translation among them! Yes, I should cringe in shame but hey, as you say, it’s where the subconscious leads, leaping from one idea to another.
    See here: https://anzlitlovers.com/2022/06/05/six-degrees-of-separation-from-sorrow-and-bliss-to/
    Still, I wondered whether I was letting the Sisterhood down. It’s been a while since I checked my stats and I had no idea where they lay. A quick check with the calculator and I am pleased to report that of 2591 reviews on my blog, 48.6% are authored by women, and 51.4% by men. But alas there’s nothing to crow about in terms of translations by women, only 26.4% of those. It’s an improvement on what it used to be but it’s going to take a while to balance all those classic Russians and Frenchmen that I’ve binged on.
    Still, it’s an enjoyable quest. I loved The Art of Losing, by Alice Zeniter, translated by Frank Wynne which just won the Dublin!

  6. Interesting links, and good to see The Hunchback appear. I’ve never seen the Disney film and given the darkness of the book I simply can’t imagine how much they must have had to change it to turn it into a kids’ cartoon! Not sure I feel strong enough to find out… 😉

  7. I’m so glad you didn’t overthink this, Marina Sofia, because I love it just the way it is! And big bonus points to you for that Twitter link about Yellow Wallpaper.

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