If you don’t know me by now… you will never, never know the delights of the Six Degrees of Separation meme for books we’ve read, as hosted by Kate from Books Are My Favourite and Best.
This month we start with a self-help or personal development book called Passages by Gail Sheehy, which was apparently all the rage in the 1970s. I don’t think my parents were big into personal development, and the only book that was vaguely in that sphere in our house when I was a child (and which I’m therefore using as the first link in my chain) was The Superwoman Syndrome by Marjorie Shaevitz, with exactly that cover pictured. It has since disappeared from their shelves (perhaps my mother leant it to one of her friends). I’m not sure that we ever discussed it, or that my mother took the advice seriously other than at a very superficial level (‘get plenty of rest and eat organic vegetables’).
My second link is to a very different kind of syndrome, namely the so-called locked-in syndrome which befell journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby after a massive stroke, as he describes in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which he painstakingly wrote (or dictated rather) by blinking his left eyelid. A remarkable and very emotional story, it was also turned into a film in 2007 (which I haven’t seen).
I am quite fond of the French double-first-names like Jean-Dominique or Jean-Claude, so the other French writer I can think of is Jean-Paul Sartre and my favourite work of fiction by him is his play Huis Clos (No Exit), because yes, my own vision of hell is being stuck in a room with people you can’t stand.
No Exit makes me think at once of doors and one of the many books that has used the ‘sliding doors’ scenario. What if one little thing in your life were different, you missed an opportunity or had a stroke of luck, and your life is irrevocably altered? Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life explores all the multiple lives that the main character Ursula might have lived, especially if she made it past childhood. I haven’t read that book, but I heard it is one of the better ones to employ that particular type of narrative.
My next link is an odd one: Life After Life won the Costa Book Award (now sadly deceased) in 2013 and in 2015 the author won again with a sort of sequel to it A God in Ruins. In between the two Atkinson triumphs, How to Be Both by Ali Smith won the Costa Novel Award in 2014 (as well as many other prizes), another highly experimental and daring novel with a dual narrative that can be read in either order.
To finish with another experimental, multiple narrative novel which I haven’t yet read but hope to read soon: Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov. Digressive and aggressive annotations on the manuscript of a poem and unreliable narrators who embellish and reveal themselves gradually? Sounds perfect. Have any of you read it and is it indeed as fascinating as it sounds?
So my links this month have included two works of non-fiction (highly unusual), a play, and three novels with quite strange and experimental structures. What chain might you create?