It’s the first Saturday in July and time for this month’s Six Degrees of Separation. This month, Kate has chosen Siri Hustvedt’s What I Loved to start us on our way through our literary connections.
Guess what? I haven’t read What I Loved and I don’t know what it’s about! There’s a pattern developing, and I think it’s because I’m trying not to find out about recent books so that I can make a dent in my towers of books that used to be recent.
Looking at the cover, with its black, red and white styling, I could go for a classic Vintage cover to one of Haruki Murakami’s novels. Or I could do a chain of books I have loved. But instead I’m using Hustvedt’s first name to do a tangential leap. Siri is the name of Apple’s assistant. Apple is in the title of my next book in the chain.
My friend lent me The Apple after I’d devoured her lend of The Crimson Petal and the White. It is still on one of my many sub-piles of books that gather around the house. These are stories from Sugar’s world, the central character in The Crimson Petal and the White. They follow Sugar and some of the other characters from the novel, giving new perspectives on the novel’s plot.
Next up is a crime novel by P D James that draws on the characters in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I borrowed Death Comes to Pemberley from the same person. I thought it entertaining enough, with a decent understanding of Austen’s characters, but found it strange that James tried to also squeeze in references to Emma and Persuasion.
Pemberley is in Derbyshire, as is Chatsworth House, seat of the Devonshires. Debo Devonshire was a Mitford sister, which brings me to book three in the chain.
The Pursuit of Love is only the second book I’ve read by Debo’s sister Nancy Mitford. It’s a book I really didn’t like at first, until a significant change in the circumstances of the central character, Linda, helped make sense of her previous unlikeability. I ended by loving it.
When I was starting out as an archivist, I had a trainee job at the County Record Office in Oxford. I collected an archive from a radio producer who was a cousin of the Mitfords’. Among her papers were letters from and poems and drawings by the author of my next book.
The Holiday by Stevie Smith was an early Virago in my reading life. It follows Celia, who loves and worries about everyone, but none more than the cousin she goes on holiday with. It’s a melancholy book about unrequited love, and I remember being drawn to Celia’s oddness and intensity.
Celia works in a government Ministry, as does the main character in book five in my chain.
I love Michael Frayn’s novels and A Landing on the Sun is perhaps my favourite. It features an unexplained death, an investigation, archives and, of course, love. It’s about finding happiness in moments, and accepting that love is subjective. It’s a truly beautiful book.
The final book in my chain is forever linked to A Landing on the Sun because I read them around the same time.
Staring at the Sun spans the life of an ordinary woman called Jean, who is born in 1920, meets a Second World War pilot, billeted with her parents, who has seen the sun rise twice, marries a different man with whom she has a disappointing marriage, raises her son as a single mother, and lives to be 100. I had forgotten that the end of the novel is set in 2020. Julian Barnes wrote it in 1986, when 2020 must have seemed a long time away. Barnes managed to predict Google and Wikipedia, with his GPC, or General Purposes Computer, into which people type all manner of questions about life in order to obtain guidance.
At first, my chain this month felt like it lacked cohesion. I jumped from book to book instinctively. Somehow, though, I’ve threaded together books that are about the truth of love – how hard it is as well as how comforting, how it means something different from moment to moment, and means different things to different people.
What have you loved that might feature in your chain, if you took part in the challenge? Why not head over to Kate’s blog to see what other readers have chosen?