Six Degrees of Separation: From Shuggie Bain to The Way We Live Now

April’s starting book for Six Degrees of Separation is Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart. Kate, who hosts the meme at Books Are My Favourite and Best, chose this recent Booker winner to set us off with a chain of six more books that are somehow linked together.

I haven’t read Shuggie Bain yet, but I know it’s about growing up poor in post-industrial, working class Glasgow.

Shuggie is a Scots alternative to Hugh. Hugh Nesbitt is cousin to Mary Doll in the tv show Rab C. Nesbitt. Mary Doll is played by Elaine C. Smith, who I saw play Jackie Kay’s mum in the theatre adaptation of Red Dust Road, Kay’s autobiography about trying to find her birth parents. So here we have the first book in my chain.

Red Dust Road was performed at the Home arts centre in Manchester, where I also saw an adaptation of Angela Carter’s Wise Children.

Wise Children is about the theatrical twins Dora and Nora Chance who celebrate their 75th birthdays on the same day as their father Melchior Hazard’s 100th. The novel reveals the complicated family history of the Chances and the Hazards. It’s widely believed that Melchior is their uncle and his missing twin brother Peregrine is the women’s father.

Wise Children was Carter’s last novel, as Daniel Deronda was George Eliot’s.

Eliot’s novel was adapted for television and shown on the BBC in 2002. The novel follows the eponymous hero who doesn’t know who his real parents are. He’s raised by a wealthy benefactor who wants great things for Deronda, but his life takes a different path.

Daniel’s soulmate Gwendolen was portrayed by Romola Garai in the BBC adaptation. Garai also played Sugar in the adaptation of Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White.

Sugar is the daughter of a prostitute and doesn’t know her father. Her mother pimps her out and her specialist services are taken up by businessman William Rackham. Rackham becomes Sugar’s benefactor as well as client, setting her up in her own home where she works on her novel.

Sugar’s mother is played by Gillian Anderson. Anderson played Miss Havisham in the 2011 BBC adaptation of Great Expectations.

In Great Expectations, orphan Philip Pirrip, known as Pip, doesn’t remember his parents and is rescued from poverty to be turned into a gentleman by an unknown benefactor only to return to poverty again.

The lawyer who is appointed to be Pip’s guardian is Mr Jaggers, portrayed by David Suchet in the 2011 adaptation. Suchet also played Augustus Melmotte in the adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now.

In Trollope’s critique of the financial crises of his era, Melmotte is a financier of mysterious origin who rises in society through his shady business deals. Melmotte’s past is never discovered, though. His deceptions threaten to ruin him, so he takes matters into his own hands before the truth is uncovered.

Unlike Shuggie Bain, who knows both his parents, the books in my chain are about people whose birth parents are in some way unknown to them. A few, like Shuggie, have difficult starts in life. A few have difficult ends. They are all looking for something. Some of them discover truths about themselves that open up new avenues, others keep secrets that ultimately lead to their undoing.

What tangled webs will you unravel in your chain? Why not head over to Kate’s blog to discover other readers’ chains?

18 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: From Shuggie Bain to The Way We Live Now

  1. Um… that should be MISS Havisham, not Mrs. Remember, that’s the whole point of her living in the cobwebbed room – she never married. Oh… “the Chances and the Hazards” interesting… I’d like to read that one. Thanks for a fascinating and twisty chain!

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    1. Thanks, Cathy. I love The Crimson Petal. A friend lent me the complementary collection of short stories Faber wrote about some of the characters from the novel. I might read that next, having reminded myself of my love for the novel!

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  2. Nice to see some classics on your list! I haven’t read any George Eliot, but I noticed recently that Middlemarch has been selected as the best British book by non British critics in this BBC poll: https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20151204-the-100-greatest-british-novels

    Great Expectations is sitting on my Kindle waiting to be read (it has been sitting there for a while). I hope to get to it relatively soon, I have heard so much about it, so I almost feel I’ve read it already.

    Your excellent chain also reminded me, how much I miss going to the theatre.

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    1. I’ve read Middlemarch, Silas Marner and The Mill on the Floss, which is my favourite of hers. I didn’t get on with Middlemarch when I read it (it must be 30 years or more ago now). It went on a bit for my taste at the time!

      Great Expectations is my favourite Dickens novel, and Wemmick one of my favourite characters in the whole of the literature I’ve read so far. You’re in for a treat!

      And, yes, I miss theatre very much as well. I’m hoping that the emergency funding each of our local theatres has received will mean they survive.

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      1. I am not sure, I am going to attempt Middlemarch – best British book or not. The number of pages doesn’t exactly work as an incentive either. But I will try at least one of her books at some point. Good to hear about Great Expectations, I look forward to get started! Sadly, the smaller theatres will probably be affected the most, but hopefully they will survive and be able to reopen again soon.

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