Six Degrees of Separation: From Second Place to Unreliable Memoirs

September already and time for another Six Degrees of Separation, hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best.

This year’s Booker Prize shortlist is announced in a couple of weeks. Kate’s choice of starting book, Second Place by Rachel Cusk, is on the longlist. I wonder if it will go the distance.

The novel is about a woman who feels she is becoming lost, so she invites a famous artist to stay with her and her husband, in the hope he’ll shake things up. I haven’t read it yet, but the blurb says “Over the course of one hot summer, his provocative presence provides the frame for a study of female fate and male privilege, of the geometries of human relationships, and of the struggle to live morally between our internal and external worlds.” This description put me in mind of another book I haven’t read yet, but which I do at least own.

Rachel Genn’s What You Could Have Won is an imagining of the life of Amy Winehouse, written by Genn because she didn’t want Amy to be dead. It focuses on a thwarted self-declared genius who turns his bitterness at the lack of recognition his profession affords him into a drug experiment involving his singer-songwriter girlfriend. Another book about female fate and male privilege, then.

Similarly, Shiromi Pinto’s excellent Plastic Emotions reimagines the life of Sri Lankan architect Minette de Silva whose talent is ignored in the face of male privilege, both of her male Sri Lankan contemporaries and of her mentor, Le Corbusier. Pinto imagines a love affair between de Silva and Le Corbusier, in which professional jealousy plays a large part.

The Goldblum Variations by Helen McClory documents the imagined adventures of Jeff Goldblum across the known and unknown universe. McClory loves Jeff and comes up with games to play, puzzles to work out, and vignettes from Jeff’s imagined life. If you love Jeff, too, this is a delightful bit of whimsy.

While I Am Not Sidney Poitier doesn’t reimagine the life of the actor, it does have a plot inspired by a number of Sidney Poitier’s films, and involves a protagonist who may or may not be his son, the confusingly named Not Sidney Poitier. It includes an episode in which Not Sidney Poitier is tutored by a professor called Percival Everett, a fraud, who shares the name of the novel’s author. This is a book I own and am looking forward to reading.

Paul Auster has a habit of creating characters who share his name, but his last book 4 3 2 1 has him forego that device and instead reimagine his own life travelling along four concurrent but different paths, disguised as Archibald Isaac Ferguson. This hefty tome has been sitting on my To Read pile for a while. I love Auster, but for some reason the thought of this one intimidates me.

Because 4 3 2 1 isn’t quite a memoir, for my final book, I’m going with Clive James’ Unreliable Memoirs, the funniest book I have ever read about growing up. Clive James was a youth in Australia in the 1940s and 1950s, a time and a place where it was everything to be male, and yet simultaneously not. It’s a while since I read it, but I remember James’ exaggerations of his exploits, and his representation of his family home, being heartwarming as well as funny. It’s a book that was passed between my mum, my brother and me, something we laughed over together.

Most of my choices this month are about reimagining actual lives, and some are books that contrast the female and male experience of society, and how different an experience male privilege makes it.

What would you put in a chain? Head over to Kate’s blog to find out what other readers have chosen.


17 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: From Second Place to Unreliable Memoirs

  1. You can always be relied upon to put together a thought-provoking and interesting chain. I only know (and love of course) the Clive James. And so far, I’m not sure that your other choices tempt me. Which is a relief, because your recommendations usually do!

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    1. You might enjoy Plastic Emotions, Margaret. It’s very atmospheric, and Minette de Silva is a force of nature who transforms the built environment in a newly independent Sri Lanka, only to be cast aside in favour of male architects following in her inventive wake.

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      1. Sadly, it’s not in my library’s catalogue. But I’ve made a note to look out for it – thanks. By the way, you’re not on Mister Linky, so I might not have found your post if I weren’t already subscribed.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Plastic Emotions sounds fascinating – will certainly check it out (and it brought to mind Loving Frank by Nancy Horan – again, an ‘imagined life’ of Frank Lloyd Wright from the perspective of his second wife.

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  3. I don’t think I have read any re-imaginations of lives and I’m not sure the concept appeals to me. However, I can’t deny that The Goldblum Variations sounds fun. And being a lover of Bach’s music, of course I love the title!

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    1. It’s a lot of fun and the title is partly what attracted me to it – one of my favourite books is the Goldbug Variations by Richard Powers which is directly influenced by Bach.

      I like the idea of parallel universes and there being multiple versions of the same thing, just slightly different. For me, reimagining lives is part of that, but I can understand it not appealing to everyone.

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      1. I love the idea of parallel universes as well and read many science books about stuff like this. Books which play around with reality including parallel universes also intrigues me. I am less interested in a book which is just a reimagining of the life of one specific person. Does that makes sense? The Goldblum Variations does sound like my kind of book. I haven’t read anything by Richard Powers, but have Bewilderment on my TBR. The Goldbug Variations sounds good as well, although the 600+ pages is slightly off-putting

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  4. Your theme of reimagining real lives is intriguing, Jan. My chain begins with reimagining fictional lives! You have some fascinating titles here. I am Not Sidney Poitier really grabs me 😊

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