Six Degrees of Separation: From Sorrow and Bliss to How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House

From the posts in my WP Reader, I see it’s time for Six Degrees of Separation, the book meme hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best.

I have lost track of the days because Britain is in the middle of an extended weekend that started on Thursday with a reallocated Bank Holiday Monday, moved through a Bank Holiday Friday that felt like Sunday, and now it’s anyone’s guess what day it is.

It is the first Saturday of the month, though. Really.

For our starting book this month, Kate has chosen Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason.

I haven’t read Mason’s debut, so genned up on it by reading a review. I now want to read it.

Sorrow and Bliss concerns Martha, who was married to Patrick but is now back living with her parents, trying to understand who she is and what went wrong in her marriage. It also examines how parental attitudes towards children can affect who the become as adults.

Another book about a woman trying to understand who she is, but this time in the run up to a marriage, not at the end of one, is The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie. Veblen’s parents also have an impact on who she is and how she views the world. It’s a book that also shares the accolade of being shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction with Mason’s book. Suddenly, I have my link. It has been six years since McKenzie’s book was shortlisted, so what else from the Women’s Prize have I read that didn’t win?

I read four from 2017’s shortlist, including the winner. But which links best to The Portable Veblen? I’m going with Stay With Me, which is about a happy marriage that becomes threatened by childlessness and family pressure, particularly parental pressure, on the husband to take another wife who will give him children and his parents grandchildren. Childlessness is also a theme in Sorrow and Bliss.

In 2018, I read every book on the shortlist. Meena Kandasamy’s When I Hit You, a fictionalised account of her marriage to an abusive husband, sprang to mind for this chain, because it’s as much about the reaction of her mother to the breakdown of the marriage and the mother-daughter relationship as it is about the abuse the narrator endures.

There were five titles on the shortlist in 2019 that I wanted to read, but so far I have only managed two. One of them was Madeleine Miller’s Circe, which I really didn’t like. According to the internet, I am in a minority in my feelings about this book. Circe is a disappointment to her divine family and embarks on relationships in which she sees herself as the victim of the whims of the men she entangles herself with. When she has a son by Odysseus, she attempts to stop Telegonus living freely in the world, allegedly to keep him safe, in reality to stop herself feeling lonely.

I read two of the 2020 shortlist books and have a third on my To Read pile. One of the two I read won, so Girl, Woman, Other goes into my chain. Bernadine Evaristo’s novel explores what it means to be a woman, how it becomes a conscious act because the male gaze tries to skew perceptions of womanhood. There are fractured child-parent relationships, and strong desires to belong somewhere, to someone. It’s a beautiful book. I still wish it had won the prize.

I haven’t read any of the books from the 2021 shortlist. I intend to read the winner at some point. But which of the honourable mentions will I choose for my chain? It has to be How The One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones. This novel sounds interesting, and I’ve now added it to my library wishlist. It concerns Lala, who loses a baby and marries the wrong man, and Mira, whose husband is murdered before she can tell him how much she loves him. The one-armed sister of the title is a cautionary tale told by Lala’s grandmother to illustrate what happens to girls who disobey their mothers.

That’s my chain. I’ve selected books about women and their relationships, romantic and familial, in which the path to understanding who you are isn’t a smooth one. I’ve focused on the books that almost won the Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Have you read the starting book this month? Where would it take you in a chain of linked books? Why not check out the chains other readers have made via Kate’s blog?

13 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: From Sorrow and Bliss to How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House

  1. That’s an interesting chain Jan. Circe is the only one I’ve read and I did like it. I know many were disappointed in the ending but I didn’t mind it so much. I keep meaning to join in this meme but never remember in time, but this time around I’ve made note of July’s starter book, so I hope to take part next month.

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    1. I have friends who loved Circe, one of whom lent me her copy, but I couldn’t take to Miller’s interpretation of the myth at all.

      Six Degrees is a fun meme, but I find it time consuming. I’m often late posting, sometimes by a couple of days. And you don’t have to have read the starting book. I very rarely have!

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  2. Like you, Jan, I’m keen to read the Cherie Jones, but have yet to do so. Like you, I’ve read and enjoyed Girl, Woman Other. Like you, I’ve read Circe. But unlike you, I enjoyed it very much indeed. And the rest? I’ll be keeping my eye open for all of them. A great chain.

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  3. What an interesting chain, Jan. I’ve only heard of a couple of these. I always enjoy chains linked by prize nominations/wins because that’s not something I pay much attention to (only because my brain seems to be running out of room).

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    1. I know what you mean, Mary. I dip in and out of paying attention to literary prizes. I usually keep tabs on the Women’s Prize and the International Booker for translated novels, but not avidly! I’m glad you enjoyed my chain.

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  4. I can’t believe I missed 6 degrees again! The long weekend befuddled me too 🙂 I haven’t read any of these books, but I am on the hunt for some really good books to read on my holiday, so might consider a couple… And I’m taking Drive Your Plough because I still haven’t read it!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Drive Your Plough will be an interesting read if you’re going anywhere hot! I really recommend The Portable Veblen, I think you’ll appreciate the main character a lot. Girl, Woman, Other is also great, and quite episodic so would work well as a holiday read. It feels odd to say this, given that I disliked it so much, but Circe would be a good holiday read, too.

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