Here we are again and already at the first Saturday in the month. July this time, and a new round of Six Degrees of Separation, hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best.
I’ve read this month’s starting book, Katherine May’s Wintering. It’s a bold choice with which to start our chains, and it took some thought for me to find a thread. I forged my chain late on Saturday night, but chose sleep over wrangling it into a post. Only a day late with that.
Wintering is a book that considers how best to survive the difficult times in life, with a focus on retreating from the world. It’s about the need to acknowledge the fallow periods, to accept sadness without needing to overcome it, to walk away from the situations that overwhelm us in life. I had a mixed reaction to it first time around. Revisiting my review to remind myself of what I thought about when I read it, I wondered what I would get out of it on a second read, with yet another unwelcome life event under my belt that has given me cause to reflect on what my priorities in life are. I don’t want to retreat from the world, but I do want to find better ways of taking joy from it.
The acceptance of sadness is what eventually prompted my first link. The main character in a book I read earlier this year, Erica Mou’s Thirsty Sea, has a sadness at the heart of her life, carried by the entire family, with each person finding their own way of coping, or not, with its enormity. Maria leaves everything behind, unable to cope with the weight of expectation placed upon her, running away to London with little else but her passport and toothbrush.
The running away in Mou’s novel reminded me of an episode in Eva Baltasar’s Permafrost, in which the narrator moves to Scotland to work as an au pair in order to escape the oppression of her family life. It’s the first in a series of flights away from what is inescapable, her deeply rooted personal sadness.
While in Scotland, Baltasar’s narrator becomes nauseated by the colour green, seeing it everywhere in the landscape around her. This made me think of Self Portrait in Green, Marie NDiaye’s lush novel about abandonment, which is the flip side of running away. In NDiaye’s world, those who are abandoned question who they are, wondering if they are somehow the cause of the abandonment, rather than it being something in the person running away.
The father of NDiaye’s narrator regularly runs away from each family he begins, which called to mind the father in Sugar and Slate. Denis Williams, the father of author’s Charlotte Williams, emerges from her memory as a man looking for somewhere to belong. Charlotte shares his quest, but for different reasons, and doesn’t find her destination with him.
There’s a double connection forged in my next link in the chain – the desire to belong somewhere and Sugar. This Sugar is the main character in Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White. She is a prostitute, born into the profession, who seeks emancipation of her mind and escape from the constraints of her bodily world. In the Rackham household, she begins to understand that she will never belong in her lover’s sphere.
My final book is Imogen Hermes Gowar’s The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, in which a prostitute does escape to a better life. Angelica, along with the other girls in the house where she works, has a secret sorrow, a childhood trauma that she tries to suppress by escaping into her work.
I wonder whether Katherine May would recommend wintering to any of the women in the books I’ve chosen this month. In selecting them, I’ve been led by stories of escape from sorrow and tales of the ways in which people handle the stresses and strains of life. Withdrawing from the world to reset can take different forms, as May’s book points out.
Have you read Wintering? Whether you have or not, which books would you choose for a chain? Head over to Kate’s blog to find out the directions other bloggers went in.