Six Degrees of Separation: From Wintering to The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock

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.

10 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: From Wintering to The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock

  1. I’ve read – and enjoyed Mrs Hancock and Permafrost from your list: very different offerings! I’m not in the mood for further sadness just now: post Covid, post Brexit England is bad enough as it is. But I’ll bookmark them for when things look brighter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There is a range of travel in my chain, it’s true, Margaret. Not everything in there is entirely bleak, but nor is anything entirely joyful. From memory, I think we discussed Self Portrait in Green and whether its gothic-ness was for you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I haven’t read any of your chain this time Jan, though Mermaid is something I’ve meant to get to for ages.
    But I think I do agree with the idea of accepting sadness; lately it would seem that we are prompted by the world around to ‘fight’ and ‘defeat’ anything and everything we are faced with and that it an approach/attitude that doesn’t appeal to me at all. Accepting something and just being with it should be as much an option as ‘fighting’ it, and its sad to see people looking at it as ‘losing’.

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    1. Mermaid is a beautiful, funny, poignant book, Mallika.

      I agree with you about accepting sadness. In my workplace, the emphasis is on resilience, and not showing your true emotions, but bouncing back straight away from any form of set back, work related or personal. And then the organisation wonders why there are high levels of sickness absence.

      Sadness is a part of who we are. We should feel free to rest in it when we feel it.

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      1. Exactly. Its not just your organisation, Jan, its all over. Everything is apparently an ‘enemy’ whether its an exam or an illness, and one is meant to be defeating it all the time; that’s just not something every body can and should do all the time. Its equally ok to let things be or accept them. Its sad that so much is attached today to a particular definition of ‘strength’.

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      2. My own recent illness was a valuable lesson in just being – I had no real control, I just had to accept it. It has reset my perspective on a lot of things, but work culture most of all.
        I also find it sad that we’re no longer allowed to fail, when failure at one thing might push someone in an unexpected direction or result in a brilliant discovery. We’re also not supposed to be bored. But without boredom, how are we creative?
        We’re a species out of kilter, I think.

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      3. Perhaps we need to get back to ‘just being’ oftener, instead of constantly having to be in turbo mode.

        You’re right, too much is made of ‘failing’ or nor ‘winning’ or even not looking a certain way or making certain ‘expected’ life choices. Very much out of kilter.

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  3. Gosh, what a melancholy bunch this month! I do like the sound of a few of these though. I always struggle to know when best to read sad books – when you’re already down, or when you’re in a good place?

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    1. I feel like I should add in some explanation that most of these books are actually bold and triumphant.

      I don’t think I’ve ever deliberately chosen to read a sad book, I tend to be surprised by the undercurrent of sorrow. Or maybe I subconsciously pick up on it more because melancholy is a bit of a trait in my family. My family tree is littered with the depressed and frustrated!


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