Six Degrees of Separation: From The Lottery to The Resident

September has flown by and suddenly it’s the first Saturday of October. Which means it’s time for Six Degrees of Separation, hosted as ever by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best.

October ends on Hallowe’en, making it the spookiest month, and our starting point for this month’s chain is a Shirley Jackson short story, The Lottery (available online here).

A heads up – I’m thinking a lot about Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa this week, two women brutally murdered by opportunistic men while simply going about life in a way we should all be free to, regardless of gender, but that women are conditioned to feel at risk doing. So there’s a flavour to my choices this month.

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Random Thoughts: European Book Tour

Political map of Europe from vidiani.com

I’ve been perusing my stack of books that I have yet to read, and have decided that I’m going on another book trip. I enjoyed “holidaying” over the summer via the books I’d bought on recent holidays. As it’s unlikely that I’ll get to Europe for a while (thanks pandemic, thanks Brexit), I thought I’d knock a few titles off the stack that are by European authors and head off on a virtual tour of the continent.

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The Trick is to Keep Breathing

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Read 22/08/2021-28/08/2021

Rating 5 stars

The Trick is to Keep Breathing is book eight on my summer reading challenge list, part of Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer reading challenge. It is the story of Joy, a Drama teacher whose life is unravelling. It combines narrative with text layout, font weight and insertion of illustrative elements to represent Joy’s unravelling. There’s a feel of concrete poetry to it, and the sort of textual play that Nicola Barker used in her novel H(A)PPY. There’s also a feel of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine to Joy’s story, superficially in the way Joy looks to women’s magazines to distract and instruct, and more seriously in the way her immediate family has treated her, and the damage not having a safety net can do to a person. Continue reading

Hadji Murat

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Read 11/08/2021-18/08/2021

Rating 4 stars

Hadji Murat is Tolstoy’s final novel, drafted and redrafted between 1896 and 1904, going through eight iterations before the final version was created. It is an examination of war and political posturing between opposing cultures that has relevance to the world we live in today. Continue reading

Knucklebone

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Read 04/08/2021-10/08/2021

Rating 3 stars

Knucklebone is a police procedural with a twist set in Johannesburg. Detective Ian Jack has left the South African police force to fulfill his late mother’s dream for him to get an education and not turn into his father. His former colleague Reshma Patel has risen up the ranks in the meantime and is now a Captain. They reconnect one night when Ian is shadowing a security guard as research for his Criminology MA, and the police are also called to the scene of a crime. Continue reading

Jamaica Inn

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Read 20/07/2021-03/08/2021

Rating 5 stars

Jamaica Inn is almost as famous a novel as author Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. It’s the novel that established du Maurier’s reputation and the author drew on the Cornish landscape and history she knew so well. Set at a similar time to the last book I read, Mary Webb’s Precious Bane, it concerns coastal life in a very different landscape to rural Shropshire, but captures the same flaws in human nature as are found in Webb’s book. Continue reading

Precious Bane

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Read 29/06/2021-21/07/2021

Rating 5 stars

For my third summer read, I headed to Shropshire with Mary Webb’s novel Precious Bane. There’s an excellent preface in the Virago Modern Classic edition that I bought from Well-Read Books in Wigtown. Written by Michelene Wandor, it gives a feminist context for the book, describing a little of Webb’s life alongside the history that surrounds her character Prue Sarn’s 19th century existence. Although set at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, Wandor tells us that “national events appear to be outside the concern of the isolated, rural and largely illiterate community” and “the backdrop to Prue’s story is the three centuries of intense and virulent witch-hunting all over Europe.” Continue reading

Frankenstein Unbound

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Read 10/06/2021-28/06/2021

Rating 4 stars

My second read for the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge is Frankenstein Unbound by Brian Aldiss. I’ve known Aldiss’s name in relation to science fiction for a while but never read anything by him. I picked this novel up in Bookmark, a second hand bookshop in Falmouth, drawn by its cover art.

It is simultaneously, as with most science fiction, a reflection on concerns about the contemporaneous era, and a projection of where current science might lead. It is also a meditation on Mary Shelley’s gothic masterpiece, Frankenstein.

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Cornish Short Stories: A collection of contemporary Cornish writing

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Read 01/06/2021-09/06/2021

Rating 4 stars

My first read for the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge, hosted by Cathy at 746 Books, is a collection of contemporary short stories by Cornish writers. It arose from a Falmouth literature event called Telltales, where the book’s editors, Emma Timpany and Felicity Notley, met Nicola Guy, an editor with The History Press, and an anthology was born (http://www.cornishshortstories.org.uk/). Continue reading