Welcome back to 6 Degrees of Separation, a bookish meme in which we begin with one book and follow a chain of links to see where it leads us.
Today’s chain begins with Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing, this year’s winner of Australia’s most prestigious literary prize, The Miles Franklin award. I was lucky enough to interview Evie, along with Burial Rites author Hannah Kent at Perth Writers Festival this year. In All the Birds, Singing, a girl with a dark secret in is haunted by something monstrous which lurks at the outer edges of the new life she is trying to make for herself.
Annihilation, the first book in Jeff VanDerMeer‘s Southern Reach trilogy, is full of monstrous creatures, which are only ever glimpsed from the corner of one’s eye, or captured as a flicker at the edge of a screen. Annihilation centres on an expedition into Area X, a part of the coastline which has been cut off by an invisible forcefield, and can only be entered through a single portal, under hypnosis. Sounds creepy, right? It is.
Max Barry’s Lexicon also features a sort of Area X – an entire Australian town affected by an unknown factor which led to a massacre, leaving every inhabitant dead. What caused this event is the secret at the heart of this completely gripping thriller.
Some of the characters in Lexicon attend a very special school, in which they learn a very strange and powerful set of skills which won’t earn them a diploma but certainly equip them for some interesting adventures. Another novel set around a unique school is Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, a school which looks, on the surface, like any idyllic private school for the privileged in the English countryside, but is in fact preparing its students for something rather sinister.
I read Never Let Me Go on my honeymoon, along with the not-at-all-suited-to-a-honeymoon-novel The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. The Kite Runner is an amazingly powerful book and a great insight into the atrocities endured by the people of Afghanistan but it is really a heartbreaking story. I remember reading part of it in a bath in a hotel in Vietnam, and nearly overflowing the bath with my tears. At the start of The Kite Runner, one of the characters is faced with a difficult choice – to defend his dear friend, or to leave him and protect himself, and the choice he makes has repercussions for the rest of his life.
A similar dilemma is at the heart of Philip Meyer‘s incredible novel American Rust, in which two very different friends find themselves in over their heads, and one of them has to take drastic measures to save them. A crime is committed but which of the two should bear the burden of this crime, and what are the implications of sacrificing themselves to spare their friend?
American Rust looks at how one moment can change the trajectory of an entire life, and the same idea is explored in Joyce Carol Oates’ We Were the Mulvaneys, which explores the impact of a teenage girl’s rape on her entire family.
From monsters, to special schools, through friendship and betrayal to a moment that changes our lives for ever – that’s been my journey through six degrees of separation. Find out how my six degrees partner in crime Emma found her way to Watership Down. Then add your chain in the comments below.
Next month‘s chain begins with George Orwell’s speculative fiction classic 1984 on Saturday, October 4th