Greetings, bookworms and welcome back to Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly meme in which myself and Emma Chapman invite you to link six books in a chain, according to whatever connections spring to mind. The rules are: there are no rules! This month’s chain begins with the winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize: Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North.
To be perfectly frank, I was not very enamoured with this book at all. But the one section which really dazzled me was where Flanagan took us into the minds of the Korean and Japanese soldiers who ran the Prisoner of War Camps in which the novel’s main characters were imprisoned.
It takes real skill and courage to tell a story from a point of view which is radically different, and Flanagan’s daring in this part of the book reminded me of Room by Emma Donoghue which is a book seen through they eyes of a child with a very very strange worldview.
The main female character in Room is a sex slave, as is the protagonist, Offred, in Margaret Atwood‘s chilling dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale, a story set in a world in which women have no rights or agency, they are simply breeding/cooking/cleaning machines, who are the property of men.
Atwood is one of my favourite spec-fic writers. Another wonderful speculative fiction I’ve read recently was Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel, a book guaranteed to convert people who think they don’t like science-fiction, because it was beautifully written and very much character-driven. It tells the story of a troupe of musicians and actors, touring the US twenty years after a pandemic wipes out most of the population. It also examines the lives of a handful of characters in the lead-up to the pandemic and explores the nature of fame and celebrity.
The pros and cons of fame were also explored with great insight and wry humour in Jonathan Dee’s novel St Famous in which an aspiring writer suddenly finds himself famous overnight, after being kidnapped and beaten during a race riot. His fame opens up all kinds of opportunities, but not the ones he was looking for. The novel examines the line between commerce and art, and a writer’s need to balance their art with the need to put food on the table.
Another great story about a writer is Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon in which poor old Grady Tripp is having one helluva time finishing his 2000 page novel, and a dead dog, an unwanted pregnancy, and a bad pot smoking habit are NOT helping.
I find Chabon a bit hit and miss but another book of his that I really loved was Telegraph Avenue. Chabon writes so well about people who can’t get their shit together. They remind me a little of Charlie, one of my title characters from my novel Whisky and Charlie.
So there we are, from The Narrow Road to the Deep North, to Telegraph Avenue in six steps. Find out where Emma’s chain took her. And then it’s over to you. Make your own chain, and don’t forget to share it in the comments below. I look forward to seeing where it takes you.