Welcome to this month’s Six Degrees of Separation!
Here’s how it works: on the first Saturday of every month, a book is chosen as a starting point by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best and linked to six other books to form a chain. Readers and bloggers are invited to join in by creating their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book.
Kate says: Books can be linked in obvious ways – for example, books by the same authors, from the same era or genre, or books with similar themes or settings. Or, you may choose to link them in more personal or esoteric ways: books you read on the same holiday, books given to you by a particular friend, books that remind you of a particular time in your life, or books you read for an online challenge. Join in by posting your own six degrees chain on your blog and adding the link in the comments section of each month’s post. You can also check out links to posts on Twitter using the hashtag #6Degrees
This month’s starting book is The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Click on the title to read the book description on Goodreads or my review, as appropriate.
The mention of ‘Bible’ made me think of the title of one of M.R. James’ ghost stories, ‘The Uncommon Prayer-Book’ (which can be found in his Collected Ghost Stories). In the story, strange happenings are associated with eight old and, it turns out, very valuable editions of The Book of Common Prayer. When someone tries to steal the books, a ghastly revenge is meted out to them.
M.R. James was Provost of King’s College, Cambridge and it was in his rooms there that he first recited his ghost stories to a select audience. Therefore, I’m staying in Cambridge for my next connection, to a book set there but in 1939, in the opening weeks of the Second World War – The Great Darkness by Jim Kelly. ‘The Great Darkness’ of the title refers to the first government ordered blackout covering southern England. When daylight comes a body is discovered on the riverside and Detective Inspector Eden Brooke is ordered to investigate. Brooke’s sight was damaged in the Great War making him particularly sensitive to light therefore he joins the other ‘nighthawks’ who, through necessity or inclination, inhabit the city’s night-time streets.
The theme of darkness brought to mind its opposite – light – and damaged sight made me think of the blind Marie-Laure in Anthony Doerr’s bestseller, All the Light We Cannot See. In the book, Marie-Laure and her father are forced to flee Paris when it is occupied by the Nazis, taking with them a highly valuable jewel.
To my mind, for just about every book there is a connection to a John Buchan book. In this case, the mention of a jewel immediately made me think of the name of the gang of evil foreign agents against which Richard Hannay pits his wits in The Thirty-Nine Steps – The Black Stone. John Buchan wrote The Thirty-Nine Steps whilst on holiday with his family in Broadstairs, Kent. They had lodgings not far away from the house of a cousin of Buchan’s wife, Susan. This house had steps down to the beach – thirty-nine steps, it is reputed.
Another famous author who found Broadstairs an excellent place for writing was Charles Dickens. Dickens was a frequent summer visitor to Broadstairs in the 1850s and 1860s, staying at Fort House (now known as Bleak House), where he wrote David Copperfield. The book’s opening paragraph contains the oft-quoted line: ‘To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o’clock at night.‘
Dickens was married to Catherine for twenty-two years and fathered ten children with her. Yet she was forced from the family home when he became enamoured of a young actress. Catherine Dickens: Outside the Magic Circle by Heera Datta is the fascinating inside story of the breakdown of the Dickens marriage told from the point of view of Catherine.
After reading this, you may never think about Charles Dickens quite the same way again.
Today we’ve travelled from the story of one family’s tragic undoing in The Poisonwood Bible to the unravelling of another in Outside the Magic Circle by way of darkness, light and a Kent seaside resort.
Next month’s starting book is Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. Plenty of time to get thinking and join in when #6degrees returns on 2nd June 2018.