Six degrees of separation: Lincoln in the Bardo to The Ashes of London

I took part in Six Degrees of Separation hosted by Kate of Books are my Favourite and Best for the first time last month and enjoyed it, so I thought I’d try it again this month. The idea is that Kate chooses a book to use as a starting point and then we have to link it to six other books of our choice to form a chain. A book doesn’t have to be connected to all of the others on the list – only to the one next to it in the chain.

The first book this month is Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, last year’s Booker Prize winner, which I read just before Christmas. With its unusual and experimental structure it wasn’t really my sort of book, but I did appreciate the originality and creativity.

In Lincoln in the Bardo, Abraham Lincoln visits Oak Hill Cemetery to grieve over the body of his eleven-year-old son, Willie. This brings to mind another book set in a cemetery: Pure by Andrew Miller. Pure is the story of a young engineer from Normandy who arrives in Paris to begin work on the destruction of the overcrowded and unsanitary cemetery of Les Innocents.

Pure appeared on the shortlist for the Walter Scott Prize in 2012. Another book shortlisted in the same year – the eventual winner, in fact – was On Canaan’s Side by Sebastian Barry. This beautifully written novel is narrated by Lilly, an elderly woman looking back on the eighty-nine years of her life.

Sebastian Barry is one of my favourite Irish authors. Another Irish author I love is John Boyne and the first of his books that I read was This House is Haunted.

This House is Haunted is a wonderfully entertaining and atmospheric ghost story set in Victorian England. At the beginning of the book the narrator and her father go to watch a public reading by Charles Dickens. I could have chosen a Dickens novel as my next link, but instead I’m going to highlight Claire Tomalin’s biography, Charles Dickens: A Life.

Claire Tomalin has written several other biographies on subjects including Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen and Mary Wollstonecraft, but apart from the Dickens book the only other one I’ve read so far is Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self.

In his diary, Samuel Pepys famously wrote about the Great Fire of London of 1666. The fire provides the setting for The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor. It’s the first in a series of historical mysteries, with the second book, The Fire Court, due to be published soon.


Have you read any of the books in my chain? What did you think of them?

Next month’s chain will begin with a book I haven’t read and know nothing about – The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf.

29 thoughts on “Six degrees of separation: Lincoln in the Bardo to The Ashes of London

  1. Kay says:

    I have not read any of the books in your chain – and well done, by the way. This House is Haunted sounds like one that I’d like. I’ll try to look for it. Enjoyed this!

    • Helen says:

      Thanks, Debbie. It’s interesting to think that if I’d chosen a Dickens novel instead of the biography, the rest of my chain would have been completely different.

  2. Kate W says:

    I haven’t read Lincoln yet and honestly, it didn’t grab me when I first heard what it was about. But, like you, I’ll be giving it go for the creative structure alone.

    Thanks again for playing along!

    • Helen says:

      I’m glad I could take part again this month, Kate. For me, Lincoln in the Bardo was a book to admire rather than one to enjoy. It’s definitely worth giving it a go to see what you think.

  3. Margaret says:

    Such an interesting chain! I’ve read both of Claire Tomalin’s biographies you’ve included – I think she’s an excellent biographer. I’ve also read some of Barry’s books and Taylor’s books — but not the ones you’ve included. They both sound books I’d like.

  4. MarinaSofia says:

    Some really lovely links there, not that I’ve read many of them. I used to really enjoy Pepys when I was in my teens – his dandyism, positivity, gossipy nature. But of course I don’t know much about the real person outside of his diaries.

    • Helen says:

      I have to admit, I’ve never actually read Pepys’ diaries, but I did enjoy the Claire Tomalin book. Her portrayal of Pepys was very fair and balanced, I thought. I must read more of her biographies!

  5. Calmgrove says:

    I read Pure a while ago and quite enjoyed it, even the surreal episode with the elephant at the end! I’ve got the Tomatin biography of Austen to read some time when I feel the need to get an Austen fix! I did like your connections, all quite logical and never forced, but I’m not sure I’d ever have read the starting point of the exercise to join in this — lovely idea though. 🙂

    • Helen says:

      You can still take part without actually having read the starting book, but it probably makes it much more difficult to think of the first link. I would like to read Tomalin’s Austen biography too as I’ve read all of Austen’s novels but don’t know a lot about the author herself.

  6. Carmen says:

    Great chain, Helen! I wouldn’t know where to go after the first one. 😉 The only one in your chain that I have read is Lincoln in the Bardo, which thankfully I read before all the rave. I’m kind of intrigued by John Boyne since I have seen several of his novels among your reviews. I’ll make his acquaintance someday, I hope. Sebastian Barry’s novel sounds good too.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, sometimes it’s best to read a book before all the hype starts. I can highly recommend John Boyne and Sebastian Barry – two very different Irish authors but I love them both!

  7. cirtnecce says:

    I loved the linkages and while I have not read any, there are a couple of more added to my TBR including Sebestain Barry, who has been recommended by a couple of folks and now you!

  8. Sandra says:

    Great chain, Helen! I haven’t read any of the books you’ve chosen, but the Barry book is here, waiting, from the library. It will be my first by him and I’m looking forward to it enormously. I also want to read the Dickens biography; I’m reading steadily through Dickens’ novels and the more of them I read, the more fascinating he becomes as a person. My chain is totally different. It will be published this evening.

    • Helen says:

      I hope you like On Canaan’s Side. It’s a beautifully written book. I am also working through Dickens’ novels and have about half of them left to read. The Claire Tomalin biography is excellent and gave me a good understanding of what Dickens was like as a person.

  9. buriedinprint says:

    I’ve only read the starting novel, but I thoroughly enjoying reading through your chain. I’ve considered all the authors you’ve included, at one point or another in my readling life, but just as you have mentioned about how easily your list could have gone in direction, I ended up reading in other directions too!

  10. Judy Krueger says:

    These chains are so much fun to read. I have read Tomalin’s biography of Dickens. If I had done this chain, my first book after Lincoln in the Bardo would have been The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, for obvious reasons-:)

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