Six Degrees of Separation: From A Gentleman in Moscow to Poor Miss Finch

It’s the first Saturday of the month which means it’s time for another Six Degrees of Separation, hosted by Kate of Books are my Favourite and Best. 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.

This month we are starting with A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, a book I read a few years ago – it’s not often that I’ve read the starting book in one of these chains and it does make things slightly easier! It tells the story of a Russian Count who is sentenced to spend the rest of his days under house arrest in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel. I really enjoyed this book and found it quite inspiring that the Count managed to lead such a fulfilling life during his confinement.

Another novel set in and around a hotel, this time in Cyprus, is The Sunrise by Victoria Hislop (1). The story takes place in Famagusta in 1974, when the Sunrise Hotel is evacuated during a Greek military coup and Turkish invasion. I found the book a bit uneven, but loved the setting and the vivid descriptions of the abandoned city.

Famagusta already had a troubled history, long before the events of The Sunrise. In Dorothy Dunnett’s Race of Scorpions (2), the third in her House of Niccolò series, our hero Nicholas arrives in Cyprus in the early 1460s just as the island is torn apart by the conflict between Queen Carlotta and her half-brother James de Lusignan and the city of Famagusta finds itself under siege.

The Niccolò series takes us all over 15th century Europe and Africa, but the first book, Niccolò Rising, is set mainly in Bruges. I can’t think of many other books I’ve read that have Bruges as a setting, apart from an obvious one: The Master of Bruges by Terence Morgan (3). This novel is presented as the fictional memoirs of the 15th century artist Hans Memling who becomes acquainted with Edward IV and the future Richard III during their exile in Flanders.

My next link is to another book with Master in the title. There were a few I could have chosen, but I decided on The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (4). I remember feeling intimidated by this book before I started to read it, but I needn’t have worried because I absolutely loved this weird and wonderful Russian classic.

A famous phrase from the book is “manuscripts don’t burn”, which makes my next link a very easy one. A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger (5) follows the poet John Gower as he searches 14th century London for a missing book of prophecies which predicts the death of the King of England. John Gower was a real person and although there’s not much biographical information on him available, we do know that he became blind in later life and in the sequel, The Invention of Fire, we see him trying to cope with his loss of sight.

Poor Miss Finch by Wilkie Collins (6) is a novel with a blind heroine and it handles the subject of blindness in a way that is both sensitive and fascinating. It’s not quite as ‘sensational’ as some of his other novels (and has a very strange subplot involving twins with blue skin), but I still enjoyed it!

And that’s my chain for this month. In October we’ll be starting with Three Women by Lisa Taddeo.

31 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: From A Gentleman in Moscow to Poor Miss Finch

  1. Liz says:

    What a fascinating chain, Helen. I’m intrigued by all these books, especially the Holsinger. And I was relieved to see your comments about the Bulgakov – I have felt similarly nervous about it, but not any more! 😀

    • Helen says:

      Thanks, Liz. I remember enjoying the Holsinger book and its sequel. The Master and Margarita is great and definitely not as difficult to read as I’d expected.

  2. whatcathyreadnext says:

    Great chain. I like the sound of the Victoria Hislop. I have her latest one, Those Who Are Loved, sitting in my TBR pile as I’m going to hear her speak (and get my copy signed, I hope) later this month at Henley Literary Festival.

    • Helen says:

      The Sunrise is the only book I’ve read by Victoria Hislop so far, but I have both Those Who Are Loved and The Thread on the TBR. I’m sure it will be interesting to hear her speak!

    • Helen says:

      I have two of Hislop’s other books on my TBR so I’ll be interested to see what I think of them. Although I had a few problems with The Sunrise I liked it overall.

  3. Lark says:

    I love where these book chains take you! The only one of them I’ve read is A Gentleman in Moscow which I completely loved. But the last two on your chain look interesting, too. 🙂

    • Helen says:

      I really enjoyed A Gentleman in Moscow – I’m glad you did too! And yes, A Burnable Book and Poor Miss Finch were both interesting, in their different ways.

    • Helen says:

      Thank you, Sandra. I try to include a variety of books in my chains, but am always drawn back to historical fiction and classics! I enjoyed putting this post together this month.

    • Helen says:

      The Master and Margarita is great, isn’t it? I’m glad you enjoyed it too. The Wilkie Collins book is fascinating, though not one of my favourites by him.

  4. says:

    Beginning with the Russian theme of your first book choice, A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW, my own six are:

    1. I WAS ANASTASIA by Ariel Lawhon
    2. DOKTOR ZHIVAGO by Boris Pasternak (an old favorite that never wearies)
    3. THE REVOLUTION OF MARINA M. by Janet Fitch (revolution of a young woman amidst the Russian Revolution(s))
    4. WAR & PEACE: Leo Tolstoy (a class WWI history/fiction)
    5. LENINGRAD: EPIC SEIGE OF WORLD WAR II by Ann Reid (an all-consuming history/fiction best for long winter days and nights)
    6. STALIN’S DAUGHTER: EXTRAORDINARY AND TUMULTOUS LIFE OF SVETLANA ALLILUYEVA by Rosemary Sullivan (tragic story of Stalin’s only daughter)

    And one more for good measure, RUSSKA by Edward Rutherford, the story of ancient Russia and her peoples. I have read plenty of others, but these remain on my library shelves because they’re worth returning to for winter reads.

    • Helen says:

      I loved Edward Rutherfurd’s Russka and learned a lot about Russian history from it. Of the other books you’ve listed, I wasn’t a fan of Doctor Zhivago but enjoyed War and Peace. I haven’t read the rest, but all of them sound interesting to me, particularly the Leningrad one.

  5. Alyson Woodhouse says:

    I read Poor Miss Finch at the turn of this year when I was looking into the portrayal of disability in Victorian literature. For the most part, I found the picture of blindness very accurate and sensitively handled. The only slight problem I had was the idea that feeling the shape of people’s faces gave Lucilla a picture of what they looked like. I have tryed that myself, but get far more of the sense of a person by listening to their voices. It was still a fascinating novel though and I’m glad I read it.

    • Helen says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed Poor Miss Finch, Alyson. I agree that feeling the shape of faces isn’t likely to give you much of an idea of what a person is like; I can see that listening to voices is probably more effective.

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