Six Degrees of Separation: From Shuggie Bain to A House of Pomegranates

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 Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart, winner of the 2020 Booker Prize. I haven’t read it and I’m not planning to, but this is what it’s about:

It is 1981. Glasgow is dying and good families must grift to survive. Agnes Bain has always expected more from life. She dreams of greater things: a house with its own front door and a life bought and paid for outright (like her perfect, but false, teeth). But Agnes is abandoned by her philandering husband, and soon she and her three children find themselves trapped in a decimated mining town. As she descends deeper into drink, the children try their best to save her, yet one by one they must abandon her to save themselves. It is her son Shuggie who holds out hope the longest.

Shuggie is different. Fastidious and fussy, he shares his mother’s sense of snobbish propriety. The miners’ children pick on him and adults condemn him as no’ right. But Shuggie believes that if he tries his hardest, he can be normal like the other boys and help his mother escape this hopeless place.

It can be difficult to know where to start with a chain when you haven’t read the first book and have no interest in reading it, but the word that jumped out at me in the blurb was Glasgow, so I will begin by linking to another book set in Glasgow – Gillespie and I by Jane Harris (1). The novel is narrated by Harriet Baxter, an elderly woman looking back on her relationship with the artist Ned Gillespie, whom she met while visiting the International Exhibition in Glasgow in the 1880s. The 19th century setting and clever plot twists reminded me of the Victorian sensation novels I love by authors such as Wilkie Collins, so it’s no surprise that I loved this book too.

The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart (2) also features a character whose name is Harriet – or ‘Lady Harriet’ as she prefers to call herself. Lady Harriet is a fascinating character who lives in the palace of Dar Ibrahim near Beirut and models herself on the legendary Lady Hester Stanhope, wearing male Arab dress and living in seclusion with only her servants and saluki hounds for company. I always enjoy Mary Stewart’s suspense novels and I think this is a particularly good one!

Hounds are dogs, of course, so this leads me straight to The Dog Stars by Peter Heller (3). This post-apocalyptic novel set in Colorado several years after a flu pandemic kills most of the world’s population was not my usual sort of book at all, but I found it much more interesting than I’d expected. I certainly wouldn’t want to read it now, though! What seemed like pure science fiction a few years ago feels uncomfortably close to reality now.

Another post-apocalyptic novel I found surprisingly enjoyable, if unsettling, was The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (4). In this book, it’s not a pandemic that brings an end to the world as we know it, but a meteor shower which leaves almost everyone blind, followed by an invasion of triffids – giant killer plants with long, stinging arms.

Susan Fletcher’s House of Glass (5) is the next book in my chain and is also a book about plants – nice normal plants this time, you’ll be pleased to hear! Our heroine, Clara, is an amateur botanist who is offered a job working in the gardens of Shadowbrook, a large estate which appears to be haunted. Although the book seems to be a typical ghost story at first, it turns out to be something slightly different. An impressive and beautifully written novel.

My final link this month is to another book with ‘house of’ in the title: A House of Pomegranates (6), a collection of fairy tales by Oscar Wilde. There are four stories in the book and although each one has a moral and a message, they are also very entertaining! Like many fairy tales, they are quite dark in places, but I think they’re suitable for both children and adults. I must get round to reading Oscar Wilde’s other similar collection, The Happy Prince and Other Tales, which has been on my TBR since reading this one back in 2011.

And that’s my chain for April! My links have included Glasgow, the name Harriet, dogs, the end of the world, plants and ‘house of’ titles.

In May, we’ll be starting with Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary.

26 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: From Shuggie Bain to A House of Pomegranates

    • Helen says:

      I hope you enjoy Trouble with Lichen! I’ve read three of Wyndham’s books and liked all of them, so I really need to try some of his others.

  1. margaret21 says:

    The Jane Harris appeals, even though I loved the very different Shuggie Bain too. I like the Happy Prince, so would like to read this other collection of tales by Oscar Wilde.

  2. Sandra says:

    I like your chain, Helen and I’ve read three of them which is unusual for me! I didn’t think about Gillespie and Glasgow. Like you, I enjoyed House of Glass and Day of the Triffids is one of favourite Wyndhams. I’m thinking about The Dog Stars…

    • Helen says:

      I haven’t felt much like reading dystopian novels since the pandemic started, but I do remember finding The Dog Stars interesting at the time! I’ve only read a few of Wyndham’s books, but I think The Midwich Cuckoos is probably my favourite so far.

  3. rosemarykaye says:

    Very excited to hear about a Mary Stewart novel that I haven’t read! The Gabriel Hounds sounds great and I will seek it out. Saluki dogs are so elegant too.

    I struggled to find another book about Glasgow, but Gillespie & I sounds very interesting and another one to add to the TBR.

    • Helen says:

      I love Mary Stewart’s novels and The Gabriel Hounds is one of my favourites! Gillespie and I is a great book too – I hope you’re able to read it.

  4. MarinaSofia says:

    I’ve recently rediscovered Mary Stewart and her ‘travel suspense novels’, and this sounds like a fabulous setting. Will search for it! Day of the Triffids was a book we read for English Lit class when I was 13 and I’ve never forgotten it – little did I know that decades later I would actually be working in the building where some of it is set, Senate House in London!

    • Helen says:

      I think Mary Stewart’s books all have great settings and the sense of place she creates is wonderful, but The Gabriel Hounds is one of the best. It was interesting to read about Beirut and Damascus in the days when they were popular with tourists.

  5. Lexlingua says:

    This is a wonderful chain, and each book gets added to my TBR. How deftly you’ve linked book places, characters, titles, and subject-matter. I am particularly interested in Susan Fletcher’s work, because I believe she wrote Corrag too. Incidentally, there is another author Susan Fletcher whose book, Shadow Spinners, I liked very much. Initially, I was confused between the two!

    • Helen says:

      Yes, this is the same Susan Fletcher who wrote Corrag, which I really enjoyed. I wasn’t aware that there was another author of the same name!

  6. stargazer says:

    Like MarinaSofia, I also read The Day of the Triffids in school. It was my first dystopian novel, but definitely not my last. I am not familiar with Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales. I probably should look into them, since I generally love his writing.

    • Helen says:

      We didn’t read any Wyndham at school, but I’ve enjoyed discovering his books as an adult. Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales are quite different from his other work, but I thought they were fun.

  7. BookerTalk says:

    Well done on this. I failed miserably – all the ideas I had for connections to Shuggy just led me down dead ends. So I gave up……Didn’t think of the connection to Gillespie though

    • rosemarykaye says:

      Bookertalk, I share your pain – I found this month’s starter almost impossible to link to. I finally got something together on Sunday, which is why my chain was so late, but I only managed that by using a rather tenuous connection via an Edinburgh Book Festival event, so it was cheating really. Sometimes a starter book just does not do it for me.

      At one point I even asked a Facebook group I am in if they could think of any books set in Glasgow that weren’t miserable – and they came up with very few (& none that I’d read.) One of the members who lives there said it was such a shame that no-one seems to focus on Glasgow’s rich cultural life and history – instead it’s all just gloom, doom and death!

      • BookerTalk says:

        Oh poor Glasgow! I did review a book set there recently – crime fiction so not exactly joyful but not too dark. I managed a chain in the end even later to do it than you were though.

  8. Constance says:

    These sound good. The Gabriel Hounds is the only one I have read; not one of the Stewarts I know by heart, maybe because the cousin romance seemed a bit odd to me as a teen. I was expecting a Madeleine Polland book at the end but I just went to check (I could get a lot of exercise if I walked to the appropriate bookshelf every time I wondered something) and her book is called The Pomegranate House. I wonder if there is Wilde connection; will have to investigate.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, the romance in The Gabriel Hounds did feel a bit strange, but I loved the setting and the character of Lady Harriet. I’ve never heard of that Madeleine Polland book!

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