Six Degrees of Separation: From Postcards from the Edge to The Return of the Soldier

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’re beginning with Postcards from the Edge by Carrie Fisher, a book I haven’t read and don’t have any plans to read. Here’s what it’s about:

Carrie Fisher’s first novel is set within the world she knows better than anyone else: Hollywood, the all-too-real fantasyland of drug users and deal makers. This stunning literary debut chronicles Suzanne Vale’s vivid, excruciatingly funny experiences – from the rehab clinic to life in the outside world. Sparked by Suzanne’s – and Carrie’s – deliciously wry sense of the absurd, Postcards from the Edge is a revealing look at the dangers and delights of all our addictions, from success and money to sex and insecurity.

When I saw which book we were starting with this month I thought I would struggle to put a chain together, but actually a first link came to mind very quickly, using the theme of postcards. Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada (1) is set during World War II and tells the story of Otto and Anna Quangel, an ordinary German couple who start a campaign of resistance by writing anti-Nazi messages on postcards and dropping them in public places across Berlin. Also titled Every Man Dies Alone, this wonderful novel was first published in German in 1947. I read it in 2011 and it was my favourite book read that year.

Another book with the word ‘alone’ in the title is Live Alone and Like It by Marjorie Hillis (2), a self-help book for single women from 1936 which I read earlier this year. As someone who lives alone, I hoped Hillis would have some good advice for me – and although some of the things in the book are obviously very dated, I was surprised by how much of it is still relevant today!

A fictional character who lives alone and likes it is Mildred Lathbury in Excellent Women by Barbara Pym (3). Mildred, an unmarried woman in her thirties, is thought of as one of those nice, dependable, ‘excellent women’ who can always be relied upon to provide advice, comfort and a cup of tea. At the beginning of the book, Mildred is leading a quiet life devoted to helping out at the parish church, but when new neighbours move in she finds herself becoming more involved in their problems than she really wants to be.

Mildred is not a very common name in fiction, but I can think of a few others – including Aunt Mildred in The Murder of My Aunt by Richard Hull (4). The story is set in the small Welsh village of Llwll and is narrated by Edward Powell, an unpleasant and unlikeable young man who spends the entire book thinking of various ways to murder his equally unpleasant aunt. Despite the dark-sounding plot, this is actually a very funny and entertaining novel and one of the best books I have read in the British Library Crime Classics series.

My next link is to another book set in Wales. There are plenty to choose from, but I have decided on Blow on a Dead Man’s Embers by Mari Strachan (5). This moving and atmospheric novel tells the story of Non Davies, one of the lucky women whose husbands come home alive at the end of World War I. However, Non’s husband Davey is suffering from shell shock and Non knows that before she can help him recover she needs to find out exactly what happened to him during the war.

The final book in my chain, Rebecca West’s The Return of the Soldier (6), is also about a soldier whose experiences during the war have left him with shell shock and a result, he has lost his memory. Unable to remember marrying his wife, Kitty, he is still in love with another woman he knew fifteen years ago, which causes difficulties for everyone involved. This is a short book but a poignant and beautifully written one.


And that’s my chain for this month. My links have included postcards, the word ‘Alone’, women who live alone and like it, the name Mildred, books set in Wales and returning soldiers.

In September we will be starting with 2021 Booker Prize nominee, Second Place by Rachel Cusk.

Have you read any of the books in my chain? Are you taking part in Six Degrees of Separation this month?

29 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: From Postcards from the Edge to The Return of the Soldier

  1. margaret21 says:

    I enjoyed the Fallada when I read it some years ago, and just before Lockdown, it was staged in York – very successfully: it worked well. And you’ve reminded me that quite a few years ago, I went through quite a Barbara Pym moment. I ought to see if I enjoy her still. Actually, I’m in danger of adding all your books to my TBR list.

  2. Lexlingua says:

    I saw Live Alone doing the rounds a few months back and have been eager to read it since then. And of course, Excellent Women is the perfect follow-up. 🙂

    The name Mildred always reminds me of the movie Mildred Pierce (and also the modern TV series with Kate Winslet), each still shocking in its own way, to this day too. But Murder of My Aunt seems like a much better Mildred to root for, I am going to check that one out. Thanks!

  3. Mareli Thalwitzer says:

    I don’t recognize any of your books, but Alone in Berlin sparked my interest for sure. Will take a look!

    Thanks for stopping by our blog! Hope you will have a good week to come.

    Elza Reads

  4. BookerTalk says:

    What a wonderful chain. As a person born (and still living) in Wales I’m thrilled to see some fiction set here making an appearance.
    Also thought the idea of linking from the character name of Mildred was inspired.

    I got into book 3 of my chain and then ran out of ideas so gave up

  5. Sandra says:

    I love this chain, Helen, my favourite so far this month 😊 You’ve jogged my memory on several in your list that once were on mine and seem to have slipped away from me. I plan to re-read Return of the Soldier, it was so poignant.

  6. rosemarykaye says:

    I am always so delighted to see a Barbara Pym pop up – and Excellent Women is my very favourite. It is quite shocking to realise that Mildred sees herself as ‘on the shelf’ at the age of 30, but I love the way that, as the story moves on, it becomes clear that she in many ways enjoys her status, and is a lot more perceptive than we may at first have expected.

    I’ve heard so much about Live Alone & Like It that I will add it to my (very long) list.

    And although I am not Welsh, it’s great to see some Welsh books.The only one I can remember reading myself is Nina Bawden’s Carrie’s War, which I also loved in the 1974 TV adaptation. (I’ve recently also seen a later (2004) made-for-TV film starring Keeley Fawcett, which I thought exceptionally well done.)

    I’ve struggled with many of the BL Crime Classics that I’ve tried, so perhaps The Murder of My Aunt could be my breakthrough reading experience!

    I enjoyed your chain.

    • Helen says:

      I’ve only read three Barbara Pym books so far, but I’ve enjoyed them all and have Jane and Prudence ready to start soon. I think you would find Live Alone and Like It interesting. A lot of it is still relevant today, whether or not you live alone!

      I’ve found that the BLCC books vary a lot in quality. The Murder of My Aunt is not a typical crime novel at all, but I thought it was wonderful.

  7. rosemarykaye says:

    I’ll keep trying with the British Library books then – so many people like them that there must be some good ones in there somewhere! I’ve got Smallbone Deceased on my TBR shelves, and many bloggers have loved that one.

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