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 Second Place by Rachel Cusk. I haven’t read it and probably never will, but here’s what it’s about:
A woman invites a famed artist to visit the remote coastal region where she lives, in the belief that his vision will penetrate the mystery of her life and landscape. Over the course of one hot summer, his provocative presence provides the frame for a study of female fate and male privilege, of the geometries of human relationships, and of the struggle to live morally between our internal and external worlds. With its examination of the possibility that art can both save and destroy us, Second Place is deeply affirming of the human soul, while grappling with its darkest demons.
Second Place has been longlisted for this year’s Booker Prize. I haven’t read any of the other titles on the longlist either, although there are plenty of authors on there that I’ve read in the past such as Kazuo Ishiguro, Damon Galgut, Nadifa Mohamed and Francis Spufford. The last Booker Prize winner I read was The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (1), which shared the prize in 2019. It’s a sequel to her earlier novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, set in Gilead, a dystopian community ruled by a patriarchal regime.
Gilead is a place I certainly wouldn’t want to live in. For a Top Ten Tuesday topic in 2018, I made a list of other unpleasant fictional worlds. One of these was ‘the future’, as described by HG Wells in his classic science fiction novel The Time Machine (2). The world Wells imagines, where humanity has evolved into the beautiful, childlike Eloi and the savage, brutal Morlocks is bleak and depressing, but difficult to forget once you’ve read it.
I think if I had my own time machine I would be too afraid to see what the future might hold, so I would prefer to visit the past. A book in which the characters use their time machines to travel back in time rather than forwards is Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor (3), the first of her Chronicles of St Mary’s. The series follows Madeleine Maxwell (known as Max), a time travelling historian who has some exciting adventures while personally experiencing some of the greatest events in history.
The name of the main character in the Jodi Taylor novel, Max, and the name of her mentor, Mrs de Winter, naturally makes me think of Max (or Maxim) de Winter in one of my favourite books, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (4). However, that’s where the similarities end because Taylor’s time travel novel has nothing else in common with du Maurier’s classic tale of Maxim’s young and innocent second wife, haunted by the memories of his first, whose presence is still felt throughout the estate of Manderley even after her death.
A novel that does closely mirror Rebecca is The Secrets Between Us by Louise Douglas (5). This modern Gothic novel tells the story of Sarah, who becomes housekeeper to Alex and his six-year-old son at their home, Avalon. But as Sarah begins to fall in love with Alex, she hears some disturbing rumours about his wife, Genevieve, who has disappeared without trace. I really enjoyed this book, with its twisting, turning plot, ghostly occurrences and dark, tense atmosphere.
Although most of the above book is set in England, Sarah and Alex first meet while on holiday in Sicily and Louise Douglas also uses Sicily as the setting for one of her later novels, The House by the Sea. Another, very different book set in Sicily is The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (6), which explores the 19th century Risorgimento (movement for the unification of Italy) through the eyes of a Sicilian nobleman, Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina.
And that’s my chain for September. My links included: Booker Prize winners, unpleasant fictional worlds, time machines, Max and de Winter, books inspired by Rebecca and the island of Sicily.
In October, we will be starting with The Lottery, a short story by Shirley Jackson.