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 time we’re beginning with The Lottery, a story by Shirley Jackson. I hadn’t read it, but when I saw how short it was and that it was available online, I managed to read it in preparation for this month’s post. Here’s what it’s about:
In a small American town, the local residents are abuzz with excitement and nervousness when they wake on the morning of the twenty-seventh of June. Everything has been prepared for the town’s annual tradition — a lottery in which every family must participate, and no one wants to win.
“The Lottery” stands out as one of the most famous short stories in American literary history. Originally published in The New Yorker, the author immediately began receiving letters from readers who demanded an explanation of the story’s meaning. “The Lottery” has been adapted for stage, television, radio and film.
The story reminded me of Uprooted by Naomi Novik (1), which also features a lottery (of sorts) that nobody really wants to win. In this book, a seventeen-year-old girl from a village on the edge of a sinister wood is selected once every ten years to go and live in a tower with a mysterious and powerful wizard known as the Dragon. What happens to the girls while living in the Dragon’s tower is unknown, except that they return ten years later changed by their experiences. I really enjoyed this book and its blend of fairy tales, magic and folklore.
Another book about a girl in a tower is…The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden! (2) This is the second novel in the wonderful Winternight trilogy, a fantasy series set in medieval Russia. Like Uprooted the story is grounded in mythology and folklore and we meet such fascinating characters as Morozko the frost-demon, Koschei the Deathless, and the legendary Firebird.
The Firebird (3), one of my favourite novels by Susanna Kearsley, traces the history of a wooden carving of a firebird which once belonged to Empress Catherine of Russia. The story takes us from a castle in Scotland to a convent in Belgium and finally to eighteenth century St Petersburg and a community of Jacobites working to gather support in Russia to restore the deposed Stuart kings to the British throne.
In Redgauntlet by Sir Walter Scott (4), Darsie Latimer and his friend, Alan Fairford, find themselves caught up in a fictional third Jacobite Rebellion. Told through a mixture of letters, diary entries and first person narratives, this is an entertaining read but knowing that the rebellion never actually happened took away some of the suspense. The novel also features a ghost story called Wandering Willie’s Tale – it’s worth reading Redgauntlet for this story alone!
This same ghost story is one of several myths and legends explored in The Afterlife of King James IV by Keith J Coleman (5), a non-fiction book about the death of the Scottish King who was killed at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. Before I read this book I’d had no idea there were so many conspiracy theories surrounding the fate of James IV, most of which seem to have arisen from the fact that the body removed from the battlefield was not wearing a chain the king was known to have worn around his waist. In the book, Coleman examines some of these theories as well as discussing the ghostly apparitions and prophecies said to have predicted the outcome of the battle.
Staying with the ghostly theme, I’m able to bring the chain full circle by linking to another Shirley Jackson book, The Haunting of Hill House (6). I didn’t enjoy this one as much as We Have Always Lived in the Castle, the only other Jackson novel I’ve read, but I did love the ambiguity of the story: how much of the ghostly activity at Hill House is real and how much is in the mind of the protagonist? It’s not a typical haunted house story and leaves you with a lot to think about.
And that’s my chain for October! My links included lotteries, towers, the Russian firebird, Jacobite Rebellions, Wandering Willie and ghostly phenomena.
In November we’ll be starting with What Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez.