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 beginning with What Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez. I haven’t read it and although it does sound interesting, I don’t think it’s my kind of book and I have no plans to read it. Here’s what it’s about:
A woman describes a series of encounters she has with various people in the ordinary course of her life: an ex she runs into by chance at a public forum, an Airbnb owner unsure how to interact with her guests, a stranger who seeks help comforting his elderly mother, a friend of her youth now hospitalized with terminal cancer. In each of these people the woman finds a common need: the urge to talk about themselves and to have an audience to their experiences. The narrator orchestrates this chorus of voices for the most part as a passive listener, until one of them makes an extraordinary request, drawing her into an intense and transformative experience of her own.
In What Are You Going Through, Nunez brings wisdom, humor, and insight to a novel about human connection and the changing nature of relationships in our times. A surprising story about empathy and the unusual ways one person can help another through hardship, her book offers a moving and provocative portrait of the way we live now.
I often struggle to come up with a first link when the starting book is not one that I’ve read and doesn’t have any obvious similarities to other books I’ve read. I’m afraid I’m just going to have to find a connection through the author’s name and link to Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset (1). This is actually a trilogy published between 1920 and 1922, but the edition I read included all three in one very long book of over 1000 pages. However, I thought it was definitely worth the time and effort it took to read this fascinating, tragic story of a young woman’s life in 14th century Norway. Sigrid Undset was awarded the 1928 Nobel Prize in Literature “principally for her powerful descriptions of Northern life during the Middle Ages”.
I read Kristin Lavransdatter in a very readable English translation by Tiina Nunnally. Another book by a Norwegian author and originally published in Norwegian is Burned by Thomas Enger (2), translated by Charlotte Barslund. This is the first in a crime series set in Oslo and featuring the journalist Henning Juul. Although I enjoyed it, with a few reservations, I never continued with the rest of the series or any of Thomas Enger’s other books. Maybe I should.
The title Burned makes me think of other titles to do with flames and fires. Dark Fire (3) is the second book in CJ Sansom’s Shardlake mystery series set in Tudor England. ‘Dark Fire’ refers to Greek Fire, a weapon said to be able to destroy a ship in minutes, and in this book Shardlake is searching for the secret formula to produce more of the weapon, while also trying to clear a young girl of a murder accusation. I have read all of the Shardlake novels apart from the newest one and enjoyed them all; this one introduces one of my favourite characters in the series, Jack Barak.
Dark Fire is set during the summer heatwave of 1540. Case Histories by Kate Atkinson (4) opens during a summer heatwave in 1970 during which a little girl disappears while sleeping in a tent in the garden. Private detective Jackson Brodie – who features in another four Atkinson novels after this first one – investigates this and two other historical cases which at first seem to be completely unrelated. As a mystery novel I don’t think this one was particularly strong, but I loved the characters and their personal stories.
A very different scene involving a tent appears in Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome (5). This is such a funny, entertaining book; I sometimes pick it up and re-read a few pages if I need to cheer myself up! It follows the adventures of three men who take a boat trip along the River Thames, where everything that can go wrong does go wrong – including a disastrous attempt to put up a tent in the rain!
The full title of the above book is Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), a reference to the dog Montmorency who accompanies the men on their trip. Tomorrow by Damien Dibben (6) also features a dog – in fact, the narrator is a dog! He’s also over two hundred years old and Tomorrow tells the story of how he and his owner came to live for such a long time, describing some of the events they have witnessed and places they have visited along the way, from the court of Versailles to the battlefield of Waterloo. I can’t really say that I loved this book, but it was certainly different!
And that’s my chain for November! My links have included the name Sigrid, Norwegian translations, ‘fiery’ titles, heatwaves, tents and dogs.
In December we’ll be starting with the classic novella Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, a book I have actually read for once!