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 starting with The End of the Affair by Graham Greene. As usual, it’s a book that I haven’t read! Here’s what it’s about:
“This is a record of hate far more than of love,” writes Maurice Bendrix in the opening passages of The End of the Affair, and it is a strange hate indeed that compels him to set down the retrospective account of his adulterous affair with Sarah Miles.
Now, a year after Sarah’s death, Bendrix seeks to exorcise the persistence of his passion by retracing its course from obsessive love to love-hate. At first, he believes he hates Sarah and her husband, Henry. Yet as he delves deeper into his emotional outlook, Bendrix’s hatred shifts to the God he feels has broken his life, but whose existence at last comes to recognize.
I really didn’t know where to start with this month’s chain. I haven’t read anything at all by Graham Greene, so I tried to think of other books about the end of an affair but came up with nothing. I’m afraid I’ll have to take the easy way out and just link to another book with the word ‘affair’ in the title: The Daffodil Affair by Michael Innes (1). This is part of the Inspector Appleby mystery series but is not a typical detective novel at all. It has a very bizarre plot involving a mind-reading horse, a missing girl and a haunted house! It’s not an Appleby novel that I can recommend; I found it too strange and not what I’d expected when I picked it up.
Daffodil is the name of the horse in the above novel; a book which really is about a flower is The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas (2). Dumas is a favourite author of mine and although this book, set in the Netherlands in the 17th century, is much less well known than The Count of Monte Cristo or The Three Musketeers, I still loved it. A book about a contest between two men who both hope to grow the world’s first black tulip may not sound very exciting, but in Dumas’ hands it certainly is! It actually has some similar themes to The Count of Monte Cristo, but is a much shorter novel and could be a good starting point if you’re new to Dumas and daunted by the length of his other books.
Rags of Time by Michael Ward (3) is the first book in a series of historical mysteries featuring Tom Tallant, a London spice merchant, and set, like The Black Tulip, in the 17th century. This first novel takes us to Amsterdam during the period known as ‘Tulipmania’ where tulip bulbs are being bought and sold for higher and higher prices. I found this part of the book fascinating, particularly the descriptions of the Dutch practice of windhandel, or ‘trading in promises’. As I was putting this post together, I noticed that the cover of the book says “The murder was just the beginning of the affair,” so I could actually have linked this to The End of the Affair and used it as the first link in my chain!
In Rags of Time, Tom teams up with Elizabeth Seymour, a young woman who is a keen astronomer. Swithin St Cleeve in Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy (4), is also an astronomer – or at least he dreams of becoming one. When Lady Constantine allows him to create an observatory in a tower on her land, the two meet in the tower to study the beauty of the night sky and gradually begin to fall in love, determined to overcome their differences in class and age. I found this a gentler story than some of Hardy’s others, less tragic but also less moving and although it’s still a book that I liked very much, it’s not a favourite of mine.
Although I don’t think Two on a Tower is one of his very best novels, I do love Thomas Hardy and have read most of his books now. A few years ago, I enjoyed dipping into this brief but beautiful guide to his life and work by Jane Drake, titled simply Thomas Hardy (5). The book includes a fold-out map of Hardy’s fictional Wessex, illustrations and colour photographs, some snippets of biographical information, quotations and extracts from several of his novels and poems. At only 32 pages, it’s too short to be completely satisfying and you won’t really learn a lot from it, but I think it would make a nice gift for a Hardy fan.
Drake is also the surname of Erica Drake, one of the main characters in Gwethalyn Graham’s Earth and High Heaven (6). This 1944 novel published by Persephone is set in Canada and follows Erica’s relationship with Marc Reiser. Marc comes from a Jewish family and Erica’s parents – who are English-Canadian – refuse to accept him as a suitable husband for their daughter. This fascinating novel explores the tensions and divisions between these two groups, and also the French-Canadian community. I enjoyed this book and, like many Persephones, it explores themes that are still important and relevant today.
And that’s my chain for March! My links have included the word ‘affair’, flowers, Tulipmania, astronomers, Hardy’s Wessex and the name Drake.
Next month we’ll be starting with Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield.