Six Degrees of Separation: From Our Wives Under the Sea to Full Dark House

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 Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield. Yet another book I haven’t read! Here’s what it’s about:

Miri thinks she has got her wife back, when Leah finally returns after a deep-sea mission that ended in catastrophe. It soon becomes clear, though, that Leah is not the same. Whatever happened in that vessel, whatever it was they were supposed to be studying before they were stranded on the ocean floor, Leah has brought part of it back with her, onto dry land and into their home.

Moving through something that only resembles normal life, Miri comes to realize that the life that they had before might be gone. Though Leah is still there, Miri can feel the woman she loves slipping from her grasp.

Our Wives Under The Sea is the debut novel from Julia Armfield, the critically acclaimed author of salt slow. It’s a story of falling in love, loss, grief, and what life there is in the deep deep sea.

Although I haven’t read the Julia Armfield book, the title and blurb immediately made me think of another novel about women who work in the sea: The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See (1). This book is set in South Korea and tells the story of Young-sook, a woman who belongs to the haenyeo community – female divers who gather seafood from the waters surrounding the island of Jeju. It’s a fascinating novel, but also a powerful and poignant one, as the time period in which it’s set covers World War II and the Korean War.

The haenyeo are a semi-matriarchal society, with the family relying on the woman’s income while the husband stays at home to look after the children. The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff (2) set during the time of the Roman Empire, also features a matriarchal society – the Caledones who worship the ‘Great Mother’. The novel follows the gladiator Phaedrus who becomes part of a plot to impersonate King Midir of the Dalriadain.

I’ve read several novels about imposters, but the one I’ve chosen to link to next is a classic from 1894: The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope (3). This novel is set in the fictitious central European kingdom of Ruritania. When the new king is kidnapped and imprisoned by his half-brother Black Michael, his distant cousin Rudolf Rassendyll is persuaded to impersonate him at his coronation. I found this book great fun to read, although I still haven’t continued with the sequel, Rupert of Hentzau.

Another book set in a fictional land is First Night by Jane Aiken Hodge (4), which takes place in 1802 in a European principality known as Lissenberg. The novel follows Cristabel Sallis, a talented young singer, as she sets out to launch a career in opera. I’ve read several of Jane Aiken Hodge’s novels and this is the only one that I haven’t really enjoyed. It’s the first in a trilogy, but I probably won’t continue with it while there are so many of her other books I could be reading instead.

Thinking about books featuring opera, The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux (5) is obviously the first one that comes to mind! It’s not a favourite classic, but I did find it an entertaining read and loved the descriptions of the Paris Opera House with its underground tunnels and lakes. It’s worth reading even if you’ve seen one of the many film, TV or stage adaptations.

In Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler (6) our octogenarian detectives Arthur Bryant and John May are remembering a case from their younger days in which they investigated a series of murders in a theatre carried out by a killer known as ‘the Palace Phantom’. This is the first in the Bryant and May series and has a wonderful wartime London setting. I also enjoyed the next three books in the series and must continue with the fifth one soon!


And that’s my chain for April! My links included women who work in the sea, matriarchal societies, imposters, fictional lands, opera singers and phantoms.

In May we’ll be starting with True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey.

21 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: From Our Wives Under the Sea to Full Dark House

  1. Lola says:

    I actually got myself a copy of Julia Armfield’s novel last week! I loved her short story collection, so I am looking forward to reading this one!

  2. margaret21 says:

    I loved The Island of Sea Women which I read some time ago. Not as long ago as Rosemary Sutcliffe and Anthony Hope though – great childhood memories! I don’t know your other books – yet more on the list of things to consider! Thank you

    • Helen says:

      I loved The Island of Sea Women too – it was fascinating to read about the haenyeo culture. I wish I’d discovered Rosemary Sutcliff as a child, but I’m finding that her books can still be enjoyed as an adult!

    • Helen says:

      Some of the Bryant and May books cover cases from earlier in their careers, but in others they are solving crimes in their eighties. I definitely recommend them!

  3. FictionFan says:

    Great chain! The only ones I’ve read is The Prisoner of Zenda but I hope to read The Phantom of the Opera at some point – I really enjoyed his classic locked room novel, The Mystery of the Yellow Room.

    • Helen says:

      The Phantom of the Opera is the only Gaston Leroux book I’ve read so far, but I’m sure I would like The Mystery of the Yellow Room!

    • Helen says:

      Thank you! I became aware of that book when it was shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize a few years ago and I’m (very slowly) trying to work my way through all the shortlists. I’ll move it further up the TBR pile!

  4. El Jaygee says:

    “Full Dark House” (2003/4) is the first book in Christopher Fowler’s Bryant & May series. There are between 18 to 20 books in the series now…the last one came out in 2021 and was called “London Bridge is Falling Down.” I’ve listened to all of them, repeatedly, in audiobook format. They are totally worth it. (narrated by Tim Goodman).

    • Helen says:

      Yes, I’ve read the first four Bryant and May books and am still planning to continue with the series – although it will take me a long time to catch up now that there are so many books! I’m pleased to hear you would recommend the audiobooks.

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