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 winner of the 2022 Women’s Prize for Fiction, The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki. I haven’t read it, but here’s what it’s about:
One year after the death of his beloved musician father, thirteen-year-old Benny Oh begins to hear voices. The voices belong to the things in his house – a sneaker, a broken Christmas ornament, a piece of wilted lettuce. Although Benny doesn’t understand what these things are saying, he can sense their emotional tone; some are pleasant, a gentle hum or coo, but others are snide, angry and full of pain. When his mother develops a hoarding problem, the voices grow more clamorous.
At first Benny tries to ignore them, but soon the voices follow him outside the house, onto the street and at school, driving him at last to seek refuge in the silence of a large public library, where objects are well-behaved and know to speak in whispers. There, he falls in love with a mesmerising street artist with a smug pet ferret, who uses the library as her performance space. He meets a homeless philosopher-poet, who encourages him to ask important questions and find his own voice amongst the many. And he meets his very own Book – a talking thing – who narrates Benny’s life and teaches him to listen to the things that truly matter.
I struggled to find a way to get started with this month’s chain, so I’m afraid I’ve had to take the easy way out again and use shared words in titles for my first link. Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson (1) is another novel with the word ‘Book’ in the title. It was the first I read by Stevenson and although it’s not a favourite, I did find it entertaining: Barbara Buncle decides to write a book, drawing on her friends and neighbours for inspiration – but not all of them are happy when they discover what she has done!
I sent a copy of Miss Buncle’s Book to another blogger as part of a Persephone Secret Santa back in 2010. Alas, Poor Lady by Rachel Ferguson (2) was the book published by Persephone that I received from my Secret Santa in return. I was very grateful to the blogger who chose it for me because I loved it! It tells the story of the Scrimgeour family, beginning in the Victorian period and ending in the 1930s. The Scrimgeours, once very wealthy, have fallen on hard times and the novel describes the attempts of several of the daughters to find work in a world where their gender and class means their options are limited.
Next, I’m linking to another book by an author with the name Rachel: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (3). This is a lovely novel about a man who sets out to walk five hundred miles from Devon to Berwick-upon-Tweed to visit an old friend who has been diagnosed with cancer. He hopes that his walk will somehow help her to stay alive. I never read the sequel, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy and now there’s a third book on its way – Maureen Fry and the Angel of the North. I think I’ve got some catching up to do!
A different sort of pilgrimage takes place in Requiem for a Knave by Laura Carlin (4). Set in the 14th century, our narrator, Alwin of Whittaker, travels to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in search of clues to his father’s identity. Along the way he is joined by a small group of other pilgrims who help him to uncover the truth about his past. This was an interesting novel but was spoiled for me by some very heavy-handed messaging regarding feminism and the abuse of women by men which would have been far more effective if it had been more subtle.
Walsingham is the name of a place in North Norfolk, but it can also be a surname. Probably the most famous historical figure to have that surname is Francis Walsingham, secretary and ‘spymaster’ to Elizabeth I. He has appeared in several novels I’ve read, including Elizabeth I by Margaret George (5), a fictional account of the final years of Elizabeth’s reign – the period between the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and her death in 1603. Although I had some problems with the length and pace of the book, I found it an interesting, if slightly dry, portrayal of the older Elizabeth. I’ve only read this book and The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George, but I do have a few of her others on the TBR.
My final link is to a book about a very different Elizabeth. In Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim (6), our narrator describes a year in her life and the changes she sees in the garden of her home in northern Germany as the seasons go by. First published in 1898 and written in the form of a diary, this is a charming and often funny read. I still need to read the sequel, The Solitary Summer.
And that’s my chain for August! My links have included the word ‘book’, Persephones, authors called Rachel, pilgrimages, Walsingham and the name Elizabeth.
In September, we’ll be starting with the book that finished this month’s chain.