Six Degrees of Separation: From Notes on a Scandal to The Surgeon’s Mate

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 Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller. Here’s what it’s about:

Schoolteacher Barbara Covett has led a solitary life until Sheba Hart, the new art teacher at St. George’s, befriends her. But even as their relationship develops, so too does another: Sheba has begun an illicit affair with an underage male student. When the scandal turns into a media circus, Barbara decides to write an account in her friend’s defense—and ends up revealing not only Sheba’s secrets, but also her own.

I haven’t read Notes on a Scandal and it doesn’t really appeal, so I’ve been looking at some reviews to try to find inspiration for that all-important first link. The only thing that struck me is that Sheba’s full name is Bathsheba Hart – and I immediately thought of another fictional character with that name, Bathsheba Everdene in Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy (1). It’s not one of my favourite Hardy novels but I did enjoy it. It’s less tragic than some of his others and has a wonderful hero in Gabriel Oak.

My next link is to another novel with the word ‘far’ in the title. The Booker Prize-nominated Far to Go by Alison Pick (2) is the story of a Jewish family, the Bauers, living in the former Czechoslovakia in the 1930s. With the German annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938, the Bauers send their six-year-old son to Britain on the Kindertransport. I found this an interesting and moving novel, particularly as I had never read about the Kindertransport in fiction before.

Another book with a Czech setting is Melmoth by Sarah Perry (3). This dark and atmospheric Gothic novel set in modern-day Prague explores the story of Melmoth the Witness (an imaginary legend which Perry has loosely based on the Charles Maturin classic Melmoth the Wanderer). Through a sequence of stories-within-stories, we see how the Melmoth legend has touched the lives of people throughout history. I enjoyed it, but preferred Perry’s previous novel, The Essex Serpent.

The protagonist in Melmoth is called Helen, which is also my name, as well as the name of the heroine of Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (4). The main part of the story unfolds through the diary of Helen Huntingdon, the ‘tenant’ of the title, who describes how she tries to escape from her marriage to an abusive alcoholic husband. Critics at the time considered the novel shocking and ‘coarse’, but I loved it and I’m sorry that Anne Brontë never seems to get as much attention as her sisters, Charlotte and Emily!

There are a lot of books that are written completely or partially in the form of a diary, but the one I’m going to link to here is Marking Time by Elizabeth Jane Howard (5). Set in the early years of World War II, this is the second book in Howard’s series, the Cazalet Chronicles. The story is told from the perspectives of several members of the Cazalet family, including the teenage Clary, who records her thoughts and observations in her diary. I enjoyed this and really need to continue with the third book soon; I just hope I can remember enough of the first two books to be able to pick up the threads of the story again.

Another series I’m in the middle of is Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey and Maturin series. I never thought I would like these books as they’re set mainly at sea and I usually struggle with anything nautical, but I’ve found that it doesn’t matter too much if I don’t understand all the naval terms and sea battles; the quality of the writing and the central relationship between the main characters, Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, make up for that! The Surgeon’s Mate (6) was the last one I read and is the seventh book. With a total of twenty-one books in the series, I still have a long way to go!


And that’s my chain for this month. My links have included: the name Bathsheba, the word ‘far’, Prague, fictional Helens, diaries and series-in-progress.

In November we’ll be starting with The Naked Chef by Jamie Oliver.

25 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: From Notes on a Scandal to The Surgeon’s Mate

    • Helen says:

      I haven’t seen the film either so didn’t know much about the book until it was chosen for this month’s Six Degrees. Maybe I’ll give it a try at some point!

  1. Davida Chazan says:

    Well, if you want to read a truly excellent novel about the Kindertransport, you should read The Last Train to London by Meg Waite Clayton. Although she’s not Jewish, she tells the story from the viewpoint of the woman who arranged for the first Kindertransport out of Vienna. Beautifully done, excellent research (I know three people who were on that first train, so trust me she did a great job) and really well written. I reviewed it on my blog. Lovely chain here.

    • Helen says:

      Thanks, Davida – I’m definitely interested in reading more about the Kindertransport, so I’ll look out for The Last Train to London. It does sound good!

  2. Cyberkitten says:

    I know what you mean about the Aubrey and Maturin series! He doesn’t take any prisoners with his nautical terms which, of course, aren’t explained (except sometimes with a drawing of a ship and its sails at the front) but, as you say, it doesn’t really matter. You do pick things up along the way through context and the quality of the writing just sweeps you along. Only read two of O’Brians books yet, but more will definitely make it into the review stack.

    • Helen says:

      I don’t think I’ll ever understand all the nautical terminology! I was making such good progress with the series, then got distracted by other books – I need to get on with the next one sooner rather than later!

  3. FictionFan says:

    I suspect you might like Notes from a Scandal – it’s not really as grim and grubby as the blurb suggests. I have both Far from the Madding Crowd and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall on my CC list, so I’m sorry the first isn’t a favourite, but glad to hear you loved the second!

    • Helen says:

      I enjoyed Far From the Madding Crowd – I just didn’t find it as memorable as some of Hardy’s others. It does have a really lovely hero! The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is great, though. I hope you like both of them when you get to them on your CC list!

  4. margaret21 says:

    Like you, I’d never seriously thought if reading any Patrick O’Brian, but on your recommendation, perhaps I should. Far to Go looks interesting and for some reason isn’t reservable at the library. But this is an interesting and well-constructed chain. Thanks.

    • Helen says:

      I don’t think I’ll ever understand all the nautical terms in Patrick O’Brian’s books, but I’ve found that I can usually follow the story quite well anyway. That’s a shame about Far to Go. I can hardly remember it now, but I know I liked it.

  5. mallikabooks15 says:

    Such fun you had your name as a link this time! I did enjoy both Tenant at Wildfell Hall and Agnes Grey (what awful children she had to deal with); Far From the Madding Crowd is the only other I’ve read from your chain, though Melmoth (and indeed the original) is on my list to get to; Glad to hear that the Aubrey/Maturin books can be enjoyed by one who isn’t too comfortable with nautical language (one reason why I’ve avoided them so far).

  6. BookerTalk says:

    I’ve long wondered about the Patrick O’Brian series. He has such a huge and loyal fan base and people I know who have read him comment on how superbly he evokes that world. But I’ve hesitated because I know so little about ships and nautical things that I feared I might be completely lost

    • Helen says:

      You can definitely follow the plot without having any knowledge of nautical terminology, although it would probably help if you did. I tend not to worry about those bits and concentrate on enjoying the world he has created and the relationships between the characters.

  7. CLM (@ConMartin) says:

    My mother is a huge Patrick O’Brian fan but I don’t think I finished the first one. I didn’t hate Notes on a Scandal, which my book group read long ago, but I can’t say I enjoyed it either.

    I did like the Cazalet books although only remember the first two. I wonder if I forgot to finish the series?!

    I am also reading Fool Errant!

    • Helen says:

      I find that the Patrick O’Brian books get easier to read as you go on, particularly if you don’t worry about following all the nautical terminology. I don’t think I really want to read Notes on a Scandal, although a lot of Six Degrees participants seem to have enjoyed it.

      Fool Errant is my first Patricia Wentworth novel. I had intended to start with the Miss Silver books, until I noticed that one would work for 1929 Club!

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