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.