Six Degrees of Separation: From Passages to The Venice Train

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 Passages by Gail Sheehy, a bestselling self-help title from the 1970s. I haven’t read this book and doubt I ever will, but here’s what it’s about:

At last, this is your story. You’ll recognize yourself, your friends, and your loves. You’ll see how to use each life crisis as an opportunity for creative change – to grow to your full potential. Gail Sheehy’s brilliant road map of adult life shows the inevitable personality and sexual changes we go through in our 20s, 30s, 40s, and beyond. The Trying 20s – The safety of home left behind, we begin trying on life’s uniforms and possible partners in search of the perfect fit. The Catch 30s – illusions shaken, it’s time to make, break, or deepen life commitments. The Forlorn 40s – Dangerous years when the dreams of youth demand reassessment, men and women switch characteristics, sexual panic is common, but the greatest opportunity for self-discovery awaits. The Refreshed (or Resigned) 50s – Best of life for those who let go old roles and find a renewal of purpose.

I couldn’t think of any way to link this book to anything else I’ve read so instead I’m linking to a book I haven’t read yet, but do have on my TBR – A Passage to India by EM Forster (1). So far I’ve only read Howards End and A Room With a View by Forster and although I enjoyed them both I still haven’t got round to trying any of his others. His 1924 novel set in India during the time of the British Raj will probably be the next one I read.

Damon Galgut’s Arctic Summer (2) is a fictional biography of Forster, concentrating on the time in his life when he was working on A Passage to India. I liked Galgut’s writing and the descriptions of India and Egypt, but otherwise found this book boring. I think my lack of familiarity with Forster’s life and work was partly to blame – all the more reason to read more of his books sooner rather than later – but I also felt that Galgut chose to focus too heavily on Forster’s sexuality and romantic relationships, which just didn’t interest me very much.

The Magician by Colm Tóibín (3) is another novel about the life of an author, in this case Thomas Mann. Again, my knowledge of Mann and his work is limited (I’ve only read Death in Venice and some of his short stories), but I’d seen a lot of praise for this book so tried it anyway. The book takes us through Mann’s childhood in Germany, his marriage, his experiences during World War II and his later years in Los Angeles and Switzerland. I found it interesting but didn’t connect with it on an emotional level and I prefer the way Tóibín writes about fictional characters.

The title of the Toibin novel makes me think of a book featuring a character who becomes a magician: Fifth Business by Robertson Davies (4). This is the first book in Davies’ Deptford Trilogy and although I enjoyed it, I still haven’t read the other two. Fifth Business is narrated by Dunstan Ramsay, who grows up in the small Canadian town of Deptford. Dunstan suffers from guilt after ducking to avoid a snowball with a stone in it which hits a pregnant woman instead and almost everything that happens to him from this point on can be traced back to that incident.

Another book in which snow plays a significant part in setting the plot in motion is Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (5). Hercule Poirot is a passenger on the Orient Express when the train comes to a stop in a heavy snowfall. When a man is found stabbed to death in his compartment, it seems clear that the murderer must be among the other passengers on the train. I already knew the solution before I started this book, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it and I can see why it’s one of Christie’s most popular mysteries.

Christie has written several other novels set on trains, but I have chosen to end my chain with one by a different author: The Venice Train by Georges Simenon (6). This is one of Simenon’s standalone thrillers, which he described as romans durs or ‘hard novels’. On a train journey from Venice to Paris, Justin Calmar finds himself left with a briefcase belonging to another passenger and, unable to resist the temptation, breaks the locks and looks inside. The rest of this dark and suspenseful novel explores the psychological effects on Justin caused by the contents of the case.

And that’s my chain for March. My links included: the word ‘passage’, EM Forster, novels about authors, magicians, snow and trains. I like to look back and see whether I’ve made the chain come full circle, but the only connection I can find between the last and first book is the theme of journeys – The Venice Train deals with a physical journey and Passages with a journey through life.

In April we’ll be starting with Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography, Born to Run.

25 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: From Passages to The Venice Train

  1. margaret21 says:

    An interesting chain. I haven’t read this particular Galgut, but you haven’t exactly over-sold it. Likewise the Magician seems to have had mixed reviews. Luckily I don’t think that on this occasion you’ve added to my TBR.

    • Helen says:

      I’m glad I’m not responsible for making your TBR any longer this month! I did like Galgut’s writing so will probably try another of his books to see whether it was just the subject of this one that was the problem.

      • margaret21 says:

        It’s always interesting when bloggers write about books they haven’t loved. And really, don’t we all look for excuses not to add to our already tottering virtual piles of books?

    • Helen says:

      Thanks! I struggled to get started with this month’s chain – it’s always difficult when you’re not familiar with the first book.

  2. Margaret Quiett says:

    Loved the post today as Mann and Forster are two of my favorite authors. I enjoyed both “The Magician” and “Arctic Summer” (which I just read last month after a very lucky tip from another book site), but I admit I’ve read biographies and other works about the life of Mann and Forster and it helps to have lots of background knowledge to enjoy these fictionalized accounts.
    Do read “A Passage to India”—it’s undoubtedly Forster’s masterpiece. It’s good to know something of the history of the Raj in India to fully appreciate.
    On Mann, my favorite is “The Magic Mountain”, but “Buddenbrooks” is an easier read to start with for those just beginning to explore this astounding writer.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, I think I would have appreciated Arctic Summer and The Magician more if I was more familiar with the life and work of Forster and Mann. I’m glad you enjoyed them both – and I will definitely read A Passage to India at some point!

  3. whisperinggums says:

    The only book here I’ve read is A passage to India which I loved. (I had a big Forster phase in my life a long time ago, and read many of his novels – inspired by A passage to India). So I am intrigued to read Galgut’s Arctic summer. I have read several of your other authors – just not those books – like Colm Tóibín’s The master (another author inspired novel), and Robertson Davies. I’ve never read a Christie or Simenon but I’ve watched plenty of adaptations. So I enjoyed your chain because I could relate to it easily, but it gave me a couple of good recommendations as well.

    • Helen says:

      Thanks! I just wish I had read A Passage to India before reading Arctic Summer as I think it would have made me appreciate it much more.

  4. mallikabooks15 says:

    Very nice chain! I hadn’t come across the Galgut and while like you I will likely not enjoy the heavier focus on Forster’s personal life, I think I might still want to look up the book. Am glad to see Fifth Business here because this reminded me I’ve been meaning to read it.

    • Helen says:

      The Galgut is definitely worth reading, particularly if you’ve read A Passage to India. I really enjoyed Fifth Business – I must read the second book in that trilogy soon!

Please leave a comment. Thanks!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.