Six degrees of separation is an idea of Kate’s at Books are my Favourite and Best, where the idea is that everyone begins with the same book and links to six other books to form a chain. To find out more take a look here.
The start book this month will be different for everyone because it is either the last book you read or the one you ended the last one with which in my case was Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabwala, a Booker Prize winner set in India. You get heat and dust in a desert and so my next book is Desert Hearts (Film) /Desert of the Heart by Jane Rule.
The book was a landmark lesbian novel that came out in 1964 and was turned into a film in 1986. I went to see the UK premier. Every lesbian in London was in that cinema (slight exaggeration) and it was a very appreciative audience! It’s about a college professor who comes to Nevada to get a divorce. She has to be resident for six weeks and in that time she has an affair with a young casino worker. It’s a long time since I’ve read it and I imagine it’s fairly dated now but reading it in the 80s was a big fat relief mainly because it wasn’t The Well of Loneliness which is my next book.
What to say about The Well of Loneliness (1928)? It’s a lesbian classic and Hall was brave to write it but it’s extraordinarily overwrought, gay people are described as inverts and they are all miserable and doom laden, so don’t read it if you want to be cheered up. And don’t whatever you do give it to your parents. The writer Mary Renault (see below) read it in 1938 and remembered laughing at its “earnest humourlessness” and “impermissible allowance of self-pity.” So you’ve been warned! Moving swiftly on, let’s now jump down that well. And here we are in a Haruki Murakami’s book, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, in which a man ends up spending some time in the bottom of a well. Don’t ask me why but he definitely does. I don’t remember him being that lonely. I think he goes down there to think. Oh, and there’s a missing cat and a man gets skinned alive. Well, that’s Murakami for you. Be warned.
Another book Murakami wrote shares a title with an Ernest Hemingway book titled Men Without Women.
Hemingway’s was a collection of short stories. The Undefeated is about an injured bull fighter trying to work his way back into the ring. Bull fighting was one of Hemingway’s obsessions (see Fiesta) and so this brings us to the aforementioned Mary Renault and her book, The Bull from the Sea.
Prod most historical fiction writers and they may well cite Mary Renault as one of the reasons they write in that genre. The Bull from the Sea describes what happens when Theseus returns home from having vanquished the Minotaur and is the sequel to The King Must Die. I wonder what she would make of the many books coming out covering the Greek Myths: The Song of Achilles, Circe, The Silence of the Girls, A Thousand Ships, Orpheia etc, etc… I could have gone there but instead I’m going to wade into that sea. But only up to my ankles.
Sea is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, isn’t it? Too many potential places to go. The Sea, the Sea, by Iris Murdoch. The Waves by Virginia Woolf. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. I started with a Booker prize winner and so I could end with John Banville’s, The Sea. That would deliver a nice kind of symmetry but instead I’m going to jump to another book of his The Untouchable, a brilliant book that should have won the Booker, but didn’t. A much better book, incidentally than The Sea. It’s about the spy Anthony Blunt. If you have any interest in the Cambridge spies, Philby, Burgess and Maclean or the earlier John le Carre novels check this one out. You won’t be disappointed.
So, I’ve started in the Desert and ended with spies. Maybe I should have put The English Patient in there or Lawrence of Arabia or Ice Cold in Alex. But I have to stop because that’s my six. Doing this is proving strangely addictive! If you’d like to join in, check out Kate’s website and get going. Next month (5th December) begins with a book celebrating its 50th year, Are You there God. It’s me Margaret? by Judy Blume.