Six Degrees of Separation: January Game

January is already halfway through, and although I have been known to wait until the last minute to play along, it’s high time to join Kate’s meme from Booksaremyfavouriteandbest.  This month’s starting book is No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith.

I don’t think I have ever read one of the mysteries of this series on paper, but I have listened to them all, as they were dramatized and broadcast by BCC Radio 4 extra, the British literary radio (for lack of better definition), back before podcasts became the thing to listen to. I used to be an avid listener of this radio online, and somewhere in 2016 I kind of lost the habit. I loved the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency light mysteries, they’re the epitome of cozy, entertaining mysteries. Nothing stressful, and easy exoticism. This might be a good as well as a bad thing, depending on your mood and degree of seriousness.

Which makes me jump to another series, even lighter if possible, and also dramatized by BBC Radio 4 Extra, Agatha Raisin, by M.C. Beaton. For some reason, the title of the first mystery, Agatha and the Quiche of Death, never fails to make me smile. This is my kind of humor, I guess. It didn’t spoil anything that Agatha was played by Dame Penelope Keith, who is the quintessence of a British lady. I read a few, listened to a few more, until they all mixed happily together in my brain like British mushy peas.

Of course, Agatha Raisin made me think of Agatha Christie, and Penelope Keith was indeed the main character in a 1980s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s play The Spider’s Web, which I watched recently, but it was not a book so I chose The Body in the Library instead, because if you go the cozy way, dead bodies have to be found in the library, where else? This one is a Miss Marple’s early mysteries, published in 1942 and set in one of those quintessentially British manor.

Which made me think of another British manor and a book published right before the war, The Priory by Dorothy Whipple, published by Persephone Books. To say that it is one of my favorite books is a vast exaggeration, but it is a great reading experience, although it seems such a small and banal story from the outside that it’s hard to explain.

My next book has to be a Persephone Book too, my favorite of those, the short story collection Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes, written between 1939 and 1944. War worries, food restriction, fear and evacuations are underlying themes, but just as Dorothy Whipple, Mollie Panter-Downes excels at taking tiny, mundane details to highlight her point.

I could have continued with some wartime diary, but instead I choose to remain very British and to go with Sylvia Townsend Warner and her novel Lolly Willowes. In fact, I have a short story collection of hers that I have to finish this year. Lolly Willowes starts all prim and proper, with a spinster that could be friends with Miss Marple, until her love for nature, her rebellion against conventions turns her into a witch (revealing her true self, and unleashing her deep power, of course). I absolutely loved it.

To stay on British soil until the end, with dark and powerful forces revealed through innocuous-looking women, I think of Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane. Neil Gaiman lives in the US but he was born in the UK, and this story is reminiscent of old fairy tales and magic tales woven through Celtic traditions or classics such as Lord of the Ring. It is a fairy tale for adult, because it’s scary and dark. It’s quiet a departure from Alexander McCall Smith and Mma Ramotswe, but I guess strong women with lots of wisdom is the common ground of these books.

What’s your take on this game? Where will Mma Ramotswe take you?



Six Degrees of Separation: August

I have a lot of blog posts to catch up, but one post by Marina Sofia reminded me that I had not contributed to the fun meme hosted by Kate from Booksaremyfavouriteandbest for this month… yet. Technically, it’s still August, so I can still play, right?

Especially as this month’s pick is no other than Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Who am I to resist another attack of Mr. Darcy’s wet shirt? But funnily enough, the first thought I had about Pride and Prejudice was not for the dashing gentlemen, but for the Bennett household full of five sisters!

There are so many novels with sisters, and somehow I skipped the most obvious one that would be Little Women, to go right to another set of favorite sisters of mine: Mary, Laura and Carrie Ingalls from The Little House on the Prairie. I know, that’s a bit of a stretch to come from British reception rooms to the great outdoor of the American prairie, but besides the obvious point that there’s a lack of money in both books, the second sister is in both books the spunky main character who achieves unexpected things!

Once I was outdoor, there was no going back indoors! Minnesota’s frontier and Ma Ingalls’ nerves and resourcefulness made me think of Elinore Pruitt Stewart, another homesteader who was determined to make it on her own in the empty territories of the West. I recently read her Letters of a Woman Homesteader, that she wrote in Wyoming at the beginning of the century (from 1909 to 1913). She was determined to show that a woman had it better in the wilderness than if she remained in poverty in the city slums.

And I can believe that living in city slums was quite hard when I remembered the fate of young Francie Nolan growing up in Brooklyn in the same period (The book starts when she’s 11 in 1912). Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn doesn’t sugar-coat the life in tenements, but her main character is resourceful and always positive, and I’d like to think that she and Elisabeth Bennett would get along fine together. I read this book several years ago as an adult, and I can see why this is a classic.

Francie Nolan is Irish-American, her parents are immigrants of the first generation, and although New York tenements weren’t great, they probably were a step up from dire poverty in Ireland. That’s how I crossed back the Atlantic to reach…

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. It’s ironic that I give this book’s title in this meme because I didn’t like the book. At. All. It was a real tear-jerker and I didn’t like being emotionally manipulated into feeling sorry and depressed over little Frank. But it is so full of whiny clichés for Irish poverty memoirs that it is a reference and a jumping-board to define what you don’t want when it comes to poverty novels, and books about Ireland in general…

And so I leave this book behind to turn to Tana French’s Faithful Place, the one book that introduced me to Tana French in the first place. Another Frank, another dysfunctional Irish family, another case of sordid poverty, but a lot more nuances than in Angela’s Ashes. In Faithful Place, the move that Frank and his girlfriend Rosie want to attempt is not to get to America like Francie Nolan’s parents and Franck McCourt, not to settle down into new territories like the Ingalls or Elinore Pruitt, they just want to go to London (like one of the Bennetts sisters?).

Another spunky Irish girl who wants to go to England and whose fate is dark and mysterious is April Latimer, a friend of Dr Quirke’s daughter Phoebe in The Silver Swan, the third Dublin mystery by Benjamin Black, aka John Banville. I loved reading those books and I quite enjoyed the series with Gabriel Byrne. April is supposed to have crossed over to London, and just like Rosie, no one has heard from her ever since. Benjamin Black’s 1950s mysteries are filled with atmosphere, dripping with rain and Catholic repression and guilt. A whole different tone from Jane Austen, but the language is just about as refined.

Well, the game didn’t make me travel far geographically, but the last book is about as far from the first in terms of genre and tone and period as you can get!


Six Degrees of Separation: July

I had so much fun last month, so I’m taking a few moments off from filling up boxes to think about book titles (always better than wasting time on Instagram or Pinterest, right?). The meme is hosted by Kate from Booksaremyfavouriteandbest and picks a starting book for participants to go wherever it takes them in six more steps.

866451-HangingRockThis month’s pick is Picnic at Hanging Rock, a Joan Lindsay novel set in Australia, in a stifling all girls’ boarding school. (Unless last month’s novel which I didn’t know at all) I read the novel and saw the movie waaay too early as a teenager, and it was very striking and memorable to my young self. I remember the frilly dresses (completely inappropriate for the rocky wilderness) and the heated atmosphere. I have a thing for novels set in boarding school and so I thought of…

76817-LittlePrincess1. Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the first novel I read about boarding school. The Japanese anime series was totally addictive when I was a kid, and I reread many times the book. Another gloomy view of boarding school that marked me as a teenager was of course…

10210-JaneEyre2. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë, that starts with some memorable chapters set in Lowood charity school. Jane’s indomitable character, both unflinching and idealist, made me think of another girl on the cusp of adulthood, but seen this time from a cynical, satirical point of view:

581559-CharlotteSimmons3. Charlotte Simmons, by Tom Wolfe. Yes, it’s a bit of a stretch, but Charlotte Simmons is portrayed as a naive, idealist, pure girl from a small-town highschool entering an elite university, and I can’t help but think that Jane Eyre, if not for her Victorian moral backbone, could easily have turned out into a Charlotte Simmons. At any case, that was exactly what Jane was determined not to become.

9844-Prep4. Another outsider thrown into a cut-throat school environment is Prep, by Curtis Sittenfeld. I read it a few years ago, back to back with Charlotte Simmons, and I must confess my memory is a bit hazy. It’s set in a boarding school so we definitely stay in the same setting. Still I remember loving more…

6185835-AmericanWife5. American Wife, by the same author Curtis Sittenfeld, on a banal, bookish, rather conventional Midwestern middle-class girl who ends up marrying the future President of the United States (not Trump, obviously, but a fictional Bush). I remember liking this soft-spoken main character who teaches elementary school and works as a school librarian a lot. The presidential train of thought was a tough one to follow, so the best association for this book would be…

11806495-SummerWithoutMen6- A Summer without Men, by Siri Hustvedt, for the recurrent setting in the Midwest. Many books by Hustvedt reference her native Minnesota, but I chose this one because, well, an all-female cast of characters was a nice allusion to Hanging Rocks’ school, and the main character in this novel also teaches girls during the summer.

From Australia, to London, to Yorkshire, to New York and the Midwest, hopping from one girls school to the next, I have somehow come full circle, haven’t I?

Six Degrees of Separation

I first heard of the Six Degrees of Separation meme through Marina Sofia of Finding Time to Write. And then I noticed that Elle played too ! It seemed so much fun that I had to try. The meme is hosted by Kate from Booksaremyfavouriteandbest and picks a starting book for participants to go wherever it takes them in six more steps.

This month’s pick is Shopgirl by Steve Martin, a title I had absolutely no clue about. All I knew about it was Marina Sofia’s short description, about a satire of life in Los Angeles. But it was enough to let my bookish imagination run wild as I immediately thought of…


1- Bret Easton Ellis’ Letters from L.A. It’s a short story / novella that I read years ago (like 10 years!) but memorable, because I don’t usually read about L.A. and I don’t really enjoy satire, which I often mistake for grotesque tragedy (oh, wait, maybe that’s what it is about?). Letters from L.A. is one story from the collection The Informers. Of course this is not his best-known book nor is it the most shoking one…

2- American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis was a book that shocked me as I read it in my early 20s. I didn’t read graphic violence or porn or gore, or anything in the horror genre, and it was physically hard for me to read on. I was sure it was going to be an important book, although maybe for the wrong reasons.

3- Which led me to The American Pastoral by Philip Roth, another title claiming to be the “Great American Novel”. Especially as a non-American, these titles always seem daunting and I waited way too long before starting this novel which proved engrossing and sensitive. But after one Roth I couldn’t stop, so I had to pick…

4- Philip Roth’s Plot against America, an alternate history novel that imagines what would have happened if anti-Semite Charles Lindbergh had won the US elections over Roosevelt, stopping the US from entering the war against Nazi Germany. Of course, it made me think of another alternate history bestseller…

5- 11/22/63 by Stephen King, that left me breathless and reeling after 30 hours on audiobook last year! To a French person of my generation, the series of numbers of the title doesn’t automatically mean J.F.K., but once my mind was set on the 1960s and the Kennedys, I thought of another one…

6- Black Waters, by Joyce Carol Oates, is the retelling of a famous deadly event of the late 1960s, in which a girlfriend of Ted Kennedy’s drowned in a car accident on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts near Martha’s Vineyard.

In 6 steps, I moved from the West Coast to the East Coast, and from light satire to dark psychological terror! It was so much fun, I might want to try taking another detour… What about you, what are your 6 degrees?