Six Degrees of Separation: A Gentleman in Moscow

Hosted by Kate at Booksaremyfavouriteandbest,  Six Degrees of Separation picks a starting book for participants to go wherever it takes them in six more steps.

Links in the titles will take you to my reviews. This month – the starting book is:

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

One of my favourite books of recent years. This is the story of a Russian Count who is imprisoned under house arrest in the Moscow Hotel where he resides in 1922. It follows his life there through the decades, as his circumstances change – evicted from his plush apartment into servants’ quarters, his growing friendships with the hotel staff, whom he joins as a waiter, using his years of experience on the other side of the table. There are friendships with guests too including the nine-year-old Nina, and a relationship with a willowy actress, plus late night talks with a former Colonel, who wants to understand the West. Towles tells the Count’s story with a light touch and tons of empathy. This is just a wonderful novel. My link is the hotel, which takes me to:

The Last by Hanna Jameson

This features a Swiss hotel in the mountains, and its inhabitants are also sort of imprisoned – not by regime though, by nuclear war! Jon Keller is an American historian who was at a conference there when nuclear Armageddon happens. The book is in the form of his diaries written over the next couple of months. However it’s not just a dystopian survival drama, The Last is more of a locked room mystery as a body is discovered. One of the twenty guests and staff who remained must be the murderer. I enjoyed the edge given to the mystery by the post-nuclear war situation. The hotel is surrounded by forest where things happen and this is also the case in:

In the Woods by Tana French

The first novel in Irish author Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series was an absolute cracker, introducing us to a pair of great detectives – Rob Ryan, who has his own secrets, and Cassie Maddox, the only woman on the squad. There’s a new motorway being built outside the city at Knocknaree, and the archaeological dig there will be wound up soon – however, the body of a young girl is found on the site. She’d lived in one of the houses in the estate by the woods. Everyone has something to hide! Over 450 pages, but full of suspense – I couldn’t put it down. The Dublin setting links to my next choice:

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle

Not my favourite Doyle novel (that’s The Van), but this is the one that won him the Booker Prize back in 1993. It follows ten-year-old Paddy through one year of his life. Paddy is mischievous, always up for a lark, running with his gang who are definitely modelled on Just William’s – Paddy tells us he’s read all 34 of the books – but they are naughtier, more streetwise, cocky and rude as only ten-year-olds can be, and they love fighting. Paddy also has to put up with his younger brother Francis, known as Sinbad, hanging on, typical sibling rivalry, but Paddy does look out for Francis. Paddy tells us about his days in vignettes – there are no chapters. In typical Doyle fashion, speech is indicated by a dash, and there are long conversations between Paddy’s mind-dumps. The structure is very stream of consciousness, with Joycean echoes (not that I’ve read any Joyce, but this is what I’m told!). Paddy also jumps from one thing to another and the reader must run with the non-sequiturs – Doyle nails the ten-year-old’s voice completely. The Booker judges have rarely rewarded comedy, but Paddy Clarke’s slightly experimental form overcame their reluctance. Another comic novel that won a big prize was:

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Less won the Pulitzer Prize, no less, in 2018! A proper comic novel, it follows the trials and tribulations in the life of an author who was most famous for having been the partner of a literary giant for some years, then throwing himself upon the literary round-the-world gravy train to avoid having to go to the wedding of another more recent former boyfriend. Soon to be fifty, Arthur, clad in his trademark blue suit sets off on his quest to stave off his mid-life crisis only to be the victim of misunderstandings and constant mishaps. A chucklesome novel with a likeable everyman protagonist. My link shall be through the word ‘less’ in its sense of small/smaller amount, leading to:

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

The third volume in Chambers’ Wayfarer series, this novel is set in the same milieu, but with a different set of characters and can be read alone. When humans finally broke Earth, they evacuated the planet in a vast fleet of spaceships, the Exodus Fleet. Their aim was to find a new home, but this was centuries ago, before first contact, and now the Fleet orbits around an unused sun belonging to the Aeluons who welcomed the humans into the Galactic Commons (GC). The original mission is no longer needed, nor a return to Earth. With the technological help of their new alien friends, the Exodans live in a Utopian and inclusive community where everyone’s needs are taken care of. We follow the stories of five of the spaceborn aged from 18 to 80+, their very different roles and hopes within the fleet, concentrating on the period after a tragedy happens to one of the ships. Chambers is, for me, the current queen of SF world-building. There is drama in her novels, but also an abiding sense of optimism that life is out there, and that life will continue, so my final link is to another novel with super world-building:

The Bees by Laline Paull

Writing a novel with animals as your characters is a daring thing. You have to tread a fine line between anthropomorphism and the nature of the beast. If the creatures are to communicate, the author will have to put words in their mouths; if you’re not going to dress them up and humanise them like Toad, Ratty and friends in The Wind in the Willows, then much attention needs to be paid to their society as well as the practical details of their habitat. Paull shows us life within the hive, from the lowliest sanitation worker bees right up to the Queen seen through the eyes of Flora who rises through the ranks. What does distinguish The Bees from other novels is the complex society of the hive which, in Paull’s hands, becomes a totalitarian state with a scheming Praesidium increasingly managing an ageing leader in their Queen.  Yes it’s a dystopian political thriller with some astounding world-building.

My choices this month have taken us from Moscow via Switzerland to Dublin, then the USA to launch another round-the-world tour, heading out into space before turning for home into the hive. Quite a trip! Where will your six degrees take you?

18 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: A Gentleman in Moscow

  1. Kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    Ooh, interesting chain! I loved A Gentleman in Moscow so I’ll be watching to see where people take this one!

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      You should check out Lisa’s chain – she goes to Zuleika a contemporary Russian novel from Towles. It sounds rather fab.

  2. Liz says:

    Great chain! I could not get on with Less, but think that I am in the minority judging by the numerous rave reviews, I love the sound of The Bees though!

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I think some people found it a bit slight perhaps – but I enjoyed it thoroughly for the gentle comedy (with occasional barbs) that I found it.

  3. Davida Chazan says:

    Wow… The Bees sounds really unusual. Not sure its for me, but I see where it could be very interesting. Also, I MUST get my husband to read some Tana French – those books sound perfect for him.

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