Six Degrees of Separation: Hamnet

My favourite monthly tag, 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 where they exist. This month our starting point is Maggie O’Farrell’s Women’s Prize winning novel Hamnet, which is still sitting on my bedside bookshelf. I find it hard to pick up historical novels, but once I do, I usually really enjoy them, so I hope I’ll get to Hamnet sooner rather than later.

For my first link, as Ham in a net was one of the clues in this years Caboodle Hidden Books Game, I’m using Ham which comes from Pigs to get to…

The Boy Who Kicked Pigs by Tom Baker

The Boy Who Kicked Pigs is by that Tom Baker – yes, the fourth Dr Who. (Incidentally, I can really recommend his autobiography Who on Earth is Tom Baker?), and having read that was intrigued to read this truly bizarre and gothic novella. It tells the story of an evil thirteen year old who kicks pigs – it starts off with his sister’s piggy bank, but progresses to anything porcine including a bacon butty which is his downfall: he pledges revenge. Although written as a children’s story in style – a bit Lemony Snicketish, it most definitely is not – but fans of Tim Burton would love it. It is also full of arcane adult references from the 1960s – from Will Fyffe (eccentric news reporter) to Hylda Baker (Lancashire actress). Clocking in at just 124 pages, of which half are evocative line drawings, it doesn’t take long. I found that imagining Baker himself narrating made for an entertaining reading!

Where do you find pigs? On the farm, where you’ll also find…

Poor Cow by Nell Dunn

Dunn’s portrait of working class life and young motherhood in mid-1960s Battersea is fresh and funny, touching and shocking, and her heroine, Joy, is utterly unselfconscious. It’s full of cracking dialogue too. I can see why this novel was so shocking when it was first published in 1967. Joy’s overt sexuality, her very earthy language, her adultery – but she does love her little son Jonny, and so hopes to make a better life for him – be it with Dave or Tom – or carry on her own. Loved it.

Also on the farm are sheep…

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick

I’ve read PKD’s most celebrated novel a couple of times, but not since I started this blog. You’ve probably seen the film it inspired, Blade Runner, but if you fancy a high concept philosophical SF read, I’d recommend the book in which Deckard is a bounty hunter tasked with finding rebel androids. At one point in the novel, he buys his wife a goat, which leads me to…

The Men Who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson

One from my TBR this time. I’ve yet to succumb to journalist Ronson’s charms, but am looking forward to reading this or another of his non-fiction books which are much loved. This one is all about some of the extraordinary lengths the US government has gone to in the War against Terror. This includes a crackpot top secret unit being trained in ESP which will enable them to kill by staring at things. They practice on goats!

We’re still on the farm…

The Boy Who Stole Attila’s Horse by Iván Repila

This Spanish novella is, on the face of it, very simple. Two brothers stuck in the bottom of a well. The Small brother gets ill, the Big brother looks after him. Will one of them ever get out to get help? Read between the lines and it is an economic allegory about the state of Europe, the haves and have-nots, the brothers being the latter of course. I wouldn’t have got the allegory without knowing first about it. But an enjoyable novella none the less.

And moving to the hen house for my final pick…

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-mi Hwang

Another novella, this Korean bestseller is a delight. The story of an ageing hen, Sprout, ejected from the coop for her lack of egg-laying prowess, who adopts an egg when its mother is taken by a weasel. Little does she know, that egg is from a duck. With the farmers in the background and the snooty barnyard animals there’s just enough of a hint of Animal Farm, Roald Dahl and nature taking its course to give the edge needed.  Sprout is a wonderful caring mother, brave and loyal and she knows the meaning of sacrifice. 

My six degrees has taken me all around the farmyard. Where will yours take you?

20 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: Hamnet

  1. stargazer says:

    Haha, I love how you quickly got from historical fiction to farm animals! I haven’t read any of them, but am curious about Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (it’s a brilliant title).

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Thanks. PKD had some fab titles for his books. I love taking a sideways step on this meme each month, love thinking them up.

  2. Mareli Thalwitzer says:

    You are sooooo clever!!! I loved reading this post! Well done to you Miss McDonald! (Who lived on a farm hie-ha-hie-ha-hoo)

    Mine are just the boring lets-go-with-the-first-letter theme.

    Elza Reads

  3. Lexlingua says:

    Oh, goodness, how charming! Would never have thought of fables about barn animals, or using them as euphemisms for more macrocosmic themes. The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly sounds adorable. And from what I know, cuckoos often do that: leave their eggs in other birds’ nests so the other birds can take care of the eggs. Lazy pigs (pun intended), those cuckoos.
    ~Six Degrees Post @Lexlingua

  4. margaret21 says:

    The only one I’ve read from your chain is the Sun-mi Hwang, which I agree is a delight. I shan’t be in a hurry to read the Ronson – his Guardian articles used to drive me nuts, but all the rest might well qualify as TBRs. Great chain!

  5. MarinaSofia says:

    You can’t go wrong with an animal-inspired chain (although I’d have struggled to jump for Hamnet to pigs)! I have a lot of time for Nell Dunn, and indeed plan to read her non-fiction work this year.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      As I said, I borrowed the sideways step from the Book Tokens website. On Nell Dunn, I have Up the Junction on my shelves, but would love to write her memoir The Muse about Josie who was the inspiration for Poor Cow I think.

  6. Rebecca Foster says:

    I remembered that someone had suggested ham in a net on the Caboodle Facebook page last year when they were trawling for ideas for the following year’s quiz … so I went back to the comments on that old post and found a few hints when I was stuck!

    Believe it or not, I’ve read the Philip K. Dick, for a book club, and a couple of Ronson books (though not that one). They’re such fun and quick reads. The Psychopath Test was a particularly apt one to read while there’s been a psychopathic narcissist in the White House.

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