Six Degrees of Separation: Kairos by Jenny Erpenbeck

First Saturday of the month, time for the super monthly tag Six Degrees of Separation, which is hosted by Kate at Booksaremyfavouriteandbest, Six Degrees of Separation #6degrees picks a starting book for participants to go wherever it takes them in six more steps. Links to my reviews are in the titles of the books chosen. I’ve missed a couple of months due to sheer busy-ness, but I’m back – albeit a day late…

This month our starting book is… 

Kairos by Jenny Erpenbeck

Winner of this year’s International Booker Prize. I’ve not read it, and am not sure as the only other Erpenbeck I tried was Days Without End, which was a DNF for me. So for my link I will pick another Jenny

Girls Against God by Jenny Hval

Translated from the Norwegian by Marjam Idriss. My, what a strange novel this was – my elevator pitch would be ‘a feminist dark metal manifesto’. I was drawn to the cover of this one, which suggests witches, and then read the blurb which talks of Edvard Munch and ‘black metal’ and I felt I had to give the novel which was published in translation in 2020 a try, (even though heavy metal of any kind isn’t really my scene, bar a few big hits). Black metal originated in Norway and appears to be the most extreme of all with its associations with Satanism, being fiercely anti-Christian and the ‘corpse paint’ make-up that bands and fans wear. Hval’ is more so, her’s brand of angry feminism is shown through a horror lens in this novel – she was a singer-songwriter first, and one of her solo albums – Blood Bitch from 2016 is about vampires and menstruation, themes which surface in this novel. Very strange – read it if you dare!

I shall pick a very different Norwegian novel next…

Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to you in All the Confusion? by Johan Harstad

Translated by Deborah Dawkin. Published in 2005, despite what you may think from the title, it’s not really about the Apollo space program, it does partially concern one man’s view on what happened next to the second man to walk on the moon though. That one man is thirty-year-old Mattias, who works in a garden centre and has a quiet life. Dumped by his girlfriend who feels held back by his passivity, and jobless due to the recession, he agrees to go to the Faroe Islands as a sound engineer for his friend’s band. The next thing we know, Mattias wakes up soaked through in a bus shelter well outside the island’s main town and he’s in some mental distress.  A driver stops, and that is Mattias’s lucky day, for Havstein is a psychiatrist who runs a halfway house for patients who aren’t quite ready to make a go of it on their own in the world yet after institutionalisation and the rest of the novel charts Mattias’ progress back to health. A thoughtful and laid back novel that was very enjoyable.

I will take the astronaut as my link to…

Orbital by Samantha Harvey

The most lovely book I’ve read this year so far, not only has Harvey’s novella got a gorgeous cover, but it has an ultimately uplifting and optimistic view about the Earth and the ravages of climate change so far. Seen from orbit by six astronauts in the International Space Station over the course of a single day in which the ISS orbits the Earth sixteen times, covering the whole surface of the planet. Harvey’s writing is brilliant encompassing the macroscopic and the microscopic as we get glimpses into the astronauts’ own lives and thoughts. Beautifully done.

My link will be space to…

The Explorer by James Smythe

Cormac Easton is the only remaining living astronaut on the spaceship Ishiguro. Cormac is not even a proper astronaut – he’s a journalist; his part in the team is to observe and document the voyage, to blog and film and send the footage back home.Their mission was to go into deep space, the deepest manned mission ever; then they would turn around and arrive back home heroes. That was the plan, so they thought, but it starts going horribly wrong as the astronauts all die one by one. What killed them? I couldn’t possibly say, except that as SF novels go, this one is a psychothriller (and first in a series). Despite the infinity of space, the atmosphere in the ship is intensely claustrophobic right from the start. Initially we’re in dark about what happened as much as Cormac is, and as we only hear his voice, we have to question him too. It was totally gripping, in the same way that the film Moon was.

My link will be via explorer to…

Explorers of the New Century by Magnus Mills

It’s always a pleasure to include a Mills novel, and his fifth novel is another very dark and subversive comedy about his speciality – men and their work. This time though, it’s not about manual labourers, white van-men, bus drivers or any of their ilk; instead, he’s taking on expeditions to destinations unknown of the beginning of the last century. Mills’s satire this time initially targets the race between Scott and Amundsen to reach the South Pole – his subjects are not usually so obvious. The British team bicker all the way, yet that reserve of British stiff upper lip stands them in good stead. And so it goes on. Day after boring day. They all inch towards their goal. You wonder when something is going to happen, and when it does, it comes completely out of left-field, and things turn even darker, more surreal and twisted than before. Classic Mills.

My link is via Captain Scott to…

The Birthday Boys by Beryl Bainbridge

It’s always a pleasure too to include a Beryl book, and this is one of her earlier historical novels after she moreorless stopped mining her own life for plots. She tells the story of Scotts fated expedition to the Antarctic in five parts: one given to each of the men in the team. We begin with Taff Evans, followed by Dr Wilson, then Scott himself, fourth comes Bowers and finally Titus Oates – and we all know his ending. Each of the five has a distinct tale to tell and their characters come through really strongly, as does the inhospitable Antarctic – essentially the sixth character in this book.  Bainbridge has really brought the expedition to life, finding the inner voices of them all, which are the opposite of all the stiff upper lip on display, and the blind obeying of orders. In her hands, Scott is both sympathetic and flawed – held back by indecision, totally deflated by Amundsen’s not being a good sport, a meticulous planner, yet always able to rally the men. A wonderful read.

I’ve gone from Norway to the Faroes, out into orbit then deeper space still, before coming back to Earth in the Antarctic. Where will your six degrees take you?

13 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: Kairos by Jenny Erpenbeck

  1. Litlove says:

    I have Orbital to read and am really looking forward to it. Not sure I could get all the way through Kairos, though I am sort of intrigued by it (but probably not enough, given all I have to read….).

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Orbital is one of those books I’d love to buy in bulk and give everyone for Christmas, once the paperback comes out. I suspect Kairos is not a book for me, but it’s not as if I don’t have hundreds, even a thousand or more to read!

  2. MarinaSofia says:

    Orbital is on my TBR list for sure, everyone seems to love it. I did quite love Kairos, but then I am an Erpenbeck fan, but even so, I think it got a little bit bogged down in the middle and could have been a bit shorter. Did love the allegory of unequal and abusive relationships that the German people had with the state, and the comparisons between East and West.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Based on my previous experience with Erpenbeck, I’ll give Kairos a miss I think, but I would enjoy reading about the comparisons between East and West etc as you say.

  3. Literary Feline says:

    Orbital is one of the many books on my TBR shelves. I am glad you enjoyed it! I am not familiar with The Explorer, but I am interested based on what you wrote about it. I will be checking that one out. I haven’t read Kairos myself and the sample I read didn’t impress me, I’m afraid.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Orbitalis just lovely. The Explorer was not a hit with my book group – it all goes a bit strange… I’ve read the sequel which is even stranger, but not the third one yet – he was planning 3 or 4 I think.

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