First Saturday of the month, and it’s 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. Our starting book this month is:
No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood
A book I’ve not read – yet! I do own a copy, and its continuing inclusion on prize short/long lists has elevated it up my TBR list. Soon! I gather it embraces texting, which also occurs in…
Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff
This is a YA novel, but one in which the writing, despite its young heroine and her best friend text each other, makes for a great adult read too. Picture Me Gone is a complex and intelligent exploration of parenthood and the effects that events can have upon relationships, seen through the eyes of twelve-year-old Mila who is on a road trip with her father to find his missing best friend who disappears as they were about to travel to see him. Mila is that rarity – a totally reliable narrator amongst all the unreliable adults – she’s easy to engage with. As is one of the other key characters in the novel – the dog of the missing man, a white Alsatian, who is ignored by the missing man’s wife. Mila thinks: ‘She has beautiful brown eyes. Loneliness flows off her in waves.’
Brilliant by Roddy Doyle
Another children’s novel featuring a dog is Roddy Doyle’s Brilliant. It gives us a child’s eye view of living with someone who’s depressed; then it takes the childrens’ very literal understanding of what the adults call the ‘black dog’, and runs with it. Doyle’s black dog becomes a scary phantasm of a real creature, and the children are determined to run it out of town. Given that it was written for children, as an adult read Brilliant is overdone, but an interesting addition to the growing collection of recent novels for younger readers tackling mental health issues.
The Light in the Dark by Horatio Clare
Turning back to books for adults, Horatio Clare’s memoir of a period of depression over one winter. Conceived partly as a nature diary, it chronicles the experience of living through the winter, but also as positive writing therapy against the winter blues of the darker months that Clare suffers from. Clare’s determination to find ‘the Light in the Dark’ made this book a compelling and lyrical read with some exquisite nature writing and moving personal notes. Clare lives in the Calder Valley in Yorkshire, which is where my next book is set…
Elmet by Fiona Mozley
The story is narrated by Daniel who is fourteen. He and his older sister Cathy live in a house his Daddy has built in Yorkshire near the London to Edinburgh railway line on land not owned by him. The two of them don’t go to school any more, having experienced trouble there due to their outsider status. Daddy looks after them. But then Mr Price who owns the land, comes to demand rent, and things escalate. Mozley’s evocative writing is able to capture the extremes of this novel really well – from lovely, lyrical, descriptive passages about nature, landscape and trains constantly rumbling by, to the visceral violence of Daddy’s fights and the underlying menace that is always there. Daniel, by comparison is gentle young man, unlike Cathy who has had to learn to become strong and more like Daddy, who stands like a colossus over this electrifying debut novel which richly deserves the plaudits it has garnered.
Elmet is the name given to an ancient Celtic kingdom in Yorkshire, in the Calder Valley, written about by Ted Hughes, whose character ‘Crow’ inspired my next book…
Grief is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter
Two young boys and their Ted Hughes scholar father are suffering after the sudden death of their mother. Crow sees their despair and visits them, teasing and irreverent, nurturing, caring, helping them until they no longer need him. The author uses the three voices of boys, Dad and Crow to tell the story in short vignettes of text that include poems and prose-poem form as well as dialogue and more straight-forward description. I particularly enjoyed the character of Crow – but couldn’t help but see him as an edgier Nanny McPhee, as she says: ‘When you need me but do not want me, then I must stay. When you want me but no longer need me, then I have to go.’ – but mixed in with some Crow mythology and full of resonance with Hughes’ Crow poems.
Folk by Zoe Gilbert
Another book with prominent birds on the covers and in its pages is Zoe Gilberts debut novel. Set on a remote island called Neverness, Folk tells the stories of er, well… the folk that live there, told over the course of a generation. As such, the book is a short story cycle, rather than a straight novel, with each chapter focusing on different main characters, who may then crop up in supporting roles in other stories. All of these stories are suffused with beautiful writing about nature, the seasons, flowers, birds, bees and all God’s creatures. There’s a fecundity in the air though, which mingled with the handed-down rituals from myth and folklore that govern the lives of Neverness folk, infects you as you read. It’s heady stuff. Gilbert’s new novel, Mischief Acts is out in March – can’t wait.
Where will your six degrees take you this month?
Mine started with a US road trip, thence to Dublin, a stay in Yorkshire and finally, a story cycle inspired by the Isle of Man.