Six Degrees of Separation: Notes on a Scandal

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.

This month our starting book is…

Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller

The affair between a naive art teacher and a fifteen-year-old pupil is a tough subject, given that Heller makes her protagonist quite sympathetic in a way, but the real villain of the novel is Barbara Covett, an embittered old spinster who covets Sheba, and manipulates the whole situation to reach her target. Sheba Hart is weak – she’s let everyone manipulate her; her older husband, her horrid teenage daughter, her ghastly mother. So when one of her pupils pays her too much attention, she basks in it and then takes it too far. Barbara, lest we forget is the narrator, and quite the unreliable narrator.

Another novel with a character named Barbara is:

How Hard Can it be? by Allison Pearson

Barbara this time is a supporting character, the mum-in-law of protagonist Kate Reddy who, in this sequel to the wonderful and bestselling I Don’t Know How She Does It, published in 2002, is approaching the big 5-0 and is perimenopausal, and needs to get back into the world of work after having her family. This novel is such am enjoyable read, lightweight but funny and witty, moving and honest too. It is full of scenarios we can all identify with, yet it is also satisfyingly escapist in its resolution. 

Another novel with a ? in the title is:

Are We Having Fun Yet? by Lucy Mangan

Mangan’s first novel told in diary form à la Provincial Lady, is the natural inheritor to Pearson’s. Narrated in diary fashion by Liz, she tells us all about her family, husband Richard (lawyer), sensitive son Thomas (7) and whirlwind daughter Evie (5). There is also her ‘coven’ of school-gate mum best friends and all their relationship problems, alongside the day to day problems of running a home, working and baby bosses, finding a plumber and so on. It made me laugh out loud many times and I loved every word. 

Another novel by a Mangan is:

Tangerine by Christine Mangan

Alice and Lucy had roomed together at an exclusive college for girls in Vermont, becoming close friends. Eventually, the girls fall out and go their separate ways after an ‘accident’, the details of which we’ll only find out much later. Alice, who is British returns to England to live with her Aunt Maude, and within a year or so ends up marrying John, to her own surprise. They move to Tangier, where they live on her allowance and John does, well, something. Alice doesn’t take to Tangier though, the change is rather too much for her, knowing no-one and she becomes increasingly scared of going out on her own. One day there is a knock on the door – it’s Lucy… Right from the start, you know there’s something off between the two young women…

Tangerines are citrus fruits:

Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins

This is the story of lovers Ray and Luz and is centred in a near-future California that’s been systematically dried out, there is no water left. Ray and Luz had been hiding out up in one of the canyons in a former starlet’s mansion. When, on a trip for supplies down into LA, they’re left with a baby girl who calls herself Ig to look after, they opt to take her with them. Those remaining in California are either being left behind in a sort of hippy daze, or are being chased inland by the encroaching sand known as the Dune Sea.  Eventually they set off but will get separated when Ray needs to search for fuel, leaving Luz and Ig to be found by Levi, the legendary dowser and leader of a travelling community which moves just ahead of the Dune Sea. It’s not perfect, it’s overwritten,  but I enjoyed this very hippyish post-disaster novel.

Another Cli-fi novel is:

The Healer by Antti Tuomainen

For every cli-fi novel of drought, there will be one where the world is drowning, and Finnish author Tuomainen’s combines that with a noir thriller as a man sets out to find his missing wife, a journalist who had been researching a serial killer known as The Healer. The Healer is pure noir, but in such a well-imagined setting. The narrator poet’s Helsinki is disintegrating before his eyes, it’s always raining, many formerly safe places are no longer, looters and vigilantes roam, vehicles are abandoned or set on fire, it’s a different city now, it drips atmosphere (literally!). Loved it.

Staying with spec fiction in:

Kings of a Dead World by Jamie Mollart

Kings of a Dead World is set in the near future, in which the world inhabited by the subjects of this novel is now broken. Climate change has wreaked havoc on the world, in Britain large areas are flooded, uninhabitable. The world can’t support those left, so a radical programme has been put in place–the majority will spend three quarters of the year asleep, waking every three months for one month of so-called normal life. Robots keep crops growing to feed everyone, and all is managed and overseen by a team of ‘Janitors’ who stay awake, one for each of the remaining cities where everyone now lives. The novel is told in three strands and voices, two contemporary, and one in flashback from around fifty years earlier–before people slept. Whether intentional or not, Mollart’s novel felt very Ballardian to me, and I liked that aspect a lot. I really enjoyed this thought-provoking and suitably complicated spec fiction novel.

My six degrees this month has taken me from the very middle-class world of modern domestic drama to a climate ravaged near future. Scary stuff! Where will your six degrees take you?

14 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: Notes on a Scandal

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Gold Fame Citrus was definitely on the wacky side, but an interesting addition to the drought cli-fi genre.

  1. CLM (@ConMartin) says:

    I found Notes on a Scandal the perfect book group book – lots to discuss although too disturbing to actually like.

    I have some near misses with your selections! I did enjoy I Don’t Know How She Does It but never read the sequel. If it is on audio, it would be perfect to listen to in the car on my way to work.

    During the pandemic I bought Lucy Mangan’s Bookworm but have not come across her other books. Perhaps she is not published in the US?

    Tangerine got great reviews but I didn’t have the energy for it so I got it from the library for my sister to read it instead! I will have to see what she thought.

    Here is my chain:

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      We read the Heller for book group too – as you say, a perfect choice. That’s Lucy Mangan’s first novel, (she is a TV critic for The Guardian). I hope she writes more as she’s very witty. Tangerine was a little undercooked but was enjoyable – another debut.

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