Six Degrees of Separation: Second Place

My favourite monthly tag, 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:

Second Place by Rachel Cusk

Longlisted for the Booker Prize, I’ve yet to read this, but I have purchased a copy. Watch this space as they say!

As for linking this month, the ordinal number in the title leapt out at me. Even numbers yielded few possibilities, so I’ve gone with just the odd ones, no more explanation needed, beginning with:

The First Book of Calamity Leek by Paul Lichtarowicz

A group of girls with strange names live in a walled community looked after by Aunty with occasional visits from Mother. They spend their days cultivating roses and vegetables, looking after pigs, and sewing cushions. They live in a barn with straw beds and furs for blankets – I thought it might be a post-apocalypse dystopia, but that’s not quite right. It does gradually become clear and the story of how things came to be in this enclosed world and its purpose, will surprise and horrify in equal measure. The story of this community is narrated by Calamity Leek who, as a teenager,  is one of the older girls in the group. Having grown up believing that the world beyond the wall is full of injuns and that she is being prepared for war she has a distinctly odd world-view. Calamity, being favoured by Aunty, is the keeper of the Index – an ever-expanding book of rules the girls live by, and it is her job to read from the rules each night. When another of the oldest girls, Truly Polperro makes a failed attempt to get over the wall, Calamity wonders what she might have seen and Truly’s desperate act of rebellion will change everything…

Third Reich by Roberto Bolano

Third Reich was written in 1989, but it wasn’t published until 2010 in Spanish and 2011 in English translation (by Natasha Wimmer), having been discovered posthumously amongst Bolano’s papers. Narrated by Udo Berger, a German champion war gamer, the novel is a diary of his holiday on the Costa Brava with his girlfriend Ingeborg. It’s late in the season, and Udo is returning to the hotel where he spent many summers as a child. Udo sets up his wargame in the hotel, and Ingeborg has to find her own entertainment. If you don’t want to read about a WWII boardgame, this won’t be for you, especially as Udo becomes more and more unreliable. The supporting characters in this story are so much more interesting than Udo, but self-obsessed as he is, they remain tantalisingly out of reach most of the time. Given that it was published posthumously, it felt a little unfinished in places…

In the Fifth at Malory Towers by Enid Blyton

I wasn’t a slavish Blyton reader – I did the Famous Five but not the Secret Seven for instance. However, I did read both Malory Towers and St Clare’s sets and I can only remember that the latter has twins. Still it was good to track down the Malory Towers paperback edition for the fifth form I had as a child (first pub in 1950).

Seventh Heaven by Alice Hoffman

This is one from my TBR. I really enjoy Hoffman’s novels, and this one published in 1990 sounds irresistible. The setting is 1950s suburbia, and when Nora Silk comes to town, a liberated single mother with two kids, she is determined to make her way and everyone is touched by her in some way. Hoffman’s website suggests that her own mother was the model for Nora.

The Ninth Life of Louis Drax by Liz Jensen

I read this novel pre-blog – and my spreadsheet just says “Great psychological mystery read.” Set in France, Louis Drax is nine-years-old. He’s a bright and disturbed problem child who believes that he is on his ninth life, having survived eight previous near-death experiences. When he falls off a ravine, he survives but is left in a coma, his father disappears, his mother is catatonic with shock. What happened? A French doctor has to delve deep into their lives to coax him back. I should read more books by Liz Jensen, she’s always fun to read.

The Eleventh Letter by Tom Tomaszewski

This novel is a sophisticated ghost story that plays with memory. Chris, a psychotherapist finds himself having to spend the night in his office when heavy snow brings the capital to a halt. He sees a woman outside and he invites her in. Kay discovers some old tapes of interviews from a murder trial that Chris had been involved in as a psychiatrist in the defence of Louise, accused of the ‘Pisa killings’ back in 1986. Chris had been convinced she was innocent. Kay persuades him to play the tapes. The narrative starts to jump between then and now, except that increasingly now feels like then and sometimes then feels like now for Chris who feels as if he was seeing Louise again, reliving the events of 1986. Kay appears to be the catalyst for bringing all the confusion and trauma Chris suffered and repressed back to the surface to deal with at last. But who is Kay?

My six degrees have taken me from a 1950s boarding school to 1950s suburban USA, present day London, Provence and Spain.

Where will your six degrees take you?

22 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: Second Place

  1. kimbofo says:

    Ha! I thought about doing this with the book titles, too, but abandoned the idea. I really love the sound of Calamity Leek… will add it to my wishlist.

  2. MarinaSofia says:

    Very clever idea, although I’m not sure I’ve read that many books with numbers in their titles. I had the pleasure of attending a Luz Jensen workshop at a writing conference in Geneva and can confirm she is very much my kind of person: fun, witty, with a dark imagination!

  3. Margaret says:

    Linking by ordinal numbers was my first thought when I saw the chain began with Second Place – I forgot that when I wrote my post!!! I like to use books I’ve read or have on my TBR lists when I make a chain, so I abandoned the number theme early on. You did well with yours – and I loved Blyton’s Malory Towers and St Clare’s books as a child. I wonder if the new editions of those have been ‘revised’ to be pc, like the Noddy books?

  4. Lexlingua says:

    Malory Towers! I used to love Enid Blyton as a kid, those characters would always be off on a picnic and get to have some delicious food. 😀 I remember Third Reich too, that voluminous tome that I don’t think I ever finished. A very innovative chain, this was so much fun.

  5. Helen says:

    The ordinal numbers link occurred to me too late, after I’d already put my chain together! I loved Enid Blyton as a child and had those same editions of the Malory Towers books.

  6. Kate W says:

    Malory Towers! Always loved it. I heard they were making a tv series based on the books and hadn’t seen anything about it for ages. Your chain prompted me to see where it was up to, and to my delight, it’s being shown free-to-air in Australia. Yay!

  7. stargazer says:

    Ah, clever idea to link via the numbers. And how nostalgic to see Enid Blyton in your chain. I too read the Famous Five, but didn’t even know she wrote other books than those.

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