Six Degrees of Separation: The Book of Form and Emptiness

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:

The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki

I’ve yet to read this novel, which won the Women’s Prize this year, or any other of Ozeki’s books, although I think I have her one, My Year of Meat on the shelves. I gather that the protagonist of this one, young Ben, hears things around his house speaking to him, which leads me to…

The Octopus Man by Jasper Gibson

This very funny, but equally harrowing and moving novel, tells the story of a man suffering from schizophrenia who believes that the voice of Mallock, the Octopus God speaks to him and controls his life. Written from the experience of having a family member suffer, Gibson writes with great understanding and compassion, but also makes us laugh with Tom all the way – never at him. Simply brilliant! The octopus will be my link to…

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

Pulley is a novelist who is obviously obsessed with octopuses, they pop up in all of her books in one way or another. This was her debut, a steampunky, Victorian adventure thriller, with a mysterious title character who has a clockwork octopus called Katsu, who is definitely alive. A super debut. Clockwork will be my link here to…

Clockwork by Philip Pullman

This children’s novella is one of Pullman’s favourites of his own work. To finish his apprenticeship, Karl has to make a new clockwork figure for the town’s clock – but with one night to go has got nowhere; Fritz, a writer, has come to the inn to tell them a scary story, but suffering from writer’s block hasn’t finished it … they have both set wheels in motion and this story needs to be wound up! A fantastic Gothic fairy tale for older children. Set in that old Germanic world of the NutcrackerCoppélia and the Tales of Hoffmann, this short novel has suspense and horror aplenty in its 92 pages and the conflict is neatly resolved by the power of love. Did I mention Hoffmann – ah yes, so that leads me to…

The Sandman by ETA Hoffmann

Anyone who has seen the ballet Coppélia or operetta The Tales of Hoffmann will be familiar with the second half of this story which features in both. A young man forsakes his true love for an obsession with a doll. Traumatised by tales of the evil Sandman as a child, and an evil man who threatened to blind him, will Nathanael see through Olimpia’s beauty to the hollow shell within? Gothic and creepy indeed. I shall run with the Hoffmann opera to…

The Hourglass by Liz Heron

Set in Venice, this is the story of a mysterious 19th-century opera singer, Esme, and a researcher, Paul, who has come to Venice to talk to the widow, Eva, of an opera collector whose collection, he hopes, will shed some light on her career. When Paul is brought papers from the 1680s to look at he is confused, but that is where we need to go to begin to unravel Esme’s truth. This tale of reinvention and love will appeal to anyone who enjoys historical fiction with a twist, or reading about Venice, the city which, arguably, is the real star of this novel be it in 2000, 1680, or anywhere in between. I shall stay with Venice for my final choice…

Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon

La Fenice being Venice’s famous opera house, which repeatedly burned down, the last time being in 1996, it reopened in 2004. Death at La Fenice is the first book in Leon’s long-running Commissario Brunetti series (there are now 31 volumes!). I always get the feeling that life in Italy’s cities is full of bureaucracy and petty battles between all involved in government. You either embrace it or try to ignore it – Leon’s detective Inspector Brunetti does the latter and it is his ambivalence and refusal to join in office politics rather than kicking against the system that makes him a more refreshing kind of maverick detective!

From voices to Victorian London, I went off to Gothic Germany, ending in Venice this month. Where will your six degrees take you?

17 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: The Book of Form and Emptiness

  1. Davida Chazan says:

    Is the book The Sandman what the new TV series is based on? If so… I might take a look if it has something to do with The Tales of Hoffman. I love that opera. Lovely chain.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I haven’t started watching (nor read) Sandman, but imagine either Hoffmann’s version (used as a threat of blinding to children) or Andersen’s more benign (sprinkling sand into eyes to send sweet dreams) or a combo of the two were inspirations to Gaiman. Hoffmann’s is certainly very creepy.

  2. Helen says:

    Great chain! I would love to read The Sandman, but have another Hoffmann book on my shelf that I should probably read first. The Hourglass sounds tempting as well – Venice is one of my favourite settings.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      So many great novels set in Venice. The Heron was a good read with a fantastic edge. Hoffmann is great, I should read more of his tales.

  3. CLM (@ConMartin) says:

    Great chain! I don’t think I’ve read any of these but am surprised the Pullman doesn’t sound familiar (I don’t know if you, having also reread the Narnia books, have any residual mock annoyance with him re his condescension as to Narnia). I like his Sally books the best.

    The Natasha Pulley sounds intriguing, also The Hourglass. My mother really likes the Donna Leon series; I should try it again but found book 1 hard going. I do like Venice, however!

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Thank you. Clockwork seems to have been an early Pullman one-off. I love reading him, but he is rather a snob re Narnia, isn’t he? The Pulley and its sequel The Lost Secrets of Pepperharrow are superb, but I loved her second novel best so far – The Bedlam Stacks – Victorian plant collectors in South America discover a world full of natural magic. The first Brunetti book wasn’t the best, but I have read several more and enjoyed them a lot.

  4. mallikabooks15 says:

    I am still to read that Pullman; in fact the only ones of his I’ve read are HDM and two of the Sally Lockhart books; and the Filigree street book too, for that matter is one I’ve been meaning to get to; the octopus reminded me of House of Salt and Sorrows (a twelve dancing princesses retelling) which also had an octopus as the family crest. Great chain!

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Reminds me to get a move on and read the Second Book of Dust one. I shall look out for House of Salt and Sorrows – I love a fairytale retelling and that’s one of my favourites. Thank you for mentioning it.

  5. margaret21 says:

    Another Donna Leon fan! Your choice was the first one of hers I ever read, but it led me into being one of her Faithful Followers. An interesting chain.

  6. stargazer says:

    Great chain, I love octopuses! If I were ever to write a book, I would make sure to include them, one way or another 😉 . And as I just told Margaret, I recently read Death at La Fenice and enjoyed it very much!

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