Six Degrees of Separation: Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

First Saturday of the month and new year too, 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.

This month our starting book is… 

Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

Not a book I’ve read, but I like the green and flowery cover! For my links this month, I’m going to take the forename Tom – a quintessentially English boy’s name and base all my links on similarly typical names, alternating between girls’ and boys’ names and working backwards through the years of my encounter of the books with names in the title. 2023 didn’t have any good choices, so my link to a 2022 name is via

The Problem of Susan and other stories by Neil Gaiman (read in 2022)

No one would disagree that the way that Lewis disposes of Susan in The Last Battle is both heartless and cynical, despite a way being theoretically left open for her to return to ‘Aslan’s Country’. It’s a very convenient thing to say that because she is now interested in lipsticks and nylons she has lost her faith, and thus the way to Narnia. Neil Gaiman was annoyed by this and wrote a short story called ‘The Problem of Susan’, which you can read as a graphic novel version or in the original print. I didn’t warm to the style of the graphic artist, and was left even more conflicted about Susan!

I Was Jack Mortimer by Alexander Lernet-Holenia (read in 2021)

Published in 1933, this Austrian novel gives a European take on gangster movies when a Viennese cab driver does a bit of stalking of a rich young woman, then a passenger called Jack Mortimer gets shot in the back of his cab. It’s thrillerish, noirish, but none of the characters are very nice and the cab driver protagonist is irritating, but it was an interesting novel!

Dora: A Head Case by Lydia Yuknavitch (read in 2020)

Inspired by one of Sigmund Freud’s most famous cases, Dora was the pseudonym Freud gave to his patient Ida Bauer, an older teenager who suffered from aphonia (loss of voice) and a cough, and he diagnosed her as suffering from an overabundance of emotion – ie hysteria. Yuknavitch takes these basic facts and runs with them to create a contemporary interpretation narrated by Ida, who prefers to be called Dora (after Dora the Explorer). She’s a high school arts student in Seattle with a depressed mum and a philandering dad and weekly visits to Dr Sig. And then there is Marlene – a half-German’ manwoman’ from Rwanda who is Dora’s friend and surrogate mother. A coming of age story told in Yuknavitch’s earthy style!

The Lost Letters of William Woolf by Helen Cullen (read in 2019)

William Woolf is a letter detective. He’s worked at the Dead Letters Depot in East London for eleven years, one of a team dedicated to finding the right home for all the letters and packages that arrive with missing, torn or smudged address labels, wrong destinations, unreadable handwriting. His marriage has gone stale, and when a letter on midnight blue paper arrives on Valentine’s Day, William develops

Daphne: A Love Story by Will Boast (read in 2018)

Although a very English-sounding name, Daphne comes from myth, where she was a nymph who rejected the advances of Apollo and her father turns her into a tree to protect her. Boast’s Daphne suffers from cataplexy. Although a very English-sounding name, Daphne comes from myth, where she was a nymph who rejected the advances of Apollo and her father turns her into a tree to protect her. Boast’s Daphne suffers from cataplexy, and experiencing any strong emotion can render Daphne temporarily paralysed, anytime, anywhere. Daphne’s life in San Francisco is rooted in coping mechanisms, finely honed in the years since her diagnosis. However, when she meets Ollie, it was rather lovely to read about them getting to know each other in this way. But Ollie does begin to shake things up, surprising her in carefully calculated ways, and she begins to live a little. Will they last? A beautifully written and challenging novel which I loved.

Vernon Subutex 1 by Virginie Despentes (read in 2017)

Despentes’ trilogy, wonderfully translated by Frank Wynne, are state of the nation novels for the post-punk generation. The books follow the life and career of Vernon, a failed record shop owner, reduced to sofa surfing as he’s totally broke. The only thing that might save him are a set of tapes of interviews with the dead rock star Alex Beach, who had been Vernon’s best friend and patron. These tapes will become the mcguffins that set a thrillerish sub-plot in motion as a corrupt producer is after them.This intense and powerful novel full of flawed characters was a compelling read and felt very real in its awfulness. You sympathise with Vernon for in spite of the drink and drugs – his ‘beautiful eyes’ reeled me in, and there’s something about him that you feel deserves some kind of redemption, but that’s for the other volumes of the trilogy. Given my love of novels which rock’n’roll, this was absolutely brilliant.

From Tom > Susan > Jack > Dora > William > Daphne > Vernon.
The names I chose may be typically English, but the books whose titles they appeared in travelled more widely. Where will your six degrees take you this month?

7 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

  1. Kristina says:

    I was so confused at first, as I was looking for a Tom in the Susan book 😂
    Now I get it; that’s a sharp link that I wouldn’t had thought about!

  2. Marina Sofia says:

    Find it hard enough to think of links, let alone themes, so I really admire people who can do that! I haven’t read Tom Lake, although I’m planning to, so will have to think extra hard to find a connection. Daphne to me always sounded like a Greek name (in fact, my ex-sister-in-law is called that).

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