Last month was the first I’ve missed of my favourite monthly tag for ages! Six Degrees of Separation 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:
What Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez
A woman supports her friend with terminal illness through her last months as her friend prepares to die, by her own hand. It’s a very sad subject, but Nunez treats it with a lightness of touch and some deadpan humour by mixing observation and plot, interspersing the ongoing story with the narrator’s musings about aspects of her life and reflections on literature, sprinklings of recounted conversations with others, including her ill friend. Very similar in style to her previous book The Friend, in which a woman takes on her dead friend’s dog after his suicide. Both wonderful, I preferred the former, but only because I read it first.
For my link I shall use the question in the book’s title to go to another question…
Are We Having Fun Yet? by Lucy Mangan
This is the new first novel of the journalist author of Bookworm, a memoir of her childhood reading. Are We Having Fun Yet? is a year in the life of Liz’s family, 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. (If you loved Allison Pearson’s pair of novels, I Don’t Know How She Does It, and How Hard Can It Be?, you’ll love this book even more).
Mangan’s book was inspired by an earlier set of fictional diaries…
The unnamed ‘Provincial Lady’ has a daily struggle to run her household. Published in 1930, this was an era when the middle-classes still had servants. The PL has Cook, a housemaid and French governess for her young daughter Vicky to contend with apart from husband Robert, who falls asleep reading the newspaper, and Robert who boards at Prep School. Luckily for us, the PL says all the things she wouldn’t say out loud in her diaries, which are delightful and witty.
I shall stay with fictional diaries for my next link…
The Rev Diaries by Adam Smallbone (aka Jon Canter)
Rev was a superb sitcom on the telly, about a young Anglican country vicar who transfers to a church in the tough, multi-cultural inner city in London, and the trials and ordeals he faces as a priest in an old church with a dwindling congregation and a management and money-oriented church hierarchy. Added to which, he and his long-suffering wife (the brilliant Olivia Coleman) are trying for a baby, and their relationship is always under pressure from the needs of his parishoners and his ongoing crisis of faith. This spin-off book continues the hilarity by converting the first two series into the Rev’s diaries. Absolutely hilarious!
Keeping with the diaries theme, I’m moving from fiction to reality…
Breaking the Code: Westminster Diaries by Gyles Brandreth
Brandreth’s parliamentary career as Tory MP for Chester wasn’t long-lived, but it was eventful. Do click through to read the John Prescott and the ‘woolly jumper’ story quote – arguably his highlight. Brandreth is a well-read wit, who helped William Haig on his speech-writing team, and his diaries reflect this. Real life political diaries don’t get much wittier than his.
From one kind of political memoir to another…
This Boy by Alan Johnson
Johnson is probably one of the best leaders the Labour party never had – shame – but he showed other talents in writing his series of memoir, beginning with This Boy, telling the story of his childhood, bor in 1950 and brought up in deprivation in Notting Hill. His mother died when Alan was 12, and he was essentially brought up after that by his slightly older sister Linda, as their father was absent. While not strictly political, Johnson won the Orwell prize for political writing for this volume as well as the Ondaatje Prize for sense of place in 2014. This reminds me I must read the next volumes.
Virtually next door to Notting Hill is Camden, where my next link is situated…
Gloucester Crescent by William Miller
Subtitled ‘Me, my Dad and Other Grown-ups’, Miller’s memoir is mostly concerned with said Dad – the polymath Jonathan Miller, doctor, comedian, writer, director, Jewish, left-winger. From the 1960s Gloucester Crescent and surrounding roads was the most literary corner of London – indeed Alan Bennett was the Miller’s lodger before he bought his own house (to be immortalised in The Lady in the Van), others included George Melly, Michael Frayn, Claire Tomalin, Mary Kay Wilmers of the London Review of Books (whom Nina Stibbe nannied for and wrote about in Love, Nina), Beryl Bainbridge, Kingsley Amis, Joan Bakewell and Oliver. It was an interesting place to grow up in and William tells his family story with wit and affection.
With the exceptions of Sigrid Nunez and the provincial lady, my choices this month are centred in London this month and are stylistically linked by memoir and diaries, both real and fictional. What would you choose this month?