My favourite monthly tag, hosted by Kate at Booksaremyfavouriteandbest, Six Degrees of Separation picks a starting book for participants to go wherever it takes them in six more steps.
Links in the titles will take you to my reviews where they exist. This month it’s a wild card – with the instructions to start with the book you’ve ended a previous chain with, and continue from there: I’ve elected to use the book I ended my September chain with, which was Moskva by Jack Grimwood. My theme this month is an around the world trip, inspired by the wonderful series on BBC2 recently in which Michael Palin looked back on his travels…
Moskva by Jack Grimwood
My starting point is a super thriller, set in the USSR in the mid-1980s – Mikhail Gorbachev is now in power, and the climate is changing from the Stalinist past. Into this comes Major Tom Fox, a soldier with a past, who will lead the search when the British ambassador’s daughter goes missing. The opening scene is a wonderful homage to Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith, and it continues from there to become a labyrinthine spy-crime thriller. Heading north, we reach Archangel on the White Sea coast.
Archangel by Robert Harris
I read this back when it first came out in 1999, and had completely forgotten its plot, so when our Book Group picked it this month I was happy to re-read. Archangel was Harris’s third novel, and it’s a real goodun. It begins with the death of Stalin and, as Harris tells it, it is nearly as funny as Armando Iannucci’s film (right). But then it moves on to the present day, and an academic conference in Moscow, where later one of the Professors there will stumble upon an old man who worked for Beria and saw Stalin’s lost notebook which everyone has believed to be lost. He knows where it is and the search and ensuing chase will take Dr Kelso and an inquisitive journalist on a trek to the far north. A super thriller and very believable. We head south-west and arrive in…
Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada
Alone in Berlin was written in just a few weeks in 1946 by its author, who died shortly afterwards. It chronicles the life of various folk living in Berlin during the horrors of WWII, but concentrating on the Quangel family. The Quangels are a quiet couple, and when their son is killed, they decide to rebel – but quietly, by leaving anti-Hitler postcards around the city. The result is inevitable, but it is an interesting novel by a German about the life of ordinary Germans during WWII. We head south-west for something a bit different…
In Paris With You by Clémentine Beauvais
A YA novel in verse ‘freely inspired by’ Pushkin’s own verse novel Eugene Onegin, and Tchaikovsky’s opera of it, In Paris With You is simply lovely. Sam Taylor must be applauded for his wonderful and spirited translation of Beauvais’s adaptation into free verse, which reads very naturally, and rhymes here and there – as I imagine the original does – super job! I highly recommend this romantic novel for mid-teens and upwards. Younger readers will revel in the romance of this on and off relationship, older ones who know the story of Eugene Onegin can enjoy the anticipation of what might come. An enchanting read, I got totally swept up in it. We head north-west across the channel to:
Balthazar Jones and the Tower of London Zoo by Julia Stuart
It was a pleasant surprise was to find that although this book was a novel set in the Tower of London and was thus steeped in history, it wasn’t a historical novel at all, but set in the present day. The Queen keeps being given gifts of animals, and has decided to reinstitute the historic Royal Menagerie at the Tower rather than keep them at London Zoo. Balthazar Jones is the Beefeater selected to be the head keeper. This is the story of Balthazar and his colleagues, and his own family of his wife Hebe, who works at the London underground Lost Property Office and, very much present by his absence, their dead twelve year old son, Milo. This novel was gentle and touching, yet with some lovely comedic interludes. From London we head over the Atlantic to New York…
The Good Fairies of New York by Martin Millar
Dinnie is the worst violinist in NYC, and one night two eighteen inch tall Scottish punk fairies fall through his window and throw up on the floor! They’re in NYC after falling out with the McLeod clan, and while they’re there, they manage to fall out with almost all the other fairies. This novel is great fun, and it’s choc-a-block full of energy. The young fairies, in their youthful acts of rebellion, bring chaos and anarchy to the Big Apple in a fast moving, raunchy and comic romp. I must read more from this author. Time to take a long flight over to Japan…
Tokyo cancelled by Rana Dasgupta
I read this story cycle pre-blog, but it has stayed with me. Imagine a group of travellers stuck in an airport waiting for a flight to Tokyo. The facilities are limited, so they tell each other stories, Canterbury Tales style… The travellers’ tales are very quirky and magical, slightly subversive and have a global scope in their settings. Some make you feel slightly uncomfortable, and others even have happy endings. Each one is different, but the underlying theme is similar to all – the idea of people not being in charge of their lives, being manipulated in one way or another – from the Tokyo businessman who falls in love with a doll, to the Indian who has to edit the bad bits out of people’s lives, and the girl imprisoned by a German mapmaker. The story about Robert De Niro’s lovechild and the magical Oreo cookie was my personal favourite.The author’s style is richly imagined, but ever so slightly detached; this gives a fantastical edge to the narrative – remember these are stories being told to an audience. It works wonderfully and I loved it.
Given that in my last choice, the travellers are stranded – I’m not going to close the loop back to Moscow!
My six degrees took me around the world (nearly) this month, where will yours take you?