Do you find that, mysteriously, the books you have recently been reading are somehow linked, one to another? I’ve noted this before, but was reminded of it by Helen of She Reads Novels when she drew attention to the Six Degrees of Separation Meme hosted by https://booksaremyfavoriteandbest.wordpress.com
How does this meme work when applied to books?
Books can be linked in obvious ways – for example, books by the same authors, from the same era or genre, or books with similar themes or settings. Or, you may choose to link them in more personal or esoteric ways: books you read on the same holiday, books given to you by a particular friend, books that remind you of a particular time in your life, or books you read for an online challenge.
The great thing about this meme is that each participant can make their own rules. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the ones next to them in the chain.
Well, without officially signing up to this exercise I thought it would be interesting to see how that might apply to books I’ve read and reviewed in the past few months, and then see where that got me. So here goes.
The first group of books consists of the last three I’ve reviewed. These are Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent, Sarah Singleton’s The Poison Garden and Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines. What links them all? Easy — London! Conrad’s novel is set almost entirely in the metropolis of a century ago while Singleton’s fantasy, set a little earlier in time, has a good half of it focused on a London chemist’s shop where the protagonist is apprenticed. The third is a YA dystopian piece where London is rather incredibly a traction city wandering the wastes of what was formerly Europe.
What links this trio to the next is that 19th-century setting which characterised Singleton’s YA fantasy. Jane Austen’s final novel, Persuasion, was published two hundred years ago last December, and its theme of love plagued by misunderstandings, setbacks and adversity was echoed by Anne Brontë’s Agnes Grey. Juliet Gardiner’s The World Within: the Brontës at Haworth put Anne’s novel in context as well as alluding to Charlotte’s assessment of Jane’s work.
The 19th century — but not as we know it — was also a theme that underscored Joan Aiken’s The Whispering Mountain, one of a group of fantasy novels that featured in my reading. Others included Philip Pullman’s Gothick-tinged children’s book Clockwork with its Grimm-like fairytale quality allied to a Frankenstein motif. Pullman also wrote the much-anticipated The Book of Dust, an alternative world fantasy which served as a kind of prequel to Pullman’s His Dark Materials sequence. On the other hand Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant is virtually uncategorisable — although there is a strong fantasy element (giants, dragons) it also hints at historical fiction (the Dark Ages of Arthurian Britain), allegory (a pilgrim’s progress of sorts) and literary fiction (its rank seriousness).
Fantasy takes us to the next group of books, this time leaning towards a Young Adult or children‘s audience. Terry Pratchett’s fiction of course appeals to a readership with a wide range in age, with The Wee Free Men having a young protagonist in a novel with knowing nods towards an adult audience in its allusions and jokes. Joan Aiken’s Arabel, Mortimer and the Escaped Black Mamba is more obviously a children’s book, but this adult enjoyed it too! Horatio Clare’s Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot is packaged for children, but its theme of the protagonist’s father suffering from depression is, despite its subject, one that is both uplifting and optimistic. I can’t say the same for Bruno Vincent’s promo Five Go Bookselling with its crass parody and humourless approach taking the mickey out of classic series for children.
The final group I’m going to consider leads us back, via urban landscapes, to London, which is where we started. F Scott Fitzgerald’s short stories feature in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Other Stories, set predominantly in towns and cities of eastern and midwestern America, while the historic French city of Aix en Provence was the subject of a booklet entitled Les Architectes et la Ville. Lastly we come to Dodie Smith’s It Ends with Revelations, a bittersweet romance which ends up in London’s theatre land just as the Swinging Sixties are about to rock a cosy postwar Britain.
Urban landscapes — London — the 19th century — fantasy — children’s and young adult fiction: all themes which have dominated my reading for the last three months. How has it been with you? Has your choice of reading been subconsciously linked to themes, motifs or memes, either as groups or one to another?