6 Degrees of Separation: From Western Lane to Bedtime Story
Welcome back to Six Degrees of Separation, which I have been AWOL from since May, but I’m here now.
In Six Degrees of Separation, Kate from booksaremyfavouriteandbest gives us the name of a book and we all link it to six others in any way our brains choose to make random connections.
This month, the starting book is Western Lane by Chetna Maroo, which I haven’t read, but The Guardian has described it as a ‘tender debut’ in which ‘the tensions of family life are vividly conveyed in this novel of growing pains, grief and squash’. Oh, and it’s been shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
Western Lane is told through the eyes of eleven-year-old Gopi, who has just lost her mother, and whose father has enlisted her in a grueling training regime to up her squash game.
Trent Dalton’s new novel Lola in the Mirror is also told from the perspective of a young girl, which I haven’t yet read either, although I heard a wonderful interview with him on The Book Show a few weeks ago. And I did love his debut novel, Boy Swallows Universe, also told from a child’s point-of-view.
Boy Swallows Universe is about to be released as a TV show on Netflix, and filming is about to start on the TV adaptation of Invisible Boys by Holden Sheppard. Although Sheppard’s book is fiction, he has talked openly about drawing on deeply personal experiences in telling this story about growing up gay in an Australian country town.
Simone Lazaroo also draws on real life in Between Water and the Night Sky, a poetic and evocative example of what has been called auto-fiction. The story is based on the lives of her parents and family, both in Singapore and here in Australia, that spans the Second World until the present day.
Gemma Nisbet writes about family too in her debut essay collection The Things We Live With: Essays on Uncertainty. It’s a rumination about the objects we collect, or have passed down to us, which began after Nisbet’s father died and people gave her keepsakes that had once belonged to him. But it’s also about grief, memory, mental illness, inheritance and belong.
I’m becoming a fan of essay collections in which the whole is greater the sum of the parts, and I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell definitely fits into this category. Seventeen stories from her life, told non-chronologically, each one engaging and stand-alone, yet speaking to the ones that come before. These include a story about her own experience of serious childhood illness and her daughter’s anaphylactic reaction on a family trip in the middle of nowhere, with a desperate attempt to reach medical care in time to save her life.
Chloe Hooper’s memoir Bedtime Story recalls her partner’s illness – a cancer diagnosis – and her struggle to work out how to tell their sons this news. The book is written as if she is speaking to her eldest son, who was about six at the time, and she interweaves this narrative with an exploration of children’s stories, myths and fairy tales as she navigates a way into the telling of her own story.
In terms of storytelling, I’ve kind of traveled 180 degrees; I started with a fictional story with a child narrator and ended with a memoir in which the story is narrated by an adult, but as if speaking directly to a child.
Over to You
Where will six degrees of separation take you?
Head over to booksaremyfavouriteandbest to see where it led other readers.
Next month, we’ll be starting with Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain.