Six Degrees of Separation: From Normal People to The Bass Rock

I’m a #6Degrees regular now: this is my fifth time participating. This month (see Kate’s introductory post) we start with Sally Rooney’s Normal People (2018). I loved Conversations with Friends but wasn’t so enamored with Rooney’s second novel (see my review), so I haven’t been tempted to watch the television adaptation; I don’t have a TV anyway.

#1 Picking out one of the words from the book title, and echoing the question that Rooney’s characters seem to be asking themselves, I’ll hop over to a memoir I enjoyed a lot in late 2011, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson. Adopted into a strict religious household, Winterson had to hide her sexuality. Here you get the full story behind her autobiographical debut novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.

#2 Adoption is my link to The Leavers by Lisa Ko. When he’s abandoned by his mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant in the USA, Daniel is adopted by a pair of white professors. This is an achingly beautiful story of searching for a mother and a sense of belonging. It won the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction.

#3 Barbara Kingsolver created and funds the biennial Bellwether Prize for unpublished fiction that addresses issues of social justice. I have vague ambitions to read as many Bellwether and Women’s Prize winners as I can. While it’s not one of my favorites by Kingsolver, The Lacuna (2009) won her the (then) Orange Prize. A historical novel, it’s largely set in the household of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.

#4 Frida Kahlo is my link to Constellations by Sinéad Gleeson, autobiographical essays about the female body in pain. Kahlo is one of Gleeson’s gurus in that she turned her chronic pain and pregnancy loss into art – “making wounds the source of inspiration.” Constellations was our Not the Wellcome Prize winner during this hiatus year for the official prize.

#5 The first winner of the Wellcome Book Prize, in 2009, was Keeper by Andrea Gillies, a memoir of her mother-in-law Nancy’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. I also intend to read as many WBP winners and nominees as possible, so I recently ordered a secondhand copy of this and read the introduction before setting it aside for another time. Already I can tell it will be an engaging if harrowing book; Gillies pulls no punches in her depiction of the misery of the years when Nancy lived with her family and then in an institution.

[#5.5 Another book called Keeper, this one by Jessica Moor, provides my cheaty half-step. I found this debut novel to be a gripping and grimly fascinating story of why women stay with their abusers and what finally drives them to leave.]

#6 Violence against women is also the theme of The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld, my novel of 2020 so far. While it ranges across the centuries, it always sticks close to the title location, an uninhabited island off the east coast of Scotland. It cycles through its three strands in an ebb and flow pattern that is appropriate to the coastal setting and creates a sense of time’s fluidity. This is not a puzzle book where everything fits together. Instead, it is a haunting echo chamber where elements keep coming back, stinging a little more each time. A must-read, especially for fans of Claire Fuller, Sarah Moss and Lucy Wood. (See my full Shiny New Books review.)

 

I’ve featured only books by women this month, and there have been quite a number of prize winners in here, too.

Join us for Six Degrees of Separation if you haven’t already!

Have you read any of my selections? Are you tempted by any you didn’t know before?

34 responses

  1. Smart set of links, Rebecca. I must get to Constellations – I’ve seen so many good things written about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a fun challenge every month. I do (obviously) recommend Constellations — very strong and poetic writing.

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  2. Great links Rebecca, I’ve heard a lot of good stuff about The Bass Rock. And Keeper sounds excellent.

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    1. Especially if you enjoyed Ghost Wall, you have to read The Bass Rock. It’s so timely and well put together.

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      1. Oh excellent. I loved Ghost Wall!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved The Bass Rock, but like you, would not say that The Lacuna was my favourite Kingsolver. I have a copy of Keeper in my book pile and must move it higher up.

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    1. It’s interesting how the book that an author wins a prize for is often not my favourite from them. I suppose it’s good to see their work honoured anyway.

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  4. I have The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld on my TBR list. I don’t know any of the others here. Lovely and very diverse chain you made here!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for stopping by! The Wyld can be distressing because of the subject matter, but it’s an important book because it exposes hidden instances of abuse.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This totally reminds me that I really need to read Costellations already! Loved your links!

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    1. Thanks for reading! I hope you’ll love Constellations when you get to it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I really enjoyed The Lacuna, quite different from her other novels and one that I recall many couldn’t get past it’s strange beginning and Jeanette Winterson’s adoption memoir was stunning. One of the things that stayed with so strongly was her insistence throughout in referring to her mother as Mrs Winterson. To me that showed incredible courage and self-respect, it was such a strong statement, equal in its violence to everything that woman did to her daughter.

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    1. Mrs Winterson is a great character. I saw Winterson speak at the Southbank Centre at around that time and she captured her adoptive mother’s voice and mannerisms wonderfully.

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  7. Good work. I expected to love The Lacuna, but couldn’t finish it. Thank you for introducing me to the Wellcome and Bellweather Awards. I track the award I read on Goodreads.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like following literary prizes. The Wellcome (health and medicine themes) is the one I follow most closely, but I also pay attention to the Booker, Folio and Women’s Prizes and the Young Writer of the Year Award in the UK, and the Pulitzer Prize.

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  8. Really enjoyed your links. I have a couple of these books on my TBR list, in particular the Barbara Kingsolver book as I’ve really enjoyed several of her books.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t loved all her books, but she always chooses interesting topics.

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  9. I have read a few of these authors, but not the books that you used in your link!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for stopping by!

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  10. The Leavers is on my TBR, but I wasn’t really a fan of Moor’s Keeper. Thanks for sharing your chain.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Leavers was a 5* read for me. So good! Thanks for stopping by.

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  11. Shankar Subramanian | Reply

    Great choices. I am a fan of Kahlo. Will look for The Lacuna.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for stopping by!

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  12. I loved the Winterson – which I read shortly before reading Oranges – which was the wrong way around really but made an interesting contrast. As I’m interested in Frida Kahlo, I probably would reader The Lacuna – but I’ve not read any Kingsolver (tried and failed with Poisonwood Bible).

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    1. The Lacuna is sort of an odd one out for her, so you might like it! Though all her books (I’ve read 11) have been fairly different from each other.

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  13. What great links (and a very clever sneaky mid-step!) I enjoyed Oranges and Why be Normal and keep promising myself more of Winterson’s work. I’m intrigued by Sarah Moss and Lucy Wood being grouped together. I’ve read Diving Belles and a couple from Sarah Moss with the intention of reading more from both of them but I hadn’t made any connection between the two authors beyond the fact that I enjoy their work.

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    1. That pair plus her Christmas stories have been my favourite books from Winterson.

      It’s Ghost Wall by Moss and Weathering by Wood that felt like particularly apt comparisons for me here (for violence against women and a haunted house, respectively). But both authors are strong on sense of place in general.

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  14. Yes! I forgot about Winterson’s Christmas stories which I also love. I have yet to read Ghost Wall or Weathering so that goes some way to explaining how I missed the connection but you are right of course about sense of place. Signs for Lost Children is one of my absolute favourite books – in part for that acute sense of place, be it Cornwall or Japan. And Diving Belles presents a Cornwall that most of us don’t think about. I think Weathering and Ghost Wall both deserve a place on my autumn reading list!

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    1. Signs for Lost Children is one of my absolute favourites too!

      I read Diving Belles back in 2012 so it’s not strong in my mind. I’d like to read her other story collection, The Sing of the Shore.

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      1. I hadn’t known about Lucy’s other collection. Thank you!

        Liked by 1 person

  15. I’ve had Bass Rock on reserve at the library for MONTHS! Counting down the days until I can get my hands on it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sooooo good! I hope you love it as much as I did.

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  16. The Leavers is one that I really enjoyed as well. Great characters and voices! I especially love the link between your first two (and I STILL haven’t read that Winterson memoir, although I’ve heard so many interviews about it that I feel like I did read it, also having read Oranges a couple of times). Evie Wyld is one of those writers, whose works I’m convinced I’ll really enjoy/appreciate, but somehow I haven’t gotten to actually reading them either. Sigh, so many!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d only read one of Wyld’s previous novels and hadn’t been hugely impressed, so this was a nice surprise. She’s very strong on place and atmosphere; I think you’d like her.

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