Six Degrees of Separation: From What I Loved to The Story of an African Farm

I’m a Six Degrees regular now: this is my sixth month taking part. This time (see Kate’s introductory post) we have all started with Siri Hustvedt’s What I Loved (2003). Narrated by a professor and set between the 1970s and 1990s, it’s about two New York City couples – academics and artists – and the losses they suffer over the years.


#1 The readalike I chose when I read What I Loved for a Valentine’s Day post in 2017 was The Suicide of Claire Bishop by Carmiel Banasky, which I’d covered for Foreword Reviews in 2015 (see here); it shares the themes of modern art and mental illness.


#2 Death + a “bishop” leads me to Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927), which vies with My Ántonia for the top spot from the six novels I’ve read so far by Willa Cather. It’s set in Santa Fe, New Mexico in the nineteenth century. I read it shortly after my trip to Santa Fe for the D.H. Lawrence Society of North America conference in the summer of 2005.

#3 Although I don’t think I’ve read a Lawrence novel in the past 15 years, I still enjoy reading about him, e.g. in Frieda by Annabel Abbs. My next biographical novel that includes DHL and his wife as characters will be Zennor in Darkness by Helen Dunmore (1994).


#4 Although it’s mostly set in London among university friends now in their late thirties or early forties, a few late scenes of The Group by Lara Feigel (brand new; I’ll be reviewing it in full later this month) are set in Zennor, Cornwall.

#5 The other book I’ve read by Lara Feigel is Free Woman, her bibliomemoir about marriage, motherhood and the works of Doris Lessing. My favorite of the six books I’ve read so far by Lessing is The Grass Is Singing (1950), set on a farm in Zimbabwe.


#6 The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner (1883) is one of the novels I wrote about for my MA dissertation on female characters with unconventional religious views in the Victorian novel. In particular, I looked at the intersection of dissenting religious fiction and the “New Woman” novels that paved the way for Modernism. This is an obscure classic well worth picking up for its early feminist perspective; Schreiner was also a socialist and anti-war campaigner.



My chain has featured only books by women again this month: a few classics, a historical novel with real people in it, an updated modern classic (the Feigel – I’ll discuss its debt to Mary McCarthy’s The Group in my review), and more. The themes have included art, death, feminism, friendship, and religion.


Join us for #6Degrees of Separation if you haven’t already! Next month’s starting book is How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell.

Have you read any of my selections?

Are you tempted by any you didn’t know before?

25 responses

  1. You and Sandra (A Corner of Cornwall) have both got me intrigued with this game. I’m going to join in next month – maybe even this if I can get my act together.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hurrah! It would be great to have you join in. It’s a fun challenge every time. It opens on the first Saturday of the month but you can post any time.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Always enjoy the often spurious links – and I don’t mean yours, I mean mine more than anything! Great fun to follow, as always.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I like to go for less obvious links and incorporate some personal favourites and recent reads each time. I think everyone has avoided the obvious first step to Paul Auster — it would feel like a shame to define Hustvedt by who she’s married to, after all.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I’ll post mine tomorrow, but I did steer clear of that.


  3. Great chain, Rebecca. I’d not come acroos the Benasky. Definitely one for my list!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Probably harder to get hold of outside the States, though one can find almost anything secondhand nowadays. I think you’ll like it.


  4. Great links – I’ve not read any of these. The Fiegel is interesting – but reminds me I have my Mum’s original copy of The Group on my shelves – ought to read that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m following up the Feigel with the McCarthy and will review them together.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Alyson Woodhouse | Reply

    I haven’t read any of these, but I would be tempted by The Story of an African Farm, as I’m always on the look out for obscure Victorian novels to trace the beginnings of feminism and descenting voices.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A great one for you, then!


  6. Some really fascinating books in your chain. I’m going to have to bookmark this post so I can make note of them all, but I think the Lessing is the one I’m drawn to the most right now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! The Lessing was one of the best books I read last year.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Some of these sound great Rebecca – excellent chain.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Cathy! It’s always so fun to put together.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I will get around to Darkness in Zennor eventually. I still feel almost cheated that I was put off Helen Dunmore by The Siege. I feel that I OUGHT to like her work! And I’ll watch out for your review of The Group for its Cornish connections. Great chain, Rebecca!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve only read one of her novels so far, Exposure, which was rather average historical fiction.

      I’m not sure Cornwall will even get a mention in my review, alas — it’s a very small element.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Love the way you got to the Willa Cather…..

    Liked by 1 person

  10. buriedinprint | Reply

    The only one I’ve read is the Cather. I’ve just read her Obscure Destinies this year and those shorter works made me want to fill in the gaps with the novels I’ve missed (one from the trilogy, her Quebec novel, and the Pulitzer winner). The Schreiner I’ve read bits of (coincidentally also for a uni paper) but I should return and do it justice. Especially as you’ve enjoyed it so much. Ohhh, I didn’t know you’d specialized in research on “New Woman” novels; I discovered that era shortly after graduation but spent a good bit of time reading and buying in that vein at the time (some of the books are still on my shelves too, including some in that section I mentioned I’ve been eyeing with your Four-in-a-Row challenge in mind).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll be interested to see what you pick! I think I have just one unread New Woman-ish book on my shelves, The Odd Women by George Gissing.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. buriedinprint

        I don’t have my copy of that one anymore, but I’d still be interested in reading it. Not likely this year though…oh, isn’t that bananas, to already be dreaming of next year’s possibilities for reading?


    2. I’m already planning next year’s 20 Books of Summer theme 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Very much looking forward to your review of The Group – seems to be dividing readers and I’m wondering how much that division is based on their love of the original.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s got a super-low average rating on Goodreads. I don’t think the negative reviews are from people who have read McCarthy; they just seem to think it’s inaccessible (I felt totally the opposite).


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