Six Degrees of Separation: From How to Do Nothing to Genie and Paul

It’s my seventh month in a row doing Six Degrees. This time (see Kate’s introductory post) we all start with How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell, about time and mindfulness. I’ve not read this 2019 release, but its premise reminds me of two books I reviewed a couple of years ago for this Los Angeles Review of Books article on the benefits of “wasting time.”

#1 One of those books was The Art of the Wasted Day by Patricia Hampl. The book blends memoir with travel and biographical information about some of Hampl’s exemplars of solitary, introspective living. Her book wanders along with her mind, in keeping with her definition of memoir as “lyrical quest literature,” where meaning always hovers above the basics of plot.

#2 The hot air balloon on the cover takes me to Enduring Love by Ian McEwan. It opens, famously, with a fatal ballooning accident that leaves the witnesses guiltily wondering whether they could have done more. Freelance science journalist Joe Rose – on a picnic with his partner, Keats scholar Clarissa – rushed to help, as did Jed Parry, a young Christian zealot who fixates on Joe. I recently borrowed a DVD of the film from a neighbor and it somehow felt even darker and creepier. (Strangely, the two main characters’ jobs were changed to philosophy professor and sculptor – were those considered easier to show on film?)

#3 A quote from McEwan on the cover convinced my book club to read the mediocre She’s Not There by Tamsin Grey. (I think the author was also a friend of a friend of someone in the group.) One morning, nine-year-old Jonah wakes up to find the front door of the house open and his mum gone. It takes just a week for the household to descend into chaos as Jonah becomes sole carer for his foul-mouthed little brother, six-year-old Raff. In this vivid London community, children are the stars and grown-ups, only sketchily drawn, continually fail them.

 

#4 The readalike that came to mind when reading Grey’s novel was Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman, set on a similarly rough London estate. It was on the notorious 2011 Man Booker Prize shortlist (a judge spoke of looking for books that “zip along”; the right author won – Julian Barnes – but for a book I did not particularly enjoy, The Sense of an Ending). The novel is narrated by eleven-year-old Harrison Opoku, who is newly arrived in England from Ghana and turns sleuth when one of his young acquaintances is found murdered.

#5 According to my Goodreads library, the only other book I’ve read with “pigeon” in the title is Golden Bats and Pink Pigeons by Gerald Durrell. I love his animal-collecting adventure books, although this one set on Mauritius did not particularly stand out.

#6 The Mauritius location, plus a return to the “pigeon/pidgin” pun of the Kelman title, leads me to my final book, Genie and Paul by Natasha Soobramanien, about a brother and sister pair who left Mauritius for London as children and still speak Creole when joking. I reviewed this postcolonial response to Paul et Virginie (1788), the classic novel by Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, for Wasafiri literary magazine in 2013. It was among my first professional book reviews, and I’ve enjoyed reviewing occasionally for Wasafiri since then – it gives me access to small-press books and BAME authors, which I otherwise don’t read often enough.


Join us for #6Degrees of Separation if you haven’t already! Next month’s starting book will be Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld (see my review).

Have you read any of my selections?

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

22 responses

  1. Another smart set of links. Very much like the sound of the Hampl

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a most unusual book, crossing all sorts of genres. I found it a bit rambling and preferred the other book I reviewed with it: In Praise of Wasting Time by Alan Lightman.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Now Lightman I really like – will have to look that book up. I’ve read the McEwan, but none of the others really attract me this time.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I’ve read a couple of his novels and find his ideas really interesting.

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  2. Great links Rebecca – Enduring Love is my favourite McEwan!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree it’s one of his stronger ones. If you haven’t seen the film, I can recommend it.

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      1. I have – I liked it a lot.

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  3. I read a lot of Durrell as a child, but I don’t know this one. I sort of prefer the idea of leaving it there. I loved his books when I was 11, and might not so much now. The McEwan was good and I enjoyed the Kelman too. I’ve already picked up several ideas from other Six Degrees posts, so I’m putting my fingers in my ears now – ”not listening’!

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    1. I only discovered Durrell through my husband, so I’ve read him all through my 20s and up to now. Some of the zoo collecting books are better than others, but the autobiographical trilogy is top stuff. Whenever I read one of his books I pass it on to my mother; she loves them, too.

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      1. Ah, perhaps I should return. I remember laughing out loud at The Bafut Beagles, but not sure if it would weather well in these more aware times.

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    2. True, I have found some non-PC comments in some of his books re: the natives!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Looking up Genie and Paul now – it sounds fascinating!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. An overlooked one, from Myriad Editions in 2012.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Enduring Love is from a time when I enjoyed McEwan’s work. His most recent stuff has left me cold……
    Pigeon English is sitting on my TBR , while I hesitate about whether I still want to read it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have found McEwan’s recent stuff hit and miss, but I still have plenty of his back catalogue to explore.

      Pigeon English was not a particularly memorable one for me. If you like child narrators, perhaps you’d still want to read it.

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      1. I’m hit and mis with child narrators – done well and they can be very effective (like The Colour Purple) but often they are just completely wrong in tone

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    2. Same for me. I haven’t found too many I like.

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  6. I remember liking that McEwan but didn’t know there was a movie–might have to check it out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s well cast, with a good ick factor.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Mareli Thalwitzer | Reply

    Hi there! I’m so excited about this meme! First time I’m taking part. I haven’t read any of your links, but I am having a look at Genie and Paul. Lovely selection you have here.

    My 6 Degrees of separation

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve loved some of Patricia Hampl’s non-fiction; I’ll take a look for this one!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I enjoyed her memoir, The Florist’s Daughter, more than this one. I think the meandering pace here will work for you, though.

      Liked by 1 person

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