Six Degrees of Separation: From Hamnet to Paula

I was slow off the mark this month, but here we go with everyone’s favorite book blogging meme! This time we start with Hamnet, Maggie O’Farrell’s Women’s Prize-winning novel about the death of William Shakespeare’s son. (See Kate’s opening post.) Although I didn’t love this as much as others have (my review is here), I was delighted for O’Farrell to get the well-deserved attention – Hamnet was also named the Waterstones Book of the Year 2020.


#1 I’ve read many nonfiction accounts of bereavement. One that stands out is Notes from the Everlost by Kate Inglis, which is also about the death of a child. The author’s twin sons were born premature; one survived while the other died. Her book is about what happened next, and how bereaved parents help each other to cope. An excerpt from my TLS review is here.


#2 Also featuring a magpie on the cover, at least in its original hardback form, is Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver (reviewed for R.I.P. this past October). I loved that Maud has a pet magpie named Chatterpie, and the fen setting was appealing, but I’ve been pretty underwhelmed by all three of Paver’s historical suspense novels for adults.


#3 One of the strands in Wakenhyrst is Maud’s father’s research into a painting of the Judgment Day discovered at the local church. In A Month in the Country by J. L. Carr (reviewed last summer), a WWI veteran is commissioned to uncover a wall painting of the Judgment Day, assumed to be the work of a medieval monk and long ago whitewashed over.


#4 A Month in the Country spans one summer month. Invincible Summer by Alice Adams, about four Bristol University friends who navigate the highs and lows of life in the 20 years following their graduation, checks in on the characters nearly every summer. I found it clichéd; not one of the better group-of-friends novels. (My review for The Bookbag is here.)


#5 The title of Invincible Summer comes from an Albert Camus quote: “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy.” Inspired by the same quotation, then, is In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende, a recent novel of hers that I was drawn to for the seasonal link but couldn’t get through.


#6 However, I’ve enjoyed a number of Allende books over the last 12 years or so, both fiction and non-. One of these was Paula, a memoir sparked by her twentysomething daughter’s untimely death in the early 1990s from complications due to the genetic condition porphyria. Allende told her life story in the form of a letter composed at Paula’s bedside while she was in a coma.


So, I’ve come full circle with another story of the death of a child, but there’s a welcome glimpse of the summer somewhere there in the middle. May you find your own inner summer to get you through this lockdown winter.


Join us for #6Degrees of Separation! (Hosted on the first Saturday of each month by Kate W. of Books Are My Favourite and Best.) Next month’s starting point is Redhead at the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler.


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

15 responses

  1. Definitely worth the wait! Really enjoyed this chain, and it’s ‘sunlit uplands’ message. Thanks Rebecca! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Liz! I appreciate you stopping by.


  2. Some neat links, especially via that Camus quote, I haven’t read any Allende for ages. I did however, enjoy Paver’s three adult novels, and have been meaning to read the Carr ever since I read Wakenhyrst because of the link with doom paintings (not managed that yet, despite it being a very slim novella).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! The word-of-mouth buzz about A Month in the Country grew on Goodreads and in the blogging world until I had to read it. It was a popular choice last year for Novellas in November and otherwise.


      1. The film is great by the way.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. We all need to find our ‘invincible summer’ this winter. Smart link, Rebecca, and an apt one!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! (I just wish Invincible Summer was a more memorable book.)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. A Month in the Country was originally in my chain, to follow (obviously) Stanley and Elsie. I can’t quite remember how it got dislodged. I wish it hadn’t, but thank fo reminding me of this book, which I first encountered as a performance by a travelling theatre group a few years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I try not to repeat myself from chain to chain, or to use books I’ve seen others use recently. It can be a challenge, though! I very nearly used Ian McEwan as a link two months in a row, but changed it at the last minute.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. A great chain Rebecca, and I love how you start and end with the same theme. I read Paula well over 20 years ago, but I clearly remember how moving it was (and how much it made me cry!).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve read a couple of Allende memoirs and I don’t remember all that much about either. I may also be conflating this one in my mind with Joan Didion’s memoir about her daughter’s death…

      I’m trying to be more clever like you and Annabel these days, making it a full loop 🙂


  6. Using the book cover art work as a link is a good idea – I’ll have to keep that in mind for when I get stuck (which I have this month)…

    I’ve read only two books by Allende and have decided she isn’t for me….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really liked The House of the Spirits, but if you don’t like magic realism that’s a non-starter! The Japanese Lover was also enjoyable.


      1. That’s part of the problem I suspect – I really don’t like magic realism. So much of South American lit uses it unfortunately


  7. You’ve reminded me that I wanted to add Paula to my TBR for this year: thank you. Cathy’s comment above also reminds me that I’ll need to have a hardy sleeve ready to sop up the tears (that’s not the first time I’ve heard that about this book).

    Liked by 1 person

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