Six Degrees of Separation: From Shuggie Bain to Girl, Woman, Other

This month we begin with Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (2020), last year’s Booker Prize winner. (See Kate’s opening post.) I tried it a couple of times and couldn’t get past page 100, but I’ve kept my proof copy on the shelf to try some other time.


#1 The main character’s sweet nickname takes me to Sugar and Other Stories by A.S. Byatt. Byatt is my favourite author. Rereading her The Matisse Stories last year was rewarding, and I’d eventually like to go back to the rest of her short fiction. I read Sugar and Other Stories in Bath in 2006. (As my MA year in Leeds came to a close, I interviewed at several libraries, hoping to get onto a graduate trainee scheme so I could stay in the UK for another year. It didn’t work out, but I got to tour many wonderful libraries.) I picnicked on the grass on a May day on the University of Bath campus before my interview at the library.

I can’t claim to remember the book well overall, but I do recall the story “The July Ghost,” in which a man at a party tells a story about his landlady and the silent boy he’s seen in her garden. This turns out to be the ghost of her son, who died when he was hit by a car two summers earlier. I’ve never forgotten it because that’s exactly what happened to Byatt’s 12-year-old son.


#2 The title of that memorable story takes me to The First Bad Man by Miranda July. This review from the early days of my blog is still inexplicably popular in terms of number of views. The novel is full of unlikable characters and quirkiness for the sake of it; I doubt I would have read it had I not been sent an unsolicited review copy by the U.S. publisher.


#3 According to a search of my Goodreads library, the only other book I’ve ever read by a Miranda is A Girl Walks into a Book by Miranda K. Pennington, a charming bibliomemoir about the lives and works of the Brontës. I especially enjoyed the cynical dissection of Wuthering Heights, a classic I’ve never managed to warm to.


#4 From one famous set of sisters in the arts to another with Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar, a novel about Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf. It is presented as Vanessa’s diary, incorporating letters and telegrams. The interactions with their Bloomsbury set are delightful, and sibling rivalry is a perennial theme I can’t resist.


#5 Another Vanessa novel and one I would highly recommend to anyone wanting a nuanced look at the #MeToo phenomenon is My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell. It’s utterly immersive and as good a first-person narrative as anything Curtis Sittenfeld has ever written. I also appreciated the allusions to other works of literature, from Nabokov (the title is from Pale Fire) to Swift. This would make a great book club selection.


#6 Speaking of feminist responses to #MeToo, Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo is just as good as you’ve heard. If you haven’t read it yet, why not? It’s a linked short story collection about 12 black women navigating twentieth-century and contemporary Britain – balancing external and internal expectations to build lives of their own. It reads like poetry.


Cycling round from one Booker Prize winner to another, I’ve featured stories by and about strong women, with most of my links coming from names and titles.

Whatever could be on the 2021 Booker Prize longlist? We have a lot of literary prize races to see out before then, but I’m keen to learn what Rev. Rowan Williams and the rest of the judges deem worthy.


Where will your chain take you? 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 Beezus and Ramona, in honour of Beverly Cleary (May 1, 2021).

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


19 responses

  1. I’ve only read your first and last links, the Stuart and the Evaristo, and got a lot from both. I haven’t even come across your other choices – yet.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You could do worse than reading the Booker Prize winner each year!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A very satisfying circular chain! I’ve been in two minds about whether to read My Dark Vanessa but you’ve been quite persuasive here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I dithered over it for a long time, mostly because of the hype, but was so glad I read it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Lovely chain Rebecca, nice to focus on names.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! It always feels lazy to me, but searching through my Goodreads library for names and title words is a straightforward way to put a chain together.


  4. A nice chain. I’m one of the few who haven’t read Girl, Woman, Other yet. Keep meaning to – one for 20 books of summer I think. I plan to read My Dark Vanessa, and have the Miranda July on my shelves.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. GWO is such a treat. I reckon you’ll like the July more than I did.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve not read any of the books in your chain… but I have Girl, Woman, Other sitting here. I keep seeing My Dark Vanessa everywhere but had written it off as a millennial romance … didn’t know it was a #MeToo book so now I’m intrigued to read it…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think I also had misconceptions of what My Dark Vanessa was going to be. Basically Russell took Lolita, a book she was obsessed with, and decided to give Lolita’s perspective, but setting the novel in Maine in the 2000s. The voice feels so authentic that I felt sure Russell, too, must have been groomed by a teacher when she was a teenager, but it seems she made it all up.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Girl, Woman, Other is on my wish list! Very eclectic chain here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I try to avoid the obvious, though it’s not always possible 🙂 Enjoy the Evaristo when you get to it.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I have no idea why I haven’t read the Evaristo yet but I need to!

    I did read the Miranda July and shockingly I didn’t hate it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I remember liking particular situations and lines from the July but overall feeling a bit baffled.

      I think you’ll really enjoy Evaristo’s book. It’s great to see her finally getting some attention in the States.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Miranda July was someone whose stories I’d thought I would love (based on some online chatter at the time) but I ended up admiring the idea of them and her strange view of the world but not really connecting with them. Also, how do I NOT have Girl Walks into a Book on my TBR…thanks for that!


    1. Doh! I did have it marked to read on GR…I’d just forgotten to check the library (or maybe it wasn’t available the first time I looked. Up-side, nobody else is looking for it just now!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. That’s a good way of describing July’s work. I’ve encountered some other authors like that who are just a little too quirky for me, though I can see why others enjoy them (Kelly Link et al.).

      Glad I could (re-)introduce you 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  9. […] last Six Degrees of Separation post I did was back in April; I’ve fallen out of the habit since then. But this month an idea seized me and I’m back! This […]


  10. […] July Ghost,” an early story, is another that has stuck with me over the years, turning up in one of my Six Degrees posts. It’s a straight-up ghost story but also a tale within a tale being recounted by a man at a […]


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