Posted by: Lisa Hill | January 7, 2017

Six Degrees of Separation, from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, to….

the-girl-with-the-dragon-tattooOur first #6Degrees for 2017!  Hosted by Kate at Books are My Favourite and Best this month’s starter book is The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo by the Swedish author Stieg Larsson, one of those international bestsellers that is still selling by the gazillion every day.  Me, I wasn’t going to waste my money on a book I suspected that I wouldn’t like so I borrowed it from the library – and yes, it’s a crime novel – the genre I least like after romance – and I duly abandoned it after 30 pages.

girl-with-a-pearl-earringBut the title reminded me of Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier.  This too is a popular book which has been made into an enjoyable film – but in fictionalising the story of the painting, Chevalier’s book suggests that the painting is a portrait.  It is not…

The painting is a tronie, the Dutch 17th-century description of a ‘head’ that was not meant to be a portrait. It depicts a European girl wearing an exotic dress, an oriental turban, and an improbably large pearl earring. (Wikipedia, viewed 7/1/17)

I know this because I have seen the actual painting in the Mauritshuis in The Hague, where we had one of the best guides ever!

Cape AridI really enjoy books about art, and I have a particular fondness for botanical art.  I like to have these books on the coffee table and just browse through them when I have an idle moment.  It’s a way of having beautiful things in my everyday life.  One of my favourites is Cape Arid by Philippa and Alex Nikulinsky which not only has exquisite art works but an accompanying texts about the joys and travails of painting in the solitude of the remote bush.

Georgiana Molloy the mind that shinesThe other thing I like about these books is that they showcase the contribution women make towards scientific knowledge about botany.  In the days of early settlement the women who studied local flora may not have known that they were continuing a gendered indigenous tradition that goes back 60,000 years or more, but their collections and paintings formed an invaluable contribution to the growing body of botanical knowledge which informed the work of people like Ferdinand Von Mueller at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne.  One of my favourites of these women is Georgina Molloy.  I read a profile of her first in Collecting Ladies by Penny Olsen, and then in a biography of her own: Georgiana Molloy, the mind that shines by Bernice Barry.

StellaMilesFranklinRoeJ9523_fBut excellent as the Molloy biography is, my favourite kind of bio is literary biography.  I’ve reviewed 18 of them on this blog and I have another half dozen on the TBR.  My favourite is Jill Roe’s award-winning biography Stella Miles Franklin which is a must-read for anyone wanting to know more about the woman whose name graces our most prestigious literary award, but I also recently enjoyed Nettie Palmer’s study of Henry Handel Richardson.

trouble-in-lotus-landAlong with her husband Vance Palmer, Nettie Palmer was one half of a writing couple, and that brings me to George Johnson, who won the Miles Franklin Award in 1964 for My Brother Jack. His wife was the inimitable Charmian Clift whose essays I reviewed a while ago and whose novels I really must find and read.  I don’t think I’ve read the best of Charmian Clift because this book was not really essays, it’s a collection of her newspaper columns of only about 1000 words each.  I want to see her work in long form, and in fiction.l

Found in TranslationOver the past year, I’ve really been impressed by the essays I’ve read through my subscription to Quarterly Essay.  I named two of them in my Non-fiction Best Books of 2016 but my all-time favourite from this series is Linda Jaivin’s Found in Translation, in praise of a plural world (QE #52) because she makes such a powerful case for reading widely from books in translation.  And this is a good place to pop in a plug for Stu’s Pushkin Fortnight at Winston’s Dad in February.  It’s easy to join in this initiative because Pushkin’s list includes lots of novellas that don’t take too long to read.

From a translated novel about tattooed ladies to an essay asserting the value of translation…  that’s my #6Degrees this month!



  1. After reading The Mind That Shines I was moved to discover more about this place I live in WA. Not only the botanical wonders but the writing of so many of the women writers who made their contribution to the literary culture of the place. It is the wonderful thing about reading you just never know where it may lead and what you will learn. Thanks for reminding me and yes Linda Jaivin is right on with her emphasis on writing in translation.


    • Hello Fay, nice to hear from you. I went on a one-day wildflower tour from Perth when I first visited WA and found that it has some of the most magnificent plant life on the planet. Reading the botanical books brings back great memories of that day:)


  2. I’m sorry you abandoned The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. That book is great, you should give it a chance. But I understand if you don’t want to, it’s brutal. Did you know that in Sweden, the original name for the book is “Men who hate women”? The editors in America pretty much said, “Yeah – that won’t fly, we have to rename it.” LOL
    Rebecca @ The Portsmouth Review
    Follow me on Bloglovin’


    • Hi Rebecca, that info about the title is hilarious! I wonder what it says about Sweden that it’s ok there, and about America that it’s not!


  3. I don’t read much literature in translation so thanks for the link to Stu’s initiative- I’ll take a look. I like this 6 degrees notion. Must get some Australian fiction, too. Where would you recommend I start?


  4. Haha Zeus, loved how you worked in Jaivin. Also like the first link to Girl with the pearl earring. Good one!


  5. Lucky you being able to see the Vermeer – twice now I have gone to a gallery to see one of his paintings and each time it has been out on loan somewhere. It happened in the Louvre and also in Amsterdam….


    • LOL Just imagine then how cross you’d feel if you’d come all the way from Australia only to find that something you love is on loan or being restored. Or worse, when on our first trip to Paris, all the public museums were on strike for the whole week we were there.
      (Yet see how lucky I am to be able to write ‘on our first trip’. For many Aussies, there’s just the one ‘trip of a lifetime’ often in the early years of retirement, fulfilling a long-held dream).
      We are very grateful, here in Australia, that galleries lend their precious things. At the moment there is a ‘Treasures of Versailles’ exhibition in Canberra, and also A History of the World in 100 Objects from the British Museum. The NGV here in Melbourne has a well-established annual program of Winter Masterpieces on loan, this year I think it’s impressionists. For many Australians, this is the only chance they will ever have to see the world’s great works of art, and even so the cost of travel and accommodation across the country to see whatever it is can be prohibitive. (Most loans go only to one city to minimise the risk to the paintings.)
      For me, seeing these paintings is wonderful just because I love them, but I often think how hard it must be to be a young artist and yearn to see things so far away. Even though most of the big galleries have very generously digitised their artworks and put them online, it’s just not the same as seeing the real thing…


  6. Lord, this is also a brilliant chain! Feeling quite humbled by these.


  7. I remember having a go at 6 degrees some time ago and, having just read your thread and two others, I think I’ll give it a shot again. It is such good fun!


Please share your thoughts and join the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: