#6Degrees is back again. Hosted by Kate at Books are My Favourite and Best this month’s starter book is Room by the Emma Donoghue, an international bestseller that (as you can tell from my review) I loathed. I think I had to read it for a book group I belonged to. So my first choice for #6degrees is dead easy, and readers of my recent reviews will guess straight away that the dubious honour of being another book I #PuttingItMildly did not like goes to ….
Transgressions, by Sarah Dunant. A tacky, tacky tale about how a woman living alone deals with a stalker. By all means read my review but don’t waste your time trying to track down the book. It’s from the author’s 1997 backlist, before she made a smart move and switched to historical fiction set in the world of Renaissance art.
From one kind of transgression to another, is Julie Proudfoot’s debut novel The Neighbour. (See my review). This is a tale of a creepy neighbour doing some stalking of a different kind, but in the hands of this author, the same theme sensitively explores how tragedy can unhinge all kinds of people in one way or another. I have fond memories of reading this book because Julie took the initiative and sent me a copy before the announcement at the Emerging Writers Festival that she had won the Seizure Prize. I was sworn to secrecy, but I was able to scoop the news even as the announcement was being made.
On the subject of authors with initiative, I want to mention the Tales of Ancient Rome trilogy by Elisabeth Storrs. Comprising The Wedding Shroud (2010), The Golden Dice (2013), and Call to Juno (2016), it’s historical fiction too, in which Storrs draws on her Classics degree from Sydney University to recreate the period before the Etruscans were conquered by the Romans. I like this series because (a) I majored in Classics too and (b) the Etruscan culture allowed women much more agency than was common in that era, and this makes for a convincingly assertive and strong-willed female central character. But I also like this series because they are the work of a very determined author: Elisabeth was messed around by the publisher of the sequel to her first novel The Wedding Shroud but did not let that defeat her. (See the note at the bottom of my review of The Golden Dice). I was pleased to learn recently that the trilogy is doing well in America so that rogue publisher is probably gnashing his teeth and serves him right. You can find my reviews of these novels by following the Tales of Ancient Rome tag.
An historical trilogy of an entirely different era is Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis Trilogy, comprising Sea of Poppies (2008), Flood of Fire (2011) and River of Smoke (2015). This wonderful series traces the fortunes of a crew of 19th century indentured labourers, exploring the impact of the opium trade along the way. Ghosh is a master storyteller, and I enjoyed The Glass Palace (2000) too, though I read that before starting this blog. You can find my reviews of the Ibis trilogy novels by following this tag.
I like books that introduce me to the history and culture of other countries and I have been delighted to find in Tony Kevin’s new book Return to Moscow that he talks about the authors and novels that have shaped the Russian identity. A former diplomat in Moscow during the dour Soviet era, Kevin set out to explore Putin’s Russia and why Russian relations with the West have deteriorated in the way that they have. It’s an excellent book that deserves to be widely read. IMO If we’re going to get involved in US/Russian squabbles that may become more serious, we should at least have some idea of the Russian point-of-view. I have almost finished Return to Moscow and will be reviewing it soon.
I have read many of the novels Tony Kevin references. He even spends a whole chapter discussing Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, a book that he obviously loves as much as I do. (See my review). The film starring Julie Christie and Omar Sharif made it more of a romance, but it’s actually a panorama of the early Soviet era, showing the impact on ordinary people, some of whom were in favour of the new regime and some who suffered by it. Anyone interested in the tragic 20th century history of Russia could start by reading the novels that Kevin refers to in his book.
So there you are: from a trashy novel that exploits the suffering of others to a book that will enrich your understanding of a rich and complex culture… that’s my #6Degrees this month!