Posted by: Lisa Hill | September 2, 2017

Six Degrees of Separation, from Wild Swans to…

I’ve skipped the last couple of #6Degrees but I’m back for this one because I’ve read the book.  This month’s choice features the Chinese writer Jung Chan who burst onto the international writing scene with Wild Swans, a novel which is described at Wikipedia as a seminal work of ‘misery lit’. I read it when it was at the top of the bestseller lists some time in the 1990s and remember feeling guilt-stricken that I thought an important book about the Cultural Revolution was so dreary…

And though the setting in Ireland was so different, so was Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt.  (Also read pre-blog, thrust onto my by one of those o-you-must-read-this conversations).  My goodness, that book was wet.  A glutton for punishment, I saw the movie too, full of scenes of damp washing, dripping walls and children getting their pathetic feet wet in the endless rain.  I was probably the only person in the theatre not sobbing into a hanky but I felt there was quite enough water on screen…

While I was giggling over the Wikipedia entry on misery lit, my eye rested on an enticing link spoofing the link between dysfunction, dreariness, and dollars:

Hegarty, Shane (2007-10-08). “Not Without My Receipt: One Boy’s Horrific Story of Surviving A Trip to the Bookshop”. The Ireland Times. Retrieved 2008-03-06.

Alas, that link is broken now, but it made me think about books that invite spoof reviews.  Recently I came across a cracking good review of Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus at BooksYo. I don’t think you have to have read Doctor Faustus to enjoy the review but it is delicious if you have, and it won’t spoil your affection for the book if you loved it as I did. (See my review, but it’s not so much fun).

I am tempted to try a spoof review myself of my latest crazy project, reading James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.  It should be easy because I could write almost anything as long as it was incomprehensible, eh?

But that would be unfair to James Joyce because he is one of my absolute favourite writers, as I recently discovered yet again when I listened to Dubliners on audio book. My review only covered two of the short stories in the collection but there were so many others that are unforgettable.  The last one, ‘The Dead’, with its flawed narrator discovering that his wife is pining for a man who died long ago, is particularly moving.  It’s quite long, almost a novella, and the characterisation is brilliant.

Talking of novellas, does anyone know who hosts Novellas in November?  I seem to have lost the link.  I have some nice books set aside for this, mostly Viva La Novella Seizure Prize winners.  I have just read Hoa Pham’s latest book The Lady of the Realm (see my review) and I also have her prize-winning The Other Shore which won in 2014.

The Lady of the Realm is tempting me back to a ‘re-reading’ of The Sorrow of War, by Bao Ninh, another book about the Vietnam War, recently read by Bill at The Australian Legend which reminded me of the generosity of Glenda, who sent me her authentic copy when the one I had turned out to be pirated one.  I really must get the TBR into some sort of order!

Well, there you are, #6degrees of separation, from Wild Swans in China to The Sorrow of War in Vietnam.

Thanks to Kate at Books are My Favourite and Best for hosting #6Degrees!


  1. Misery lit. Ha. I think all the books on my list this time would fall into this category. Here is my six-degree list:


    • Hi Anne, thanks for your comment:)
      I’d never heard of misery lit before… I only came across it because I Googled Jung Chan to see if the book had been translated, because quote often a translator isn’t acknowledged in popular editions which is what I think I read.


  2. Can’t stop laughing about your comments on the ‘Angela’s Ashes’ movie: ‘. . . damp washing, dripping walls and children getting their pathetic feet wet in the endless rain.’ Hysterical! And true.


  3. Thanks for the mention. The Sorrow of War is a misery too in places, but probably not misery lit. I try and avoid tearjerkers, in books and in movies, feels too much like being manipulated for someone else’s benefit.


    • There’s a fine line, yes, and it’s usually defined by restraint, which is much more powerful IMO.


  4. I managed to evade Angela’s Ashes though somehow managed to read a later one where he talked about his experience as a teacher in USA. Rather dull. Wild Swans though I thought superb


  5. I remember that period when misery memoirs were all the rage. I must say, though, that I thought Angela’s ashes – the book – had a light touch to offset the misery, a touch that was sorely missing from the film.


    • Yes, the film was awful. I can’t remember why we inflicted it on ourselves…


  6. I was a bookseller/book reviews editor for the long, long reign of misery lit. So outlandish did the misery blurbs become that I began to doubt there was any truth at all in the books.


    • I think we’re going through a similar phase in Australia now: every second book I see seems to be a memoir or novel about having some disease, or psychological condition, or experience of assault or abuse or (flavour-of-the-month) grief. I don’t know who’s reading all this stuff but it isn’t me.


      • My sympathies. It dragged on for years here. Not good for mental health.


        • I don’t know: I think it comforts some people to know they are not alone, but then it might encourage what my mother used to call ‘wallowing’. It would be interesting to know what psychologists think about it.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Lisa,

    I didn’t know about this meme. Thanks for stopping by Ripple Effects. I only have four books there on my post. So maybe next time. :)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. For better or worse, I’m absolutely addicted to misery-lit, all the better if it’s Irish (which I always refer to as Irish-misery-porn). I was one of the masses crying over Angela’s Ashes although oddly, I have no memory of the movie. Maybe I didn’t see it?!


    • Ah well, it takes all sorts and it’s certainly very popular!

      Liked by 1 person

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