Posted by: Lisa Hill | April 7, 2018

Six Degrees of Separation, from Memoirs of a Geisha, to …

I haven’t caught up with the last couple of #6Degrees because it’s been diabolically difficult to open web pages with the internet outages we’ve been having, but #FingersCrossed our troubles might at last be over now and I am gradually getting back on deck.  This month’s book is Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden and you can see what Kate at Books are My Favourite and Best made of it and also Sue at Whispering Gums


I don’t remember much about Memoirs of a Geisha except that it was set in Japan but written by an American author, something which would now (and maybe did then) provoke that argument about appropriation which I try my best to avoid.  But I will use it to link to one of my all-time favourite novels, The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard which is set in the aftermath of Hiroshima in Occupied Japan.  I was delighted to discover this week that Professor Brigitta Olubas, who has apparently written extensively on Hazzard’s work, is currently writing her biography, and you can count on me to be reading it as soon as I can get my hands on it.

Another biography I couldn’t wait to get my hands on was Michelle Scott Tucker’s bio of Elizabeth Macarthur.  If you read my review of Elizabeth Macarthur, a Life at the Edge of the World you will know that it’s unputdownable in a way that few biographies are.  I hardly ever go to after-hours launches in the CBD these days but I am going to the launch party for this book because I want to raise a toast to an author who has done something special.

The last launch I went to was at Readings in St Kilda for Atlantic Black by A S Patric.  You can see from my review that it was a book I really liked, but I think it was swamped a bit by the number of books that were released in a stellar year for Australian literature.  It had a certain amount of attention because of Patric’s Miles Franklin win with Black Rock White City, but it would have been on shortlists all over the place if there hadn’t been so much competition from The Big Names in OzLit.  Perversely, most of them were ignored on shortlists too, presumably because judges couldn’t choose between them and decided not to try.  (Which means winners of some awards are not IMO indicative of the best writing.)  Anyway, Atlantic Black is definitely a book for parents of teenage girls to read!

Another book that’s a warning for parents of teenage girls is Kirsten Krauth’s Just-a-girl. I did my best not to give the plot away in my review but honestly, I still look at teenage girls on trains and remember that book! I am fascinated by authors who successfully get inside the heads of contemporary adolescents because it is notoriously difficult to get them to talk about the things that really matter – and even harder these days when they are permanently plugged into devices of one sort or another.

But one book I recently read that managed it brilliantly was Two Adolescents by the Italian author Alberto Moravia.  The book consists of two stories, ‘Agostino’ and ‘Disobedience‘ written during and just after Mussolini’s dictatorship and they are both written from the perspective of adolescent boys.  Moravia is an author I must read more of.

The stories in Two Adolescents were translations, but I am pleased to be able to brag that I have just read my fourth book in French. Philippe Besson’s En l’absence des hommes (In the Absence of Men) (and which autocorrect keeps trying to reconfigure as En l’absence des homes!) is a short novel in a Pocket edition from Editions Juilliard.  This series, as I discovered at the airport in New Caledonia, are perfect for learners like me, because they are not too long, are handbag friendly and ridiculously cheap.

Compared to slogging through a Gutenberg edition of George Sand’s Indiana (see my review) reading En l’absence des hommes is a breeze.

So there you are… that’s #6Degrees for April!



  1. I’ve read none of your six, well except for MST’s great triumph of course (Mum’s letting me out to go to the launch, so I’ll see you there). My biggest bugbear with autocorrect is its for which I am constantly going back to remove the apostrophe.


  2. I’ve read The great fire and Just a girl, and will of course be reading that in the next couple of months. I enjoyed your links Lisa. Good ones. Congrats on the French reading. I wonder if I dare try reading French again after all these years. I can read day to day stuff, but could I read those novels I read when I was studying it again? I suspect not.

    I didn’t know about that biography of Hazzard. I’ll certainly want to read it too. She’s a beautiful writer.


    • Oh, I bet the French would come back to you, our brains are better at retrieving languages than almost anything else.
      Yes, I love Hazzard’s writing. I don’t often reread books the way you do, but I’ve read both The Transit of Venus and The Great Fire twice, and I rate all her novels five stars (which is rare for me).


  3. hi there,

    I just wanted to congratulate you on your fantastic website. I’ve been following you for quite a while now and I love your recommendations. You clearly put in so much time and effort; which I for one, sincerely appreciate.

    Have you read any of Jesse Ball’s work? I just read a couple of his books and in my humble opinion, they are worth a look. He gets straight to the point, yet he’s so poetic.


    • Hello Nichola, thank you!
      I have to confess that I hadn’t heard of Jesse Ball, but I just looked him at Goodreads and he sounds like a very interesting author indeed…


  4. And The Great Fire goes on my TBR list! And congrats on your reading in French; I occasionally try a novel in Spanish and usually end up putting it aside because I read so slowly.


    • Hello, what a wonderful moniker you have!
      I’d love to be able to read in Spanish, it’s such a beautiful language. I learned a bit of Spanish to travel there, but I realise from my slow progress in French that I’m better off to stick to one language for the time being.


  5. Interesting that Great Fire is on your post Lisa. I read People in Glass Houses in March and have followed it up with The Transit of Venus that I am close to finishing. I will then hit Great Fire to complete my Shirley Hazard fix. Transit is so different than Glass that I would not recognise them as from the same author. Shirley Hazard is a very compelling writer. Transit is imo plot poor but the writing is so good it is difficult to put down.

    I picked up all three of these book for about a dollar a each at Lifeline. What bargains.


    • Wow, $1, that is indeed a bargain.
      My recollection of Transit is that though I liked it I was not so impressed the first time I read it, but then I read The Great Fire, and reread Transit and was then mightily impressed. Her use of symbols is so clever and so subtle, I think I needed that second reading to really appreciate what she’s doing.


      • I found Transit a very difficult book to articulate my thoughts about. I get the disappointment of some but also why people love it. I suspect I missed a lot of the symbolism you mentioned. I went back and read the first chapter after I had finished and it thought how good it was on 2nd reading knowing what I know now.


        • The best books – the ones worth re-reading – are like that IMO. Good to read the first time round, and then there are the discoveries to make on second reading…


  6. Love your ‘book launch’ link – I’m tempted to see if I could do a whole chain using authors I’ve seen speak.

    I’ll have to check out Atlantic Black (I think I had good intentions to read it at the time…). And yes, Just_a_Girl left a lasting impression on me as well.


    • LOL You obviously network more than I do… I have a category (under This Reading Life) called ‘Lisa meets an author” and there are only 13 in the whole (nearly) 10 years I’ve been blogging here.
      #Musing Though I could go back to my post about the workshop with Bruce Pascoe and include that, now that Michelle is an author…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I benefit from having Readings Hawthorn nearby (they host lots of launches and talks) plus I usually get to a bunch of events at MWF… I reckon I could try for a chain.


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