Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 2, 2019

Six Degrees of Separation: From The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper, to …

Here we are again, noting the passage of time with another #6Degrees – I know February is a short month, but it seemed ridiculously short to me…

This month’s starter book is Chloe Hooper’s The Arsonist (2018), a brilliant book which deserves to be widely read for the insights it offers into the human causes of a catastrophe.  I reviewed it here, and it has since been nominated for The Stella Prize…

Not long after I read The Arsonist there were fires blazing out of control all over Tassie, and the catastrophic Black Tuesday Bushfires in Tasmania in 1967 were on everyone’s mind.  That our firefighters were able to prevent a similar loss of life when the fires were so much more extreme shows what we have learned from our tragic experiences with bushfire.  And that thought, re-emphasised the day before yesterday by our anxiety about a friend near a fast, out-of-control fire in Mornington, put me in mind yet again of my 2017 Book of the Year Flame Tip by Karenlee Thompson, published to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Black Tuesday.  Yes, this book figured in my last #6Degrees... it’s on my mind a lot during the bushfire season…

From there I could also repeat last month’s #6Degrees with Flames by Robbie Arnott because it’s just been shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards but instead I’ll jump to another impressive debut, The Everlasting Sunday by Robert Lukins. It’s been shortlisted for the same award, and rightly so.  I was very impressed by this novel and I featured the author in my Meet an Aussie Author series.  (And it’s perfect reading for hot weather: we’re in the middle of a heat wave now, and books set in snowy landscapes are ideal).

For obvious reasons, there are not many Australian books set in snowy landscapes.  For that we look to Europe and Canada, and the one that comes most immediately to mind is the Soviet era One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. I’ve chosen a Romanian edition of this famous book because the cover art best expresses my memory of reading it.  I was young at the time, and I struggled to understand the inhumanity behind the gulags.  I thought it was a Soviet aberration but I know better now, of course.  Man’s inhumanity to man is only too common.

Solzhenitsyn is a character in a book I’ve just read: Dinner with the Dissidents by John Tesarsch.  It has an interesting plot: an ambitious young writer agrees to spy on Solzhenitsyn in order to have his own work published; and the book, in two time frames, shows how he faces the same risk-ridden dilemma under the present surveillance regime in Canberra.  If you don’t know just exactly how your data is being monitored, visit my review of Tesarsch’s book, I’ve pasted in a summary from Wikipedia.

Of course, if you have nothing to hide, you may well feel that surveillance doesn’t matter.  But another book featuring a dinner explores the impact of children’s behaviour on parental ambitions, and how they have very good motivations to conceal what’s happened.  The Dinner, (2012) by Herman Koch was a bestseller and if you read my review you can see why, it’s a clever satire about narcissistic parenting, and it also pokes fun at pretentious dining.

Probably not a bestseller, but an award-winning and much more thoughtful book is The First Week (2013) by Margaret Merrilees.  In this novel Merrilees explores the impact of a son’s criminal behaviour on his mother.  In this first week she travels from her home to give him her support, but her own life and everything she believed has turned upside down. From this experience, she sees beyond to other moral dilemmas that confront White Australians.  If you haven’t read this book, it’s still available from Wakefield Press, in print and as an eBook.  Merrilees has gone on from this impressive debut with other books, the most recent of which is Big Rough Stones (2018).

So that’s my #6Degrees: in very different ways both the beginning and the end of the chain are books about looking beyond the tabloid headlines to the impact of crime on ordinary people.

Thanks to Kate at Books are my Favourite and Best for hosting:)


  1. This an impressive list of books. I initially thought I wouldn’t read The Arsonist because of the subject matter, but the more I hear about it, the more I’m now inclined to add it to my TBR pile.

    My chain is here:


    • It’s excellent, Melinda… a thoughtful book that pays respect to all who suffered on that day.


  2. Driving through NZ at the moment, its very obvious how seriously people here take the threat of a fire. every town has a fire risk indicator on display and messages whether fires are allowed….


    • Yes, you’ll see that in Australia too. Where are you at the moment?


      • South Island, New Zealand at Blenheim in the Marlborough district. here until Tuesday and then wellington for a few days. The plan is to be in Sydney about March 9 though my husband is not well so we may have to go home …


        • Oh dear, that’s always a worry when you’re far from home. We’ve had a couple of problems like that though fortunately never bad enough to warrant cancelling the trip. All the best to you both…


        • Oh no Karen … keep us informed. Do NOT take risks, but I do hope for his and your sakes that he is OK enough for you to continue.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Lovey to see ‘Flame Tip’ here Lisa and also a thrill to see ‘8 States of Catastrophe’ surface in your last 6 degrees post. Brought a smile to this author’s dial.


    • Did you also notice how many of these books are published by Indie publishers?: Not Ivan Denisovich, and not The Dinner, but all the others in my chain are from small publishers which just shows you how lucky we are to have them!


      • Yes! And so good to see so many of the Indie publishers thriving. If we didn’t have them, we would not be getting the wonderful diversity of reading opportunities currently available.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow! I like the way your links unfolded. I try to support indie/ self-pub authors, so lovely to see some of your choices. I wasn’t sure if I could get started from this book, but after a second attempt I created a list.


    • Hello Rosie… it’s strange the way these chains unfold… all so different to each other!


  5. Haha Lisa, I rather thought you might go to the same book for your first link. It’s was pretty obvious for those of us who have read it and a perfect opportunity to give it a second airing, wasn’t it?

    I enjoyed your links, particularly the segue from Solzhenitsyn to Dinner with the dissidents and then onto The dinner and Margaret Merrilees.


    • I think Meg Merrilees is terrific: she deserves more attention than she gets…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Nice! I haven’t tried The Dinner, because I didn’t like his previous book. My chain is here, with some unusual result:


  7. Very much like your ‘human causes of catastrophe’ angle regarding The Arsonist – as Hooper reveals there are many elements to this sad story.


    • Yes, she’s the very opposite of tabloid journalism, I wish there were more like her:)

      Liked by 1 person

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