Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 5, 2020

Six Degrees of Separation: from Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, to….

This month’s #6Degrees starts with Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume.  I honestly can’t remember if I’ve read it or not because in my first year as a teacher-librarian, I read a children’s novel almost daily before dinner so that I could become familiar with my stock in order to match readers with The Right Book if they needed help.

Not all those children’s novels were angst-ridden.  One of my favourites (and most popular recommendation) was The Name of this Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch.  It was the first of a witty adventure series called The Secret Series. No #2 was called If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.

That last word of the title brings me to How Late It was, How Late by James Kelman.  It won the Booker in 1994 and it caused a storm because it was written in working-class Glaswegian vernacular and featured spectacularly bad language.  As I noted in my review, it was hard to find a quotation suitable for this ‘family-friendly’ blog.  But I thought when I read it, and still think now, that it was a worthy winner because it brought to attention the voice of the unheard underclass, and is also innovative in style and form.

Another voice mostly unheard in western literature is that of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation.  I’ve just read and reviewed Against the Loveless World by Susan Abulhawa. It’s disconcerting, to put it mildly, to read a novel from the perspective of a female terrorist in long-term solitary confinement.

Another work narrated from a prison cell, is Robbery Under Arms, by Rolf Boldrewood.  Written in colonial Australia in 1888, the novel tells the story of Dick Marston, 29 years old, and due to die in 29 days, for shooting a policeman and robbery under arms.  What’s interesting for a modern reader is the issue of repentance.  19th century literature was nearly always didactic, especially when the character was about to meet his maker.  Boldrewood, however, makes Dick’s remorse ambiguous, yet makes him a sympathetic figure because he is so young and his life is about to be over.

Another novel where a character is facing imminent death is Death of a River Guide by Richard Flanagan.  Aljaz Cosino is a river guide in the Tasmanian wilderness, trapped in The Cauldron on the Franklin River as the water rises.  As he drowns, he experiences visions, reliving his own life as a spectator, and through magical realism, viewing the lives of his ancestors amid the horror of Tasmania’s convict past and the destruction of its indigenous people.

Which brings me to Richard Flanagan’s latest book, The Living Sea of Waking Dreams.  It features a character who is being denied death through the marvels of modern medicine and the refusal of her children to face up to the inevitable.  Like all of Flanagan’s novels, it lingers in the mind, forcing the reader to empathise both with the son who wants to release his mother from the torment, and also his siblings who fear the enormity of loss when she is gone.

Next month’s starter book is the winner of the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction, Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell.  I have it on my TBR, but finding time to read it during the festive season?  We shall see…

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


Responses

  1. Hi, I have read God, It’s me Margaret by Judy Blume, years ago, and did like it. My links are The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver; Gilead by Marilynee Robinson; A Tale for the Time Being by Yukio Mishima; The Wonder by Emma Donaghue; Keeping Faith by Jody Picoult; and The Getting of Wisdom by Henry Handel Richardson

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    • Ah, one of my favourite authors, Henry Handel Richardson! I love her writing!!

      Like

  2. Have only read a handful of children’s fiction ashamed to say but have heard of Judy Blume. Agree about Henry Handel Richardson. Must say glad to hear your positive review of How Late It Was. I was over the moon that a fellow Glaswegian won the Booker and this year another with Douglas Stewart’s Shuggie Bain. James Kelman is a very important influence on much of Scottish contemporary writing both prose and poetry. His short stories are my personal favourite. Powerful and emotional.

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    • I haven’t come across anything else by James Kelman, I should try to see what I can find.
      Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by a woman writer from Glasgow…

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  3. Death of a River Guide is certainly memorable; I’m less sure of his new one, which I read a few weeks ago now and loved at the time, but now I can barely remember the storyline. Just as well I took a bunch of notes when I read it, otherwise when I finally find the time to review it I might have drawn a blank 🤷🏻‍♀️

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    • I think that Flanagan’s new one made a huge impact on me because I have so recently had to deal with my own ageing parents. I know that although I had done everything I could to make him as contented as possible, he was tired of life, and I had to confront the possibility that I would have to refuse treatment on his behalf. In the event it wasn’t necessary, but I’m still not confident I could have done it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great links Lisa … that Palestinian book does certainly sound disconcerting but worth reading. I’ll check out your review.

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    • I’d love to know what you think of it.

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      • I’d love to read it, but I fear I won’t. I will add it to my “serious” list of things to look out for though, because it seriously interests me.

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  5. Fascinating chain… I can see that Palestinian book really made an impact on you (I read your review). Being an Israeli, I’m not sure I could read it (but I probably should).

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    • I think it would be even more confronting if you have a connection like that. I’m currently reading Apeirogon by Colum McCann which is about a Palestinian and an Israeli who come together to work for peace after their daughters were killed in the conflict. It’s hard to read too, but it doesn’t make me feel uneasy in the same way.

      Liked by 1 person

      • One book that was hard to read about the conflict was “Sadness is a White Bird” by Moriel Rothman-Zecher. He’s Israeli, but his parents are Americans, and he wrote it in English. I reviewed it here. I’m very much anti-occupation, and it is hard to read about how badly the Palestinians have been treated for the past 70 years by Israel.

        Liked by 1 person

        • The whole thing is so fraught. I remember my mother saying to me that for the Palestinians that land was home, but that by the time we were speaking which was in the 1960s, there were Israelis born there, and for them it was home too.

          Liked by 1 person

          • The only real solution would be to have an independent Palestinian state, but those damned settlements are making that less and less likely. Don’t get me started!

            Liked by 1 person

  6. Great links Lisa – I had books set in a prison cell as one of my links a few months back!

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    • Thanks, Cathy… it’s certainly a setting in which reflection can emerge.

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  7. Robbery Under Arms reminded me of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Not a book written in the prison cell, but a book about the transformative power of repentance by the criminal. It’s not didactic in the sense that you have to actually “feel” remorse (not just pretend) even when you know that feeling remorse isn’t going to save you from the gallows.

    I think in our justice systems, we hardly ever leave room for reformation *because* it is so ambiguous, but there must be some way to figure it out… OK, I’ll stop now. Thanks for bringing up such important reads this last month of 2020.
    ~Six Degrees Post @Lexlingua

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    • Oh, I agree: I said here on this blog before that we are no good at rehabilitation of criminals because for the law-and-order lobby, it’s all about punishment.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. This is an interesting list, as I don’t know any of these books, but every single one looks as if it will win a place on my TBR list. Thanks!

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  9. It is remiss of me to not have read Flanagan yet right?

    I went with an obvious theme for this month!

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    • I’m sure your #6Degrees brought a smile to all the Margarets among us:)
      It’s no good asking me about Flanagan, I love his writing so much I can’t possibly be objective. But I would say this, he tends to be dark in his themes. So you do need to be in the mood.

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  10. Pseudonymous Bosch – I remember that series! I haven’t read much (or indeed, any) Flanagan, nor Kelman, but I have to admit that the book by Susan Abulhawa sounds interesting. I’ll read your review and see what I think.

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    • What I found refreshing about the Pseudonymous Bosch was that it was just such fun:) Fun like childhood should be!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I loved Hamnet. And a starting book that I’ve read! On a roll…

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  12. I know you’re not a big fan of short fiction Lisa but Agnes Owen a working class woman from Glasgow is a talent overlooked. She is worthy of a read although her output minimal. Gentlemen of the West is recommended. Love your blog Lisa. Keeps me connected to what really matters. Good books.

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    • AH, if only I had time to read everything!

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  13. The Living Sea of Waking Dreams sounds sooo good!

    Love your idea of reading a children’s/middle grade book every night before you go to sleep to get an idea for the kids. I am also a teacher librarian and I don’t really do that enough. Maybe I should make it one of my missions for next year to take one book from the library home every night.

    I am very late for Six Degrees this month, but here’s my December chain: 6 Degrees – From Margaret to Anna

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    • Hello Mareli, nice to meet you!
      I have to correct you on one thing… I didn’t read the children’s books at bedtime… I’m not *that* dedicated.
      My husband does the cooking here, and back then he was working from home, so I’d get home about 6.30 or 7.00, collapse on the sofa (sometimes with a restorative G&T or a glass of wine) and read one of the children’s books before he put dinner on the table. Kids books are interesting, but not demanding and an adult can read most of them in an hour, so it was a good way to wind down.
      (I wasn’t just a librarian, I was also Director of Curriculum, so the workload as you can imagine was absurd).
      At bedtime, I went on reading adult novels:)

      Like


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