Posted by: Lisa Hill | February 6, 2021

Six Degrees of Separation: from Redhead by the Side of the Road, to….

This month’s #6Degrees starts with Anne Tyler’s latest book Redhead by the Side of the Road.  Have I read anything by Tyler?  Tick, yes I have, The Accidental Tourist in 2003.  (It is so good to be able to do a quick search now that my reading file is restored!)

Tyler is one of those lightweight Americans who writes relationship stories.  I think that the Offspring did Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant for his VCE, so I may have read that too.  Obviously not very memorable.  And neither is this. (Reading Journal, 17/10/2003).

Moving on…

I’m not feeling very imaginative today, so what have I read that’s got ‘red’ in the title? I don’t need to look in the file because it was memorable.  Orhan Pamuk’s My Name Is Red was a book that indulged my interest in illuminated illustration and it’s a cunningly designed murder mystery as well.  In my review I likened it to Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose or Iain Pears’ An Instance of the Fingerpost. I liked both of those too…

I love looking at illuminated manuscripts, and I loved reading Robyn Cadwallader’s Book of Colours.  It was a wonderful story about a woman from a medieval family of illuminators who stepped into the breach when her husband went blind. Book of Colours was awarded the 2019 ACT Book of the Year and was and shortlisted for the 2019 Voss Award as well.  Recently on this blog there was a tantalising comment from Robyn about the book she’s currently working on, so I’m hoping for something new before too much longer.  (Though as we said, in our exchange of comments, it’s not easy to do the research if you can’t travel).

Sometimes an author doesn’t need to travel for research purposes: the story comes from lived experience.  Fiona Sussman was brought up in apartheid South Africa, but migrated to New Zealand in the 1980s.  Her novel Shifting Colours (2014) powerfully unpacks white privilege in a story of an adoption across the racial divide, and the tragedy that ensues.  The Global Literature in Libraries blog recently featured South African women writers for a month, but when they featured novels they limited the list to novels published between 2015 and 2019, so while it’s an interesting collection, there are many fine novels not listed, including Shifting Colours. 

I should take this opportunity to mention the late Raewyn Davies at 24/7 PR, because she was the one who brought Shifting Colours to my attention.  She was one of the best publicists around.  Unlike so many others, she took the trouble to know the tastes of the reviewers she worked with, and I knew that if she recommended a book to me, I would like it.  She was respectful too.  I haven’t got tickets on myself, but I resent publicists who behave as if LitBloggers like me are unpaid employees of the book industry.  She died a couple of years ago, and I miss her.

Another book recommended by Raewyn was Fiona Kidman’s All Day at the Movies (2016).  Kidman is, of course, a pre-eminent NZ author, but this book was something special.  It laid bare the inequities of the so-called ‘golden age’ associated with the postwar period in Australia and New Zealand.   It’s not a resentful novel, nor is it a misery memoir in disguise, but it sets the record straight.  It tells the story of so many women who were useful during the war, and relegated to domesticity afterwards.

A book that gives voice to a different generation is the one I’ve just finished.  Time to Remember by Janna Ruth is the story of university students who experienced the Christchurch Earthquake ten years ago when they were children.  I’ll be writing my review of this book this weekend… suffice to say here that it’s a poignant exploration of the ongoing effects of childhood trauma.

Disasters, unfortunately, are part of the human landscape, and this made me consider what I’d read of childhood experiences in Australia’s droughts, fire, floods and cyclones.

The most memorable of them all for me, is the story of Cuffy, in The Adventures of Cuffy Mahony and Other Stories, by Henry Handel Richardson.  It was lent to me by Bill from The Australian Legend.  In the novel Ultima Thule (Vol III of the  The Fortunes of Richard Mahony trilogy) Cuffy is the little fellow who struggles with guilt and embarrassment when he walks with his demented father in the town where his mother has become the postmistress.  Her husband’s mental illness is triggered in part by the relentless Australian heat, and the Depression which was the catalyst for his fall from a place in society arose from years of drought.   As I said in my review of the short story:

HHR’s brilliance in depicting the emotional states of her characters is at its best in showing Cuffy’s distress at how things turn out.  He was an unforgettable character in Ultima Thule but he will haunt the emotions of any reader who meets him in this short story.

I started reading a bio of HHR last year but was waylaid by other things.  I’ll get back to it soon.  Literary biographies are my favourite bios to read.

Next month’s starter book is Phosphorescence by Julia Baird. Click the link to go to Kate’s review.

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


Responses

  1. An interesting chain, Lisa, but I can’t believe you’re so dismissive of Anne Tyler! She’s one of my all-time favourite writers… I’ve read them all, bar a handful, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed her stories about ordinary people thrust into extraordinary situations. She writes with compassion and humour, often about heavy (and universal) subjects, such as grief, death, what is is to grow old, marriage, parenthood, etc and really explores the inner workings of the human heart/psyche. My fave is Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant but I remember chuckling a lot at the Accidental Tourist.

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    • I agree with kimbofo. I think Tyler is a deeply humane author, and I loved the social and human commentary in An accidental tourist. I loved the understanding of a certain set of women in Ladder of years (the empty nest syndrome). I loved Breathing lessons, and her insight into marital relationships – the opening chapter about the couple driving (if I remember correctly) was priceless. She has great insight into humanity, the human psyche, as you say – and she writes with such warmth and humour, but honesty.

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      • Ah well, ladies, with two enthusiastic champions such as yourselves, there is no need for me to trouble myself with her…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. What a fascinating chain! I like the sound of that Book of Colors.

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    • Davida, it is one of my favourite novels… I hope you can find a copy.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Well, I’m with you Lisa re: Tyler – clearly we’re both missing something!

    I loved your links that involve Raewyn Davies.

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  4. I haven’t read much of Australian Lit. (The most recent read I rememver is The Mystery of a Hansom Cab by Fergus Hume.) But I’m seeing a lot of Mahony recommendations, so I do think I’ll start there. Thank you and happy #6Degrees!

    ~#6Degrees Post @Lexlingua

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  5. Great chain Lisa, I haven’t read a lot of Tyler (and any I read were years ago!) but have one planned for April so I’ll have to see how I get on with her!

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    • LOL, I’m glad I haven’t put you off.

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  6. Oh, dear, you are harsher with Tyler than I was. I seem to remember liking her OK, but it not being terribly memorable. And yes, My Name is Red seems like a perfectly logical first step in this link – I liked it too – my first Orhan Pamuk and possibly still my favourite of his.

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    • I know, it’s very naughty of me to be so mean. I don’t go so far as the critics at Wikipedia who say things like “artificially sweet” and “unrealistic” but these days stories about marriage and family bore me brainless unless they’re about something else as well, something that is actually driving the novel, not the marriage and not the family.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. For some reason, WordPress isn’t keeping me logged in and I can’t like your post, Lisa. You mention three of my favourite books in your first link, and I’ve now added your second link to my list of books to read – thank you!

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    • Oh, Jan, I feel your pain. I had that problem for months, and WP did nothing, nothing at all to help except to tell me to clear my cache which didn’t work and to use their favourite browser, not my favourite browser. (Neither of which fixed the problem). It drove me crazy because if I were writing a post, and then went to preview it, it would log me out and if I hadn’t remembered to save frenetically I’d lose whatever I’d just done. (I often use preview just to check the positioning of images, so you can imagine.) And yes, it was a problem with ‘liking’ and commenting as well.
      My workaround was this: Log in, go to Dashboard and save it on your Favourites Bar. Do the same with other things you use a lot, I did All Posts, Add New Post, and Comments. Make sure that *you are still logged in* when you save those pages to the favourites bar. It didn’t solve the comment/liking problem but for some reason it always kept me logged in through those pages.

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      • Thanks for the tips, Lisa – and how frustrating that WP didn’t care enough to look at the issue properly. It seems to vary from device to device for me, and is usually an issue with accessing own domain blogs, rather than .wordpress.com blogs, through the app on my phone. I find the app really annoying! Yesterday was the first time I used Safari on a MacBook instead of my usual browser on a Windows laptop. I have bookmarks set up on my laptop, much as you do, so maybe I need to do the same on the MacBook. I’m still getting used to the Mac – I don’t find it intuitive at all. Years of being conditioned by Bill Gates to do things his way, I guess!

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        • They’re not as good as they used to be when they were just starting out.

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  8. Thanks for that link to the Global Literature in Libraries blog – it looks like a fantastic resource (though dangerous at a time when i am trying to constrain my purchases!)

    I do love your chains because they seldom contain books I see mentioned anywhere else. I’ll look out for your thoughts on Time to Remember – we were in New Zealand two years ago this month and I was astounded to see all the damage that is still evident in Christchurch.

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    • GLLI is excellent. Do have a look at their Older Women in Literature series when you’re there, but be warned, it has made me very alert to the lame characterisation of older women!
      I know what you mean about Christchurch. We go to places in the UK and Europe that were utterly destroyed in WW2 and it’s all shiny and new or beautifully restored, and it’s only when you see the bullet holes in the walls of the V&A or the photos at Catherine the Great’s Palace that you are reminded of it. So we unconsciously expect that after ten years everything will have been put to rights. But although the geological details are beyond me now, I have read the reasons why the ground in some places remains unusable, it’s because of liquefaction. There is still a red zone where it is unsafe to rebuild. (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_City_Red_Zone#Colour_confusion)
      Plus, I gather from Wikipedia, there are also the inevitable arguments about whether to rebuild or restore or do something else, they are still arguing about that with Notre Dame in Paris, I believe…

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  9. I always enjoy your lists of books from other points in the world than mine, Lisa.

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  10. I only learned about Henry Handel Richardson last summer when I was working on a paper about Henry Hobson Richardson, and a friend misunderstood and told me she was reading a book by HHR.

    I think I might like Time to Remember.

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    • That’s a lovely bit of near synchronicity!

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  11. A winding road for this month’s chain, very enjoyable!

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    • Yes: settings go from Turkey, to Britain, to South Africa, to New Zealand (twice) and then to Australia.
      *sigh* How good it would be to do that in an aeroplane!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Great connections! My Name Is Red has been on my radar. Making a parallel with Eco’s book makes me want to read it very soon! Plus I have really been meaning to read at least one book by this author

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    • I think he’s got a new one out too, I really like Pamuk’s books.

      Like


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