Posted by: Lisa Hill | September 4, 2021

Six Degrees of Separation: from Second Place, to….

This month’s #6Degrees starts with Second Place by Rachel Cusk.  I haven’t read it. Cusk seems to be a ‘marmite’ author, but I have no idea whether I like her writing or not.  I have Transit on the TBR, one day, when I get round to reading it, I’ll find out.

Second Place is apparently about art, and so is the book I am currently reading: Roma Tearne’s MAN Asian Prize nominee The Road To Urbino.  It’s about a Sri Lankan man who has never reconciled himself to the events of the Sri Lankan War and how it impacted on his family. However, in Britain he takes some consolation in art, and eventually he finds himself in Italy, enchanted by the paintings of Piero della Francesca.  When he sees the Madonna del Parto in the little village of Monterchi in Tuscany, this takes me back to my own visit to where we shared with friends the costs of a contessa’s villa high on the hill. That week in Tuscany is one of the best travel experiences of my life.

I’ve written before about my fraught response to travel books at the moment, but Antoni Jach’s Travelling Companions (see my review) broke through my reserve.  It’s a kind of contemporary Canterbury Tales, where the narrator travels solo along the tourist trail and seeks out the company of an intriguing bunch of people as he goes.  His need for company (and his tolerance for irritating people) is in marked contrast to another travel book that I really enjoyed…

Spinoza’s Overcoat by Subhash Jaireth is, as I wrote in my review, a book that will appeal to poets, and to writers and readers of certain kinds of books.  Certain kinds of travellers will love it too: compared to Jaireth my pilgrimages to bookish sites are Homage Lite, but I loved reading about his travels to places that matter to me because of the authors who were once there.  It’s a quiet, contemplative kind of book that made me think about all sorts of things that matter to me, and why they do.  Why did I become the bookish person that I am, and why do I take such pleasure in the written word?

Colm Tóibín wrestles with this question in his new book The Magician, which traces the life of the German author Thomas Mann and his early ambition to earn a living by writing.  I’ve read some of Mann’s major works but not yet the one alluded to by the book’s cover, Death in Venice, (on my TBR, but on the Kindle, and I’m going to buy a print copy instead.) Along the way I’ve learned that Mann’s in-laws were very keen on Mahler, which led me to listening to the London Philharmonic’s boxed set of the symphonies, conducted by Klaus Tennstedt.  Just as I like books that lead me to works of art, I like books that lead me to music in the same way.

James Joyce’s Ulysses (which I last read in 2009-2010) is so famous for his allusions to music that there are compilations that you can buy so that you can listen to it while you read.  It is Chapter 11 (sirens) which according to the chart about the structure of Ulysses features ‘the ear’ as the organ of the body, and the art that’s featured is ‘music’.  This chapter, Sirens, is set in the Concert Room saloon at The Ormond Hotel, Ormond Quay in Dublin and it follows the musical form of the fugue.  You can read about it here, if so minded, because I blogged the progress of my fourth reading of Ulysses chapter by chapter.  (It’s my desert island book, I reckon it’s the only book I’d be happy to re-read over and over again if I were marooned with nothing else to read.)

Joyce’s use of the fugue for the structure of the Sirens chapter, leads me to Brian Castro’s The Bath Fugues.  As I wrote in my review, the title is a pun on the word ‘fugue‘.  A fugue is both a psychiatric state, and a musical term.  Fugueurs were wanderers of the 19th century who used the newly invented bicycle to see the world and avoid home and responsibility.  Castro plays with all of these in three interwoven novellas that combine to create an intriguing story of  relationships, identity and authenticity; and the way people drift in and out of each other’s lives (p39) like musical motifs.  I loved this book, as I’ve loved everything else I’ve read by Castro, even though his books are challenging and demand some effort.

So there we are, that’s my #6Degrees for this month!

Next month’s starter book is a short story, The Lottery by Shirley Jackson.  It’s available free online (and I have a vague idea that I may have read it already).

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


Responses

  1. Dear Lisa,
    What is a marmite author? An interview with Cusk is available for the next week as part of MWF digital program.

    I loved the Castro choice and I’m looking forward to The Magician. I agree there is nothing better than following the links from book to art to music. One of the good things about reading on iPads, although I mainly read in hard copy.

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    • Hello Gay, our coffee at Noisette is deferred yet again! Ah well, it will be all the better when we can do it, eh?
      A Marmite a.k.a. Vegemite author is one that readers either love or hate, it’s not possible to be indifferent. (I *love* Vegemite slathered on hot buttered toast, but I don’t like Marmite at all so The Spouse and I have separate jars.)
      Whenever I think about Castro, I wonder about what he’s working on at the moment. I had a lovely response from him to my review of The Bath Fugues which was very encouraging. He’d never heard of me and since all the print reviewers who do his books are frightfully erudite, he was intrigued that an ordinary reader like me read him so closely. So I’m always waiting impatiently for his next book.

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      • Ahh, now I understand Marmite. I don’t know that I’ve ever tried it, coming as I do, from a vegemite family.

        Yes, the elusive coffee at Noisettes. It doesn’t seem likely for a few weeks, months perhaps. When I go to Benns Books I remember how much territory our talk covered. We’ll have a backlog of books to talk about. I’m hiding from Covid in books.

        I am a devotee of Castro. I knew him and his wife Jennifer in Adelaide. He is a gracious man but I’m pretty sure he correctly picked you for an Olympian reader and paid you due respect. He has retired from teaching now so I expect at least one new book will be imminent. Last I heard a large book on a psychoanalyst.

        How do I turn notifications back on?

        The Upswell book sounds lovely. I’d love you to put my name down for the draw because I am an addict for good writing as you know. Our life on the land always creeps into my writing but the fresh eye of an Irish academic will shed different light.

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        • Notifications? Do you mean on your phone or by email, or something else?
          Yes, will add you to the draw:)

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          • I’m not sure. It’s just that I used to receive notifications if I commented and you replied and now I don’t. Wait, I can see now. It’s just below this box. :-)

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            • Ah, yes, for that, you have to sign up for each individual post, and then you get an email asking you to confirm that you want it.

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  2. Great chain, Lisa. I love novels about art so I will have to add The Road To Urbino to my wish list. I also want to read the Toibin and have been looking for a copy of Death in Venice to read in preparation (I can’t believe I haven’t already given my minor obsession with Venice) but alas haven’t seen a hard copy in Perth on my many bookshop visits recently. I have put off ordering one in the vain hope I’ll find a copy in the next store I visit 🤷🏻‍♀️

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    • LOL The trouble is, it’s going to make you want to read lots of other books besides Death in Venice…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Any particular Mann you recommend?

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        • Well, I started with Buddenbrooks, which is a sort of family saga linking the decline of the family to the decline of Germany. It’s what made me want to read more.
          Mann is a very layered sort of writer and I probably missed all sorts of things that a second reading might have revealed, but Buddenbrooks is the sort of book you can read just as a really good story. OTOH it is long.
          You might want to read my review up to where the spoiler warning is, see https://anzlitlovers.com/2010/01/31/buddenbrooks-by-thomas-mann-translated-by-john-e-woods/

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  3. I like your music-infused chain this month. But I’m not sure Transit is the best place to start with Rachel Cusk. I started with her non-fiction, her book about motherhood really spoke to me when I had young children.

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    • Ah, well, there we must differ in a friendly way, because I am not at all interested in books about motherhood. And now that I’ve looked up Transit at Goodreads, I think I probably won’t be interested in that either because it uses the collapse of a marriage to “describe the most elemental experiences, the liminal qualities of life”. I don’t know why I bought the book, but LOL I think I know why I’ve never got round to reading it.

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  4. This is a great chain. I’m not a fan of travel writing on the whole but that Jach sounds very appealing.

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    • It’s especially nice if you’ve been to some of the places his narrator goes to.

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  5. Great chain Lisa with some tempting books, I must say. I’ve only read Ulysses. I would like to read more Tóibín. Interesting that he’s written another inspired by an author.

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    • Yes, I thought so too. I’m enjoying it, but I’m intrigued as to why he’s not writing about contemporary issues, especially in Ireland.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Fascinating. I’m reading The Magician now, but I never read any Mann (I guess I should). Never cared much for Mahler’s music (partially because I find it bombastic, and partially because the Nazis seemed to have loved him and Wagner – who I cannot stand). If you’re interested in Alma Mahler, I can recommend the book Ecstasy, which is about her.

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    • Both Wagner and Mahler died long before the Nazis, so I don’t feel any constraints about enjoying their music, but I do understand why others do. (I believe there was controversy in Israel over a performance of one of them, fairly recently?)
      What do you think of The Magician so far? I’m enjoying it, but I think the focus on sexuality is a bit overdone.

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      • Matter of taste, really. I don’t mind Mahler, but I cannot listen to Wagner at all. In Israel, there was never any problem with Mahler’s music, but because the Nazis adored Wagner, there’s an unofficial ban on playing his works here that predates our statehood.
        As for The Magician, the sexuality doesn’t bother me much, but the verdict is still out… I’m fascinated, but there are a couple things keeping me from loving it.

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        • It doesn’t bother me, it’s more that it’s a bit of a yawn…

          Liked by 1 person

  7. Interesting chain. I’ve not read Cusk either and am wary – as you say, I think she’s definitely very marmite.

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  8. I was hoping for a chain involving art. Thanks for your inclusions of both art and music.

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    • I love it when authors do this, especially when the allusions are to art and music that I really like.

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  9. wow, really neat list of connections. My post is here: https://wordsandpeace.com/2021/09/04/six-degrees-of-separation-from-a-place-to-a-killer/

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    • That’s an interesting variation on making the chain:)

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  10. I touched on art history in my chain this month too!

    And thanks for the link to next month’s starting point. I am already planning to read The Sundial in the next few weeks, so I will do two Shirley Jackson books in a short period.

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    • Yes, you’ve got one there by Sarah Dunant that I haven’t read. I didn’t like her Transgressions, but In the Company of the Courtesan, and The Birth of Venus, were really good:)

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  11. I also had the perception that Cusk was a Marmite author, but where this came from, I have no idea. Anyway, haven’t read any of her trilogy but have started Second Place and it is actually very ‘readable’ (again, why did I expect otherwise?). Her language is relatively sophisticated and I’m sure there are layers and themes in the plot that others are busy analysing, but on face value, the story is ticking along nicely (I’m halfway through). Stay tuned for my review.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We wait with bated breath!

      Like


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