Posted by: Lisa Hill | April 2, 2022

Six Degrees of Separation: from Our Wives Under the Sea, to….

This month’s #6Degrees starts with what Kate who hosts this meme said is a hot favourite to make the 2022 Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist, Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield. It didn’t, which just goes to show (as we know from the Melbourne Cup) that hot favourites don’t always do what’s expected.

However, one of my favourite authors did make the longlist: Kiwi Catherine Chidgey is there, with her wonderful novel Remote Sympathy.  (See my review and my post about the remote launch of the book for those of us who don’t live in New Zealand.)  What I loved about the book is the way it explores moral choices, and how the competing pressures of life make ‘doing the right thing’ very complex and challenging.

I have read almost everything Chidgey has written but was most impressed by The Beat of the Pendulum.  TBH, I was not expecting to like it… novels about the detritus of ordinary life don’t usually interest me much.  But Chidgey makes it a marvel and I could not put it down.  As you can see in my review, this ‘found novel’ is a remarkable experiment in fiction, drawing on – or purporting to be – the language that was all around the author.  In twelve chapters named for the months of the year, a life is laid bare through language that is both impersonal (TV, radio, social media, email, SatNav) and intensely personal – her conversations with friends and family, apparently recorded on her iPhone. 

As I said in my post announcing the winners of the 2018 Ockhams, I was disappointed that The Beat of the Pendulum didn’t win it… but at that time I had not read the winner The New Animals by Pip Adam.  This is what the Ockham judges said about it:

The New Animals is a strange, confrontational, revelatory novel that holds a mirror up to contemporary New Zealand culture. Adam handles a large ensemble of unrooted characters with skill. She gets beneath the skin of her characters in ways that make the reader blink, double-take, and ultimately reassess their sense of the capabilities of fiction. A transition late in the novel is both wholly unexpected and utterly satisfying. It’s stylistically raw and reveals a good deal in a modest way. The New Animals is so vivid in imagery and imagination that the judges haven’t stopped thinking about it since. In this category in 2018 it’s the book with the most blood on the page. It will give you an electric shock. It will bring readers back from the dead.

Well, when I got hold of a copy of The New Animals, I was impressed too. (As you can see in my review.) And I was even more impressed by her follow-up novel Nothing to See, which also impressed Ivor Indyk at Giramondo who published an Australian edition (LHS).  (NZ titles are ridiculously difficult to get hold of here, so this was excellent news.)  I think Adam is one of the most intelligent, sophisticated observers of what’s going on in the world, but she brings it into focus with what’s going on in the underclass, the unseen and the underpaid.

An Australian debut author who’s also a keen observer of the craziness of modern life is Helen Meany, co-winner of the Seizure Viva La Novella prize last year with Every Day is Gertie Day.  This is how I summarised it in my review:

An obscure art work which gains currency because of the gruesome death of the portrait’s subject, gives rise to a strange fad.  The artist, Hettie P. Clark,  portrayed Gertie Thrift with pointy elf ears in a series of five paintings, and in homage to the woman who died alone and undetected for many months afterwards, her devotees themselves have plastic surgery to emulate Gertie’s ears.  It becomes A Thing, like Botox lips. Nina, who works in the Thrift House Museum run by State Heritage, is a Public Education and Engagement Officer.  She gets the job because of her unique skillset: museum, food and retail experience i.e. when she’s not guiding tours around the museum, or trying in vain to steer visitors to the Hettie P. Clarke Overlooked Artists Gallery, she’s making coffee in the coffee or flogging merchandise in the gift shop.  Like the rest of the staff, she has not succumbed to the fad for pointy ears, but the pressure is soon on.

Every Day is Gertie Day is a book that is both amusing (because of the way it satirises Trumpism) and horrifying (because of the way it satirises Trumpism). Horrifying in a different way is Sean Rabin’s thoughtful new book The Good Captain which explores what happens when desperation about inaction on climate change and environmental vandalism crosses over into eco-terrorism.  You can see my thoughts about the book here.

And without meaning to, I’ve ended up back with the starter book, in the sea!

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

Next month’s starter book is Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang.  And that means that I really ought to get round to reading it…

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


  1. This is a nice reminder that I need to read Every Day is Gertie Day. I do have a copy on my Kindle.

    I like the sound of all these books. For some reason, I had Pip Adam down as a psychological thriller writer… no idea where I got that idea from. I’ve just put a hold on ‘Nothing to See’ which is the only book Freo Library has of hers…


    • Both are good reading, about serious things but not grim, you’ll find yourself having a chuckle.


  2. I remember your reviews of Chidgey and Adam. Must one day read them — perhaps while you read True history. Hmmm, won’t make that promise because you’ll probably do it while I probably won’t.


  3. I’m not going to read the Carey book. I read only one of his novels and I was not at all impressed. Lovely chain with lots of authors I may need to investigate – especially that Pip Adam.


    • Which one was that? I liked his books until I got to Jack Maggs, and then I didn’t read him for a long time. I’ve liked his recent ones, The Chemistry of Tears and A Long Way Home.

      Liked by 1 person

      • An internet acquaintance (not a friend) recommended Carey, and Jack Maggs was what I read. I had so many problems with that book that I never tried to read anything by him again.


        • Agreed, it’s not a good one to start with as your first by him…

          Liked by 1 person

          • If you were to pick your favorite of his, which one would it be?


            • It’s hard to say because I read Oscar and Lucinda so long ago, I can’t be sure that I’d love it now. But I did like his stuff when it was quirky.

              Liked by 1 person

              • The guy who challenged me to read Carey suggested Oscar and Lucinda… and as you know, I don’t mind quirky. But this one for the next #6Degrees sounds intriguing to me – and very quirky.


                • Let’s give it a go together:)

                  Liked by 1 person

                • Hm… it takes a long time to get print books to arrive by me, and reserve my Kindle for the (many) ARCs I have gotten. Let me think about it.


                • NO pressure!


  4. I understand your dislike of books showing the “detritus of ordinary life”. A lot of the books which revolve around families/relationships don’t excite me either – I think that’s why I wasn’t keen on Anne Tyler’s Spool of Blue Thread.


    • They can be great, if well done. But mostly they’re not, or too many of the ones I’ve read are not.


  5. What a great chain, Lisa! I always learn so much about books I’ve never even heard of from your posts.


    • Thank you, that is one of the things that I enjoy doing with this blog.


  6. That is a nice idea for this challenge, great chain. Well done, Lisa.

    My Six Degrees of Separation ended with a book by one of my favourite authors, The Sunrise by Victoria Hislop.

    Other than this month, I have read next month’s book so I might have to think hard what to do with that chain.


    • Hello Marianne, it’s nice to meet you here. I’ve visited your blog and I’m impressed that you can read in so many languages, I can only do two.
      I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find it can be harder when I’ve rea the starter book than when I haven’t.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Lisa, reading in two languages is already more than a lot of people can do, especially if their first language is English and they can’t use the second one all the time. I used to live in the “three country corner” Netherlands/Belgium/Germany and there were many English speaking foreigners in the area, so if I wanted, I could use four languages in one day with no big effort of travelling.

        And you are right, sometimes knowing the starter book is more difficult because you find so many links to the next one that you don’t know which one to choose.


        • Ah yes, I know that corner. I was able to use my French, but felt really bad that I didn’t have any German to use beyond Please and Thank you.


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