Posted by: Lisa Hill | February 5, 2023

Six Degrees of Separation: from Trust, to ….

This month’s #6Degrees, hosted by Kate from Books are my Favourite and Best starts with Trust by Herman Diaz. I haven’t read it, but the segue was easy, because…

Trust is about power and corruption in New York, and that prompted fond memories of finding A History of New York by Washington Irving in Spain.  My faulty memory made me think that I had found it in the souvenir shop in the Alhambra, but no, what I was remembering was the surprise of finding a plaque that commemorated Irving’s visit there.

I actually bought the book in Barcelona.

My memory of the book is faulty too.  I thought it was a real history of New York, but it’s not. As the blurb at Goodreads tells us, it’s a spoof:

In 1809, New Yorkers were buzzing about a series of classified ads concerning the whereabouts of Dutch historian Diedrich Knickerbocker. They were unaware that Washington Irving had invented the man entirely and placed the ads himself. Knickerbocker’s purported manuscript, A History of New York, was Irving’s own. Told from Knickerbocker’s point of view, A History of New York is a chronicle of New York’s fifty years under Dutch rule in the 1600s that plays fast and loose with the facts, to uproarious effect. A History of New York propelled Irving to the heights of literary stardom.

Well, again the segue is easy, because the Australian literary scene is awash with literary spoofs and hoaxes.  Celebrating the most famous one  — is Sincerely, Ethel Malley by Stephen Orr (see my review). The novel is framed around the Ern Malley hoax where two Tory mischief-makers submitted some deliberately rubbish fragments to the Angry Penguins journal and had them published as modernist poetry.  It is narrated by Ethel, the purported sister of the fictional Ern Malley, staunch in her defence of his poetry and a warrior on his behalf.

Ah yes, what is truth and who gets to tell it?

Orr’s novel also prompted me to think about who protects the individual against the power of the press, and that made me think of The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum. See my review:

It’s about a woman who’s life is ruined by the tabloid press, in this story called The News but apparently modelled on the actual German Bild-Zeitung.  It amuses me that people love to vilify the tabloid press, because its enduring success is a simple matter of the market: the tabloid press does what it does because lots of people buy their product, scurrilous as it is.  If the mass indignation about tabloid press excesses were genuine, there would be no market for the loathsome product.  If Diana’s death didn’t kill the tabloids, nothing will….

Boll was writing in the 1970s, long before the current crisis in journalism, which reached a new nadir during the last Federal and Victorian State elections.  One of our most respected and thoughtful journalists is Margaret Simons, and her essay in Meanjin interrogated the hashtag #ThisIsNotJournalism which trended daily on my Twitter feed. As you can see from my review I did not entirely agree with her conclusions, but I recognise that she had done the research and I hadn’t!

On the subject of research, I was interested to hear Geraldine Brooks talk recently in an HNSA podcast about the importance of knowing when to halt the research.  (She’s in Australia to promote her new book Horse, see Jennifer’s review but this interview is from last year’s HNSA Conference).  She said that research is obviously crucial for historical novelists, but (paraphrasing) there is a fine line between being authentic and compromising comprehensibility (32:20), and that she does enough research to find an implausible truth, (i.e. something that would be unbelievable except that it actually happened) and stops when she has enough to know whose voice will be used to tell the story (52:55).  From then on, the novel tells her what else she needs to know, and then she researches that.  Since the rise of the PhD novel I’ve come across a few where it’s obvious that the PhD research has driven the novel and swamped it, instead of the novel following its own arc.  (No, I’m not going to give examples.  Regular readers will have seen reviews where I’ve commented on this and I don’t see any need to rub it in.)

But I will give an example of a  novel which has the balance right.  Michael Meehan’s new novel An Ungrateful Instrument is not a novel about the historical period it’s set in.  Nor is it drowning in historical detail. As I said in my review:

It’s about fathers and sons; death and immortality; and the tension between originality and wanting to preserve things of beauty unchanged.  It’s about the glorious voice of a musical instrument — ephemeral until the advent of sound recording — and the silent but powerful voice of the writer.  And it’s about a world of privilege and power and the conditions in which creativity might flourish.

From a contemporary Pulitzer Prize finalist to an historical novel that’s about contemporary issues, that’s my #6Degrees for this month!

Image credit:


  1. Very nice! I like the very different paths we can take from the same starting point.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Enjoyable chain Lisa … I love how you got some of your real favourites in there. I like that description of Brooks’s about how she manages research. She does know how to tell a good historical story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • She seems to do it by determining what interests her, and perhaps it’s a simple case of, if it’s interesting to her, it’s probably interesting to most of us!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Very nicely done! That Washington Irving book sounds good!


  4. A nice and rather quirky take on the chain.


  5. Great chain, with all new to me reads!


    • I hope you can find some of them, only two of these are recent releases, though the Irving is a classic.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I never knew that about Washington Irving and it changes my whole attitude towards him!

    I just finished Horse last night and loved it. I have always admired Brooks but had reservations about the two books of hers I had read but this was captivating from beginning to end (which was lucky because it was a one-week library book and my mother and I both had to read it before it was due).

    Brooks was living in Cambridge a few doors down from a friend of mine when our book group read and discussed March. We joked that we could not sit outside lest she hear us and guess we were not as brilliant as she despite the fact that we also yearned to meet her.


    • Oh, that is hilarious about the book group!


  7. I’m always amazed by the different chains other readers come up with. How interesting!

    My Six Degrees of Separation took me from Trust to Book Love by Debbie Tung.


    • Hi Marianne, I tried to comment on your blog but Blogger ate it. I love the idea of the covers, very original, I’ve never seen that anywhere else. And Book Love, that sounds like just what I need!


    • I know, Lisa. It’s such a niusance. I have the same problem with lots of WordPress accounts. Someone told me to go to them via Google Chrome and that works.
      And thanks, I had no other means to get away from the starter book. Well, I could have checked whether I read a similar book but I had this idea and went from there.


      • I think it was very clever, not something I noticed until you put them all together in the graphic.


        • Heehee, thanks. The cover reminded me of another one and then I thought, maybe that would be an idea. Feel free to copy. ;)

          Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve not heard of The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum but am intrigued particularly because I have a friend who worked for the newspaper on which it is meant to be based.


    • Hi Karen, I came by it in an interesting way. Some years ago Emma from Book Around the Corner had the idea of pairing bookbloggers to ‘give’ each other what she called Humbooks. That is, the pair would recommend a book that each other would then read. This one came to me from Tony at Tony’s Reading List…


  9. Interesting connections. This is my first month attempting this meme, you can read my post here if interested:


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