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This month we are starting with The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, an apt choice for October. This Gothic ghost story features a young woman who has been employed as a governess for two distant and strange children, Miles and Flora at a forlorn estate. As apparitions start to haunt the house, the governess believes that a fiendish couple have returned from the dead to reclaim the children. What elevates The Turn of the Screw above your average ghost story is that it is entirely possible that no ghosts exist at all, and the fear is all in the governesses head.
The same thing could be said about Patrick Bateman, the classic anti-hero of Bret Easton Ellis’s vicious American Psycho. A high-powered Wall Street broker, Bateman kills with abandon in between returning videotapes, admiring business cards and going to the gym. However, at the end of the novel, when it appears that one of his supposed victims has been spotted alive and well, there is a suggestion that Patrick might be losing his grip on reality.
Whether he is a killer or not, Patrick always needs to have a dinner reservation. Four people who definitely had a ‘res’ are the protagonists of Herman Koch’s The Dinner. On a summer’s evening in Amsterdam, two well-to-do couples meet for dinner at a fashionable restaurant. But this is no ordinary social occasion, as they are meeting to discuss the repercussions of a horrific crime, perpetrated by their sons. It’s safe to say that the dinner does not go well.
A much more successful dinner takes place in the short story Babette’s Feast by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen). Two elderly sisters living in a remote, god-fearing Norwegian community take in a mysterious refugee from Paris one night – and are rewarded for their kindness with the most decadent, luxurious feast of a lifetime – a feast that is being paid for courtesy of a lottery win.
A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz is a wild and wonderful book that features a labyrinth; a DIY guide for How to Be a Criminal; childhood illness and a lottery scheme designed to make everyone in Australia a millionaire! The plan is that every citizen is obliged to play and every week one person wins $1,000,000 dollars and becomes ineligible to win again, but still has to buy their weekly ticket. In this way, eventually, everyone will have their chance to win.
The narrator of A Fraction of the Whole is writing a confession from his prison cell. Another story told from a prison cell is Manuel Puig’s stunning 1976 novel Kiss of the Spiderwoman – now a famous play, musical and film! Set in a Buenos Aires prison, the novel follows the friendship between two cellmates Valentín Arregui and Luis Molina, a transgender woman. The novel’s form is unusual in that there is no traditional narrative voice. It is written in large part as dialogue, without any indication of who is speaking, except for a dash (-) to show a change of speaker.
Another book written almost entirely in dialogue with little indication of who is speaking, is the epic JR by William Gaddis. JR tells the story of the eponymous J R Vansant – an 11-year-old schoolboy who is the latchkey child of a nurse and an absent father- who manages to build a complex corporate empire from the payphone in his elementary school in Massapequa, Long Island. Using a handkerchief to mask his voice on the phone, he doesn’t entirely aware of what he’s doing but he’s utterly brilliant at playing the financial system, buying junk bonds and raiding pension funds, all the while manipulating tax codes to amass a fortune. The novel is a Swiftian satire on the American Dream.
So there we have it! From children who can see ghosts to a child who can play the stock market, and travelling though America, Amsterdam, Norway, Australia and Argentina, these are my #6degrees for October.
Next month (November 7, 2020) is a wild card – start with the book you’ve ended a previous chain with, and continue from there (for those playing for the first time, start with the last book you finished reading)!
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!