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This month we are starting with Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary who died just last month. Published in 1955, Beezus and Ramona is one of her best-known works. It is the first of Cleary’s books to focus on Ramona Quimby and her sister Beatrice, known as Beezus and is written from nine-year-old Beezus’s point of view, as she struggles to get along with her four-year-old sister.
Another novel on the theme of rivalry and with two names in the title is the the Jeffrey Archer’s 1979 bestseller Kane and Abel which remains among the top 100 selling books of all time. Taking the biblical story of sibling rivalry between Cain and Abel as insiration, Archer’s unsubtle tale tells of the tempestuous relationship between two business men born in very different circumstances, on the same day.
Another novel which uses the name of a character from the Bible as its title is the classic Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner. Taking place before, during, and after the American Civil War, it is a story about three families of the American South, with a focus on the life of Thomas Sutpen. The novel uses several narrators to tell the story of Sutpen, resulting in an unreliable account of his history. One of the narrators in the book is Quentin Compson, who also appeared in Faulker’s earlier novel The Sound and the Fury.
David Mitchell is another author who likes to revisit characters, and his dazzling 2014 novel The Bone Clocks contains references to a raft of characters and their relations, all of whom have appeared in his earlier novels. The Bone Clocks has six sections which are all loosely connected by the character of Holly Sykes, a young woman who is gifted with an “invisible eye” and semi-psychic abilities, and a war between two immortal factions, the Anchorites, who derive their immortality from murdering others, and the Horologists, who are naturally able to reincarnate. In the fifth section of the book, ‘The Horologist’s Labyrinth’, Holly is given a drawing of a maze by her younger brother, which will turn out to be the key to the novel.
Mazes are very important to Larry, the protagonist of Larry’s Party by Carol Shields. The novel examines the life of Larry Weller, an “ordinary man made extraordinary” by his unique talent for creating labyrinths and mazes. Larry is originally employed as a florist, but on his honeymoon he visits Hampton Court Palace and becomes lost in a maze there, sparking a life-long obsession with mazes and labyrinths.
Hampton Court Palace has been used as a set in many films, including the Oscar-winning The Favourite, which tells a fictionalised version of the relationship between Queen Anne and Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough. This relationship has also been fictionalised in Duchess by Susan Holloway Scott, exploring the consequences when a close relationship with a monarch turns sour.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel tells the story of another close relationship between a monarch and a confidante, this time between Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell. Winner of the Booker Prize in 2009, and the first in a trilogy, Wolf Hall depicts the complex machinations of the Tudor court with wit and humanity.
Crossing time-zones and continents, my six degrees has gone from a difficult relationship with a younger sibling to a difficult relationship with a despotic king!
Have you read any of my choices?
Next month (June 5 2021), we’ll start with the winner of the 2021 Stella Prize, The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld.
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!