Follow the hashtag #6degrees on Twitter to check out everyone else’s chains.
This month the chain is kicking off with Postcards from the Edge by Carrie Fisher, her semi-autobiographical novel which centres on a 30-year-old actress named Suzanne Vale, and follows her challenges as she overcomes her drug addiction, comes out from under the shadow of her famous parents and gets back into the swing of things, all the while falling in love. I was tempted to link to Actress by Anne Enright, which used that gorgeous photo of Carrie Fisher watching her mother Debbie Reynolds on stage, but instead, my second link is a book where postcards play an integral role.
Griffin and Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence by Nick Bantock is an illustrated epistolary novel which tells the story of Griffin Moss, a quiet, solitary artist living in London. His logical, methodical world was suddenly turned upside down by postcards which arrive from a strangely exotic woman living on a tropical island thousands of miles away. This stunning visual novel unfolds in a series of postcards and letters, all brilliantly illustrated with whimsical designs, bizarre creatures, and darkly imagined landscapes.
Inside the book, Griffin and Sabine’s letters are to be found nestling in their envelopes, permitting the reader to examine the intimate correspondence of these inexplicably linked strangers. The book revolves around a central question. Who is Sabine? How can she “see” what Griffin is painting when they have never met? And most importantly, does she exist outside of Griffin’s mind?
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk also questions what is real and what isn’t. It follows the experiences of an unnamed protagonist struggling with insomnia. Inspired by his doctor’s exasperated remark that insomnia is not suffering, the protagonist finds relief by impersonating a seriously ill person in several support groups. Then he meets a mysterious man named Tyler Durden and establishes an underground fighting club as radical psychotherapy. His growing relationship with a disturbed young woman named Marla Singer, and his involvement in Tyler’s grand plan – Project Mayhem – mean that his insomnia gets worse, leading to a complete breakdown with reality.
Insomnia is more endemic in Sleep Donation by Karen Russell, a haunting novella set in a world where hundreds of thousands of people have totally lost the ability to sleep. Run by the wealthy and enigmatic Storch brothers, the Slumber Corps is at the forefront of the fight against this deadly new disease. Trish Edgewater is their top recruiter, getting people who still have healthy sleep to ‘donate’ sleep to those less fortunate. But when Trish is confronted by “Baby A,” the first universal sleep donor, and the mysterious “Donor Y,” whose horrific infectious nightmares are threatening to sweep through the precious sleep supply, her faith in the organization and in her own motives begins to falter.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is narrated by Kathy, a thirty-one year old carer who looks after her ‘donors’. She draws the reader gradually into her recollections of her life at Hailsham, the idyllic boarding school where she grew up alongside her best friends Ruth and Tommy. In the absence of parents and conflicted teachers, the three form a dependent and emotional connection. What is revealed, as Kathy’s reminiscences accumulate, is a life of preparation for a special role in a world that has begun to exploit the medical possibilities of genetic technology. The title of Ishiguro’s sixth novel, comes from Kathy’s favourite Judy Bridgewater song – a fictionalised singer – which is on a tape called ‘Songs after Dark’.
After Dark by Haruki Murakami is set in Tokyo during the witching hours between midnight and dawn. In an almost-empty diner. Mari sips her coffee and reads a book, but soon her solitude is disturbed: a girl has been beaten up at the Alphaville hotel, and needs Mari’s help.
Meanwhile Mari’s beautiful sister Eri lies in a deep, heavy sleep that is ‘too perfect, too pure’ to be normal; it has lasted for two months. But tonight as the digital clock displays 00:00, a hint of life flickers across the television screen in her room, even though its plug has been pulled out. Mari enlists the help of a young jazz musician to try and work out what is happening to her sleeping sister.
From one young man with a horn to another – often referred to as the first jazz novel, Young Man with a Horn by Dorothy Baker is a fictionalized novel on jazz set in a world of speakeasies and big bands during The Jazz Age of the 1920s. It is loosely based on the life of the great cornet player Bix Beiderbecke who died in 1931 at the age of 28. It tells the story of Rick Martin, a tormented genius from childhood, whose striving for musical perfection drives him to an early death at age 30.
So there we have it...
Drugs, jazz, letters, sleep and imaginary friends bring us from 1980s Hollywood to 1920s New York in this month’s Six Degrees of Separation!
Next month (September 4, 2021), we’ll start with 2021 Booker Prize nominee, Second Place by Rachel Cusk.
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!