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This month’s Six Degrees of Separation starts with our Novellas in November Classic Buddy Read Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. Tethered to his farm, first by helpless parents, later by his querulous, hypochondriac wife Zeena, Ethan Frome ekes out a bare subsistence. Then Zeena’s cousin, the impoverished, enchanting Mattie Silver comes to work for them, and, in Mattie, Ethan’s hopes and dreams are rekindled. Yet theirs is a forbidden love, hemmed in by Zeena’s presence. The impossible intensity in which the three exist has devastating consequences.
The consequences of a love triangle also play out in another more recent novella My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. Korede is use to cleaning up her big sister Avoola’s messes. So far, Avoola has killed three boyfriends and Korede has got rid of the crime scene. She knows she should go to the police, but she loves her sister and family comes first. Or at least it does until Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede’s long been in love with him, and isn’t prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back. Korede needs to choose between her sister and the man she loves.
Another book which features siblings who are hiding a murky, murderous past is We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her uncle Julian. Not long ago there were seven Blackwoods—until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl one terrible night. Acquitted of the murders, Constance has returned home, where Merricat protects her from the curiosity and hostility of the villagers until the arrival of their cousin Charles threatens everything.
Poisoning with a deadly substance is at the centre of Occupied City by David Peace, the second in his Tokyo Trilogy. In Occupied City, Peace dramatises and explores the rumours of complicity, conspiracy and cover-up that surround the chilling real-life case of the Teikoku Bank Massacre, where a man killed sixteen people by giving them poison in the guise of medicine. Peace explores the life of the man who was convicted of the crime, of the legacy of biological warfare programmes, and of the victims and survivors themselves.
Ghostwritten by David Mitchell is, like Occupied City, told through multiple narratives and also references a real-life Japanese poisoning, this time the Tokyo Subway Sarin attack of 1995. The opening section of the book details the actions of Quasar, a member of a doomsday cult, attempting to evade capture after releasing nerve agents into a Tokyo subway train. Subsequent sections feature characters from Hong Kong, Russia and Mongolia and London, where the eponymous ghost-writer Marcus also plays in a band called The Music of Chance.
The Music of Chance is Paul Auster’s unsettling novel from 2006.Following the death of his father, Jim Nashe takes to the open road in pursuit of a ‘life of freedom’. But as the money runs out he finds that his sense of disillusionment has only been compounded by his year on the road. However, after picking up Pozzi, a hitchhiking gambler, Nashe finds himself drawn into a dangerous game of high-stakes poker with two eccentric and reclusive millionaires, a gamble which will have devastating effects on the lives of both men.
A high stakes gamble is also at the heart of Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey. It tells the story of Oscar Hopkins, an Anglican priest, and Lucinda Leplastrier, a young Australian heiress who buys a glass factory. They meet on the ship over to Australia, and discover that they are both gamblers, one obsessive, the other compulsive. Lucinda bets Oscar that he cannot transport a glass church from Sydney to a remote settlement on the the New South Wales coast. This bet changes both their lives forever.
Featuring a trot around the globe in the company of serial killers, dysfunctional siblings, gamblers, and poisoners, this month’s Six Degrees of Separation has certainly been an eclectic one! Have you read any of my choices?
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!