Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Kate at Books are My Favourite and Best. Inspired by the concept of ‘six degrees of separation’, originally set out in a short story by Frigyes Karinthy, which suggests that any two people in the world are connected through a chain of six or fewer people, the meme brings this concept into the world of books. Each month, beginning with a starter book that Kate selects (the month previously), every participant creates their own unique chain of books. Each book only needs to be linked to the next one in the chain, and one doesn’t need to have read the starter book either. Share your links on Kate’s page and have fun exploring the different chains other bloggers have created! I joined in for Six Degrees for the very first time last month (after meaning to for a long long time), and had so much fun that of course, I had to join in again this month!
This month’s starter is Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May, a book that explores self-care and healing during times when life knocks us down. While this is a book I have on my radar, I haven’t read it yet. But I take my cue from ‘winter’ and the gloom that one associates with it.
While I may not dislike winter, I find it is a time I don’t function as well as I do in warmer weather, which brings about an instant lift in spirits. One place where despite the occasional dark cloud, things are always ‘warm’ and pleasant, and one’s heart instantly gladdens is Blandings Castle, and that where my first link takes me. Leave It to Psmith (1923), sees Ronald (in some stories Rupert) Psmith, ‘elegant socialist’ is at Blandings, mistakenly thought by Lord Emsworth to be a poet he was expecting as a visitor. Psmith plays along for the young lady he loves is at Blandings, cataloguing the library. Meanwhile, Emsworth’s sister, Lady Constance, happens to have a valuable diamond necklace, the object of sinister plottings by jewel thieves including including Emsworth’s younger son Freddie Threepwood, while Psmith tries to secure the reward money, as his newly married chum, Mike, needs it.
While Psmith may have taken in Emsworth, he hasn’t managed to fool Emworth’s secretary the ‘efficient’ Rupert Baxter, always on the prowl. When Baxter is locked out of the house in his pyjamas, he attempts to wake Emsworth by flinging flowerpots at him causing Emsworth to think him mad. Another story where something falls on one character, but fatally, unlike Baxter’s relatively innocuous flower pots, is The Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole, a book I read so long ago that I remember virtually nothing about it. But I have never forgotten the giant stone helmet which crushes Conrad, the sickly son of Manfred, Lord of the Castle (I will confess, this made me laugh rather than feel for the poor Conrad).
From giant helmets, I found myself thinking of a more recent read featuring a giant bell, Death on Gokumon Island (1947/2022) by Seishi Yokomizo and translated by Louise Heal Kawai. In this one, Yokomizo’s detective Kindaichi Kosuke travels to Gokumon or Hell’s Gate Island, at the request of a military comrade, just after the war, to inform his family of his death, and also to protect his three stepsisters whom the friend believed would be murdered once he was dead. And the murders do begin soon enough, with one body being concealed under the giant temple bell.
Bells of course toll, and one book where bells and tolls are used for some fun is The Mystery of the Missing Man (1956) by Enid Blyton. In this thirteenth Five Findouters mystery, the Trottevilles have a visitor, Mr Tolling, a coleopterist (someone who studies beetles), who arrives with his daughter Eunice (an overbearing young lady, no doubt, but one who can be fun too, and to our surprise manages to get the better of Fatty/Frederick Trotteville). Fatty initially refers to Mr Tolling as Mr Belling by mistake and the joke carries for a bit. A little different from the rest of the series, both in the story and denouement, the mystery involves an escaped convict and takes the five children to the fair that’s in the village.
Another book where a fair comes to a village is Thrush Green (1959) by Miss Read, the first of the Thrush Green books by Dora Jessie Saint or Miss Read. The book takes us to the beautiful village of Thrush Green where Mrs Curdle’s fair is to arrive as it does annually. Six-year-old Paul, convalescing from an illness is eagerly awaiting it, while his aunt Ruth nurses a broken heart; some others grapple with illness and other problems, small and big. The arrival of the fair brings a bit of magic with it; there are no panaceas of course and while there is good, there are also the usual worries of work and money, love and heartbreak, illness and death, all a part of life. But still, there is a certain tranquility and gentleness to this world that makes the reader feel soothed.
Mrs Curdle’s fair in Thrush Green arrives on the 1st of May; May Day is the day marking the beginning of summer of course, but its other connotation is as International Workers Day celebrating labourers and the working classes, and it is with a book featuring clashes or differences between mill workers and owners that my chain closes. North and South (1854) by Elizabeth Gaskell is one of my favourite books; it is a story which deals with differences and clashes, between the industrial north and agricultural south, between city and country, between workman and mill owner, intellectual and practitioner, and what Gaskell tries to put across is how communication can make these opposites understand each other’s viewpoints better and find solutions or at least ways forward.
So this month’s chain has taken me down quite an interesting path, from some humour to more serious themes: from Wintering or fallow times (and relatedly a feeling of gloom) to more cheerful spirits at Blandings even if flowerpots might be flung at one sometimes, to giant helmets falling on people and giant bells hiding bodies, a person called Mr Belling, no Tolling, to the picaresque village of Thrush Green, and finally to industrial England in the mid 1800s, and workmen clashing with mill owners!
Where did your chain take you this month?