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!

This month, Kate has picked for us a rather interesting starting point, a cookbook, and again one which I haven’t read/tried. The Naked Chef (2005) is where Jamie Oliver began. He takes all his knowledge and trade secrets learnt from age eight and puts together 120 different recipes, which don’t need time, money, or space. According to Goodreads reviews, this one is cheffier that Oliver’s later books, but uses the idea of giving a base recipe and then exploring different variations to try out.

With cooking, food, and recipes as first cue, the first book my mind turned to was The Language of Food (2022) by Annabel Abbs. This is a beautiful piece of historical fiction which focuses on two women, Eliza Acton, a poet and writer who revolutionized the way cookbooks were written bringing in precision and clarity but also poetic descriptions and a true appreciation of food and her maid, Ann Kirby who worked alongside Acton for a decade perfecting the 500 recipes that went into the book and contributing substantively as well. An engaging read, with strong main characters, and exploring themes ranging from the characters’ stories, to food, family dynamics, womens’ role in society at the time and also broader social issues. And yes, this has some recipes too!

My next link picks up on historical fiction, and two women with shared interests, again of whom one made substantial contributions while the other worked with her and provided much needed support. Remarkable Creatures (2009) by Tracy Chevalier explores the lives of Mary Anning, daughter of a cabinet maker, who was a fossil collector in Lyme Regis and who found many Jurassic age creatures, not known before, and Eden Philpot who was from a very different social background, yet equally interested in fossils, and this at a time when women were seen as incapable of being interested in science. Anning is incidentally also the inspiration behind the ‘She Sells Sea Shells’ tongue twister.

Because of being a woman and of her social background, Mary Anning faced difficulties in getting recognition for her work, and in fact was often not given credit for her discoveries. Another person who had to struggle and work hard to get recognition for his contributions was John Harrison, self-taught carpenter and clockmaker who invented the marine chronometer which solved the problem of calculating longitude at sea with accuracy. He is the subject of Dava Sobel’s excellent short volume, Longitude (2005) which tells of his contributions and struggle to get recognition at the Longitude Board (his nemesis of sorts being one astronomer royal, Rev Nevil Maskelyne).

Longitude (and through it author Dava Sobel) was a book I came across only through having seen a television adaptation by the same name starring Sir Michael Gambon as Harrison and Jeremy Irons as Rupert Gould, a retired naval officer who restored Harrison’s chronometers. Likewise another author I discovered only through a TV adaptation of one of her works (North and South) was Elizabeth Gaskell, whose Cranford (1853) is a collection of interconnected tales–gentle and pleasant, yet capturing the little tribulations of the lives of a group of ladies in the small town of Cranford. A lovely little book which I enjoyed very much.

Elizabeth Gaskell was a contributor to Dickens’ Household Words (and Cranford was one of the works serialized in the magazine). Another contributor to Household Words was Wilkie Collins whose The Woman in White (1859) is quite a good fit for the Halloween season which we’re in. In the book, on an eerie evening, schoolteacher Walter Hartwright encounters the beautiful Laura Fairlie, whom he must rescue from the sinister Sir Percival Glyde and Count Fosco. In this, Laura’s intelligent and strong half-sister Marian plays a key role. I love that most of Collins’ books (at the least the ones I’ve read so far) have strong women characters.

To wrap up my chain this time, I pick up on a couple of connections with my previous link, one its title, which refers to a person and the colour of their clothing, and two, where an encounter with said person leads the ‘hero’ and in the case of my next link, the ‘heroine’ on an adventure of a lifetime. In Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit (1924), Anne Beddingford, a spunky young girl of 24 who has recently lost her archaeologist father, craves one thing –adventure. And she finds it when at a tube station, a strange man smelling of moth balls, dies, seemingly accidentally but Anne noticed that just before he died, he appeared very very frightened. Following up a scrap of paper the victim dropped, Anne comes across another mysterious death. The suspect–a man in a brown suit. Looking into the matter turns into a full-fledged adventure as Anne ends up spending all her savings and travelling to South Africa, realizing only too late the danger she has gotten herself into!

So that was my chain from November which involved a woman who revolutionized cookbook writing, to another who discovered previous unknown Jurassic fossils, the inventor of a chronometer, to some ordinary women living in a small English village, a beautiful woman in need of rescue and another strong and intelligent enough to help, and finally a spirited young woman who travels to South Africa pursuing a murderer!

Where did your chains take you this month?

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30 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: From The Naked Chef to The Man in the Brown Suit

  1. Four of my favourites in your chain, Mallika! And yours is the second chain I’ve read to include the Annabel Abbs book, so I’ve added it to my wishlist.

    I don’t think I’ve read The Man in the Brown Suit. I’m always happy to find a Christie that I haven’t read, I love her so!

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  2. Such an interesting chain as always. I love the link from the modern day cookbook to historical fiction about women writing cookbooks – really inspired to read The Language of Food.

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  3. There are some great books in your chain this month! I enjoyed Remarkable Creatures and Cranford and I thought The Man in the Brown Suit was fun when I read it earlier this year. Wilkie Collins is one of my favourite 19th century authors and I also love his strong female characters.

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  4. Great chain Mallika … I hadn’t heard of your first book but it sounds interesting. And I loved your link to Remarkable creatures and then to a couple of other books I have read, like Cranford, or know, like The women in white. I like hearing about new books but I do love seeing how people link books I know!

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  5. These are all new to me, though I’ve read Chevalier before. I added the first two immediately to my TBR = very cool list.
    Terrie @ Bookshelf Journeys

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  6. This is an excellent chain. Some very interesting historical fiction I was unfamiliar with. Both The Language of Food and Remarkable Creatures sound like good reading. I have read The Woman in White after many years of resisting it because of its length. And also The Man in the Brown Suit by Christie. I read a ton of Christie (mostly Poirot books) in 2020 and 2021 and need to get back to some Miss Marple books I haven’t read yet.

    — TracyK at Bitter Tea and Mystery

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    1. Thanks so much Tracy; Hope you manage to pick up Language of Food and Remarkable Creatures some time. The Marples are great fun. I did a Marple challenge with a goodreads group a couple of years ago where we read all the titles. Great fun, and it was especially nice noting how the character developed and also the social commentary that comes in to later books

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    1. Thank you πŸ™‚ I have very glad to discover Longitude even if it was through the TV adaptation, and it remains a great favourite. I’ve also read Galileo’s Daughter which I liked very much and also her Copernicus book.

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