This month I have actually read Shuggie Bain the book that starts off this month’s Six Degrees of Separation meme. Look at the ‘rules’ for Six Degrees of Separation on Kate’s Books are my Favourite and Best website but essentially, Kate chooses a starting book, then you link other titles that spring to mind.
I know that Shuggie Bain won the Booker Prize, but I found it reminding me a lot of Angela’s Ashes. I read Angela’s Ashes long before I started blogging and it was certainly a best-seller when it was published in 1996. It wasn’t eligible for the Booker Prize at the time because the author was American, and I don’t know if it would have won it if it were. However, it’s one of the few books that I have read twice, drawn in when flicking through the pages one day.
A similar book is Kevin Kearn’s Dublin Tenement Life: An Oral History. In my review, I likened it to ‘Angela’s Ashes: The Documentary’ because many of the same themes emerge. There are some introductory chapters that explain the rise of the tenement and a chapter that encapsulates many of the themes that are repeated in the oral histories that follow. The book was a bit repetitive, but it was interesting social history.
Another social history/memoir is Lynsey Hanley’s Estates: An intimate history, written by a woman who grew up in the Birmingham housing estate at Chelmsley Wood in the 1960s and 1970s. Even though It is mainly a historical approach, interwoven with her own experience, with closing chapters that bring us up to the present day.
A more frightening aspect of living in an apartment tower is found in Karina Sainz Borgo’s It Would Be Night in Caracas. Set in present-day Venezuela, a young journalist who has returned to Caracas after her mother dies, finds her apartment taken over by a female-led gang. It is poignant and frightening to see a formerly-wealthy country spiralling into collapse and lawlessness.
At least the people in The Death of Vishnu by Mani Suri could leave their apartment building in Mumbai. But in doing so, they had to encounter their aging, alcoholic houseboy who lay dying on the steps. We move from apartment to apartment as the residents bicker over what to do with the dying Vishnu.
Now, could you get further away from a Mumbai apartment building than a grand old English house? (Well, actually, possibly the grand old English house was purchased with money made in India, as William Dalrymples The Anarchy shows us). But it’s not the building, but the idea of an old servant, Stevens, that makes me mentally link these two books. The book won the Booker Prize in 1989 and was made into a film starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.
I started with one Booker Prize winner, and finished with another. I’ve gone from Scotland to Ireland to England, to Caracas, to Mumbai, and back again to England. What an exhausting trip!