Daily Archives: July 2, 2022

Six degrees of separation: from ‘Wintering’ to…

It’s first Saturday of the month (already!) and so it’s time for the Six Degrees of Separation meme, hosted by Kate at Booksaremyfavouriteandbest. The idea is that she chooses the starting book, and then off you go on a riff of your own choosing, linking to six other books for whatever reason you decide.

This month the starting book is ‘Wintering’ by Katherine May which, although published in 2020, I haven’t even heard of. Nonetheless, where is it going to take me?

Naturally enough, if one thinks of ‘winter’, the mind leaps immediately to ‘summer’. I’ll go even further, thinking of all four of the seasons in Ali Smith’s Seasonal Quartet. Ali Smith wrote and released each book in successive years, starting with Autumn, and they were written in real time (i.e. each set in the year in which it was written). I really wanted to enjoy this quartet, but I found myself a bit disappointed in it. You can read my review of Summer, the final book in the quartet here.

Have I read any other quartets? I don’t think I have. If fact, the only quartet I can think of is Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, published between 1957 and 1960. I haven’t read it/them but am tempted to do so, especially after the soft Saturday night viewing of ‘The Durrells’ where Josh O’ Connor plays Lawrence Durrell- (and hasn’t he done well?) Even though he seems a rather pretentious prat in ‘The Durrells’, his writing has survived his younger brother’s skewering of him.

But I have read Naguib Mafouz’s Cairo Trilogy, which was written just a little earlier than Durrell’s books (i.e. 1956, 1957), but not translated into English until the 1990s. I really loved its perspective on traditional Egyptian life and the repercussions of the political upheaval in Egypt in 1919.

And thinking of Cairo, let’s jump to 1980s Melbourne with Chris Womersley’s Cairo, which refers not to the Egyptian city, but to the Cairo Flats that still stand opposite the Exhibition Buildings in Melbourne. We had a friend who lived there! (See my review here) I see that Womersley has recently released a followup, The Diplomat, which follows on from the very Melbourne story of the theft of Picasso’s ‘Weeping Woman’ from the National Gallery of Victoria.

Picasso is best known for his painting ‘Guernica’ which brought the Spanish Civil War to world consciousness. It was a war that drew writers and intellectuals from the world over. Amanda Vaill’s Hotel Florida describes itself as a ‘narrative, not an academic analysis’ of six real-life characters: writer Ernest Hemingway and journalist Martha Gellhorn, war photographer Robert Capa and Gerda Taro, and press officers/censors/propagandists Arturo Barea and Isla Kulscar. All six stayed at the once-deluxe Hotel Florida in Madrid. (See my review here).

Another famous literary hotel is the Hotel Metropole in Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow. Like the Hotel California of the Eagles’ song, this was a hotel where “you could check in any time you like, but you can never leave”- if you’re Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov. As the vast history of twentieth-century Russia unfolds outside the walls of the hotel, he is under a form of house-arrest which means that he cannot leave the hotel and his world becomes encapsulated in the varying fortunes of the people who live and work there. (See my review here).

Well, I seem to have travelled quite some distance – UK, Alexandria, Cairo, Melbourne (!), Madrid and Moscow. Not quite ‘Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times’, eh?