Daily Archives: March 4, 2023

Six degrees of separation: from ‘Passages’ to.. a swamp

First Saturday of the Month, so Six Degrees of Separation day again. This meme is hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best where she chooses a starting book and then you link six titles to her starting book. You can find further details here. As usual, I hadn’t read the starting book which this month is Gail Sheehy’s Passages (in fact, I had never heard of it). From a quick Google, it seems that it is about the various chronological stages of adult life, and their challenges. Twenties, thirties, forties, fifties….

The idea of stages of life brought to mind Georgia Blain’s Births Deaths Marriages: True Tales. This memoir is crafted as a series of autobiographical essays, many of which had been published in literary journals.

We all move through life, but what if you got stuck, dying over and over? This is the conceit behind Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. I’m a sucker for time-travel books even though they do my head in, and I usually love Kate Atkinson’s work, but I was a bit disappointed in this one.

But what if you didn’t die when you really did? In Light Perpetual, Francis Spufford takes the real-life death of 168 people who died in the New Cross Road branch of Woolworths in November 1944 in a V-2 attack on a Saturday lunchtime, with the shop crowded with shoppers. Fifteen of those 168 were aged under 11. He drops the bomb in the first pages, then jumps forward as if the five children were not killed. In fact, they were not even in the store. Instead, they lived lives untouched by that November 1944 attack.

Or what if you couldn’t die? In Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife Henry travels back and forth through time, and his love for Clare, who would become his wife. The structure is confusing at first, with the chronology jumping back and forward, with Henry at varying ages as Clare plods through her allotted life span as Henry appears, disappears and reappears again. Actually, I didn’t think much of this book, either the first or second time I read it.

The mention of ‘time’ took me to Julia Blackburn’s beautifully written Time Song. It’s about Dogger Bank, the last remnant hint of Doggerland, which existed in the North Sea and English Channel 18,000 years ago, making what we now know as the United Kingdom a contiguous part of Europe. It was submerged by the rising North Sea as part of the climatic changes over time.

The opposite of an island being submerged is a lake being filled in, and this is what has happened with Dave Sornig’s Blue Lake: Finding Dudley Flats and the West Melbourne Swamp. What had been a swamp covered in blue flowers became a wetland and then a windswept no-mans-land which still exists despite the construction of quays and high-rises. It’s an area that seems to resist taming.

So, somehow or other I have gone through the passages of an adult life through to a swamp. I’m sure that has a deeper meaning somewhere.