Category Archives: Six Degrees

Six Degrees of Separation: From ‘Redhead by the Side of the Road’ to…

Once again, I have not read the book that starts off the Six Degrees of Separation meme on the first Saturday of each month. You can read the ‘rules’ for Six Degrees of Separation on Kate’s Books are my Favourite and Best website. This month the starting book was Anne Tyler’s Redhead by the Side of the Road.

I might not have read this particular Anne Tyler book but I have read several others. Before starting this blog I would have nominated her as one of my favourite authors, but I think that after a few books I had begun to tire of the Americanness and everyday-lifeness of her books (I don’t know if either of those words exist!) and I haven’t read anything of hers in the last ten years. I know that I really enjoyed Ladder of Years, where the middle-aged female main character decides to just walk out on her family, adopt a new identity and start a new, stripped-down life. Perhaps my enjoyment of this book says more about me as a middle-aged female reader, than the book.

Someone working as an undercover agent would be adopting new identities all the time, I should imagine. But what happens to the family they leave behind? Berta Isla by Javier Mariás explores the scenario of a wife whose husband disappears ‘on business’ for increasingly lengthy periods of time.

If you say “spy” to an Australian, probably the first names that will occur to them are those of Vladimir and Evdokia Petrov (in fact, there’s a good chance that the Petrovs will be the only names that most Australians will be familiar with). The image of Evdokia Petrov being manhandled along the tarmac to an aeroplane is one of the iconic images of the 1950s. Andrew Croome has fictionalized the Petrov Affair in his Document Z.

Prime Minister Robert Menzies was able to take advantage of the Petrov Affair during the 1954 election campaign- a timing which many thought was too convenient. I grew up during the 1960s believing that Robert Menzies was the only possible Prime Minister: a bit like the Queen, he just was. Judith Brett wrote an excellent biography of Menzies and the middle class in the post-war years in Robert Menzies’ Forgotten People, which I read prior to staring this blog.

Another historian who captured twentieth century Melbourne middle class life very well is Janet McCalman in Journeyings: The Biography of a Middle Class Generation 1920-1990. She takes as her narrative vehicle (literally) the No. 69 tram travelling from Carlisle St St Kilda to Cotham Road Kew, picking up the students of four private schools: Scotch, Trinity, Genazzano and MLC (Methodist Ladies College) and traces the experience of middle class, Melbourne life in the suburbs through which the No. 69 travels.

The other major denominational rival to MLC was Presbyterian Ladies College, whose most famous alumni is Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson, better known by her nom-de-plume Henry Handel Richardson. She famously wrote about her school days in The Getting of Wisdom, but I much preferred her wonderful three-part work The Fortunes of Richard Mahony which is probably one of my favourite Australian novels.

Hah! Four Australian books this time- and three of them by women!

Six Degrees of Separation: from Hamnet to….

The Six Degrees of Separation meme is described at Booksaremyfavouriteandbest . There is a starting book (for January 2021 it’s Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet), then you think of other books that you have read that are somehow and usually tenuously connected. In this case, I start off with Shakespeare’s son and end up with Dante Rossetti’s muse. As is often the case, I haven’t read the starting book but I have downloaded it, which is half-way to reading it (isn’t it?).

Shakespeare- such a famous surname for a writer- and so I jump to Nicholas Shakespeare, a recent immigrant to Australia, who writes about his search for two ancestors from his family tree in his book In Tasmania (2004). One was the army officer and merchant Anthony Fenn Kemp, and the other Petre Hordern, an alcoholic from a wealthy family who drags his family into poverty.

As part of his search for Kemp descendants, he visits a newly-found Kemp cousin who brings out a shell necklace supposedly owned by Truganini, supposedly “the last full-blood Aborigine” (or so we were told at school back in the 1960s). Cassandra Pybus gives a much more rounded view of Truganini, and her agency across the British colonies of Van Diemens Land and the Port Phillip District of New South Wales in Truganini: Journey through the Apocalypse. (2020)

One of my favourite books about Tasmania -indeed, one of my favourite Australian books full stop – is Richard Flanagan’s Gould’s Book of Fish (2001) , a beautifully illustrated and imaginative, magical realist book, based on the life of convict artist William Buelow Gould but going far beyond the historical character. I read this book before I started blogging. Flanagan has written many wonderful books since, but this is my favourite.

Speaking of fishing, Vicki Hastrich spends quite a bit of time messing about in boats in her Night Fishing (2019), a collection of essay-length memoir pieces tied together with the theme of boats and fishing, but with reflections on other things as well.

A boat – or rather a merchant schooner called ‘The Ibis’ runs through Amitov Ghosh’s Ibis Trilogy starting with Sea of Poppies (2008). Within the 468 pages of this book, first we have the arrival of a boat, its provisioning and then its slow movement down the river towards the open sea, collecting characters along the way. There’s no sign of it here, but the trilogy is going to end up embroiled in the Opium Wars as part of the economic model underpinning British imperialism.

At the other end of the opium trade were the British users, although in this case the opium was marketed as laudanum. Elizabeth Siddal, model for artists from the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood and lover of Dante Rossetti, eventually succumbed to her laudanum addiction in Lucinda Hawksley’s Lizzie Siddal: The Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel (2004).

Well, that turned rather dark, didn’t it?- both the title characters, loved by famous writers, end up dead. On a lighter note, I’m pleased that I’ve been able to include some ‘older’ back-catalogue books, with a good sprinkling of Australian authors.

Six degrees of separation: from ‘Are You There God? It’s me Margaret’ to…

How could the start of the month come round so quickly? The December Six Degrees of Separation meme (see Books are My Favourite and Best for an explanation) starts off with Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s me, Margaret. I was a little too old for Judy Blume’s Young Adult books, which started off in the mid 1970s, and the whole Judy Blume phenomenon passed me by. But it did start me thinking about the book that I loved most as an adolescent, and how that book has been reflected in my later adult reading.

The book that I loved most in early secondary school was Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle. It’s a story of a young girl and her older sister living in a racketty old Big House, with their author father suffering from writer’s block. In my own family, we never bought books, and so I reborrowed this book from the school library again and again. Now that I actually do buy books, I have not one but two copies on my bookshelves, but I’m a little apprehensive about re-reading it in case it doesn’t live up to my memories. It was the start of my love of Big House books, which is the ‘degree of separation’ that joins all my books.

I read L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between when I was in H.S.C. (i.e. Year 12). I just loved the summer 1900 setting of this book where a young boy, sent for the summer to a friend’s Big House, becomes an intermediary in an illicit love affair between his friend’s sister and a nearby tenant farmer. There’s a similar feeling of a young adolescent out of his depth emotionally, entangled in other people’s affairs and the feeling of impending doom.

These same themes came up in Ian McEwan’s Atonement, which was made into a lush film starring Keira Knightley. Again, we have a young girl in another Big House, and another illicit love affair. The same feelings of summer, emotional immaturity and guilt come through in this book, too. This book, though, has three separate time periods, although the implications of an innocent but erroneous childhood action reverberate through a lifetime.

There are a number of similar books that I have read since writing this blog. Graham Swift’s Mothering Sunday is only small, at 132 pages, and dealing with just one day – Mothering Sunday – when the hired help in post WWI Big Houses are allowed to go home to visit their families. But housemaid Jane is orphaned, and so spends the day with her lover, Paul, the son of a neighbouring Big House family. It’s a perfectly formed, tightly told little story.

Big Houses, tied as they are to the arcane inheritance arrangements of the aristocracy tend to elicit manipulative relationships and long-held grudges on the part of the disinherited. Clare Clark’s We That are Left is set in a postWWI Big House, once again with the outsider child brought into the midst of messy upper class family arrangements. We learn in the opening pages that the outsider child ends up owning the Big House and the narrative thread of the novel is just how he achieved it.

For me, Big House novels are inevitably set in England, although there are probably plenty of Big Houses in other countries too (all of a sudden Gone With the Wind or The Leopard spring to mind). What about Australian Big House novels? The houses may not be so big, and certainly not of similar antiquity, but Patrick White’s The Eye of the Storm is set in a Big Enough House, where two adult children return to their mother’s affluent house, intent on putting her into a nursing home so that their inheritance is not gobbled up by her in-home-care nursing arrangements. I really don’t know if I even understood this book, which is often the way with me with Patrick White.

And so, I find myself laughing at the idea of starting off with Judy Blume and ending up with Patrick White. Could any two authors possibly be more different from each other?

Six degrees of separation: from Every Secret Thing to…

The first Saturday of the month seems to come around very quickly! We are usually given a starting book by Kate, who hosts the Six Degrees of Separation meme on her blog Books Are My Favourite and Best. But this time, she instructed us to start from the last book on last month’s chain, which for me, was Marie Munkara’s Every Secret Thing.

So, thinking of ‘secrets’, there’s Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture, set in Ireland, where during the process of deinstitutionalization, a woman is discovered who has been incarcerated in an asylum for 60 years. The book explores how, and by whom, she came to be placed in the asylum- but I didn’t like the ending at all (and after 12 years, I have no memory at all of what the ending even was!)

But I do remember the ending of Philip Roth’s The Human Stain, which is a book about secrets too. Roth’s books are often swaggering, male and very American, and this is no exception, telling the story of Coleman Silk, a successful, white Jewish professor who is accused of using a racist term in his classes. Narrated by Nathan Zuckerberg, who appears in several of Roth’s novels, it’s infuriatingly conservative but also incisive about sex, race, and Americanism.

Speaking of stains, there’s some really gruesome stains in Sarah Krasnostein’s The Trauma Cleaner, the biography of Sandra Pankhurst, who runs an agency that does cleanups after a crime scene, a death or where hoarding has become perilous. Sandra Pankhurst, born Peter, has her own story of abuse and emotional deprivation before her gender reassignment surgery. It’s a fantastic book.

David Ebershoff’s The Danish Girl explores the marriage of two artists, Einar Wegerer and his American wife Greta Waud in the 1920s and 30s.  It was at Greta’s suggestion that Einar first cross-dressed within their marriage, and his increasing excursions as ‘Lily Elba’ culminated in the world’s first sex-change surgery.

Also set in Denmark is Johanna Adorjan’s An Exclusive Love, the story of the author’s Jewish grandparents who had emigrated from Hungary to Denmark after their terrible experiences during WWII. We learn in the opening sentences that they decided to commit suicide together in 1991, and in this book their granddaughter reconstructs the lives that they rarely spoke about later.

Thinking of grandparents and great-grandparents and aunts and great-aunts brings to mind The Eighth Life (For Brilka) by Nino Haratischvili. This was one of the big fat books I read during COVID lockdown and it was wonderful: a family saga, set in Georgia (near Russia, not in America) during the 20th century with various branches of the family tree sprouting off in all directions, but with such well-defined characters that you didn’t need a genealogical chart.

So look at that- all fiction this month!- and set in Australia, Ireland, America, Denmark and Georgia. Who said we couldn’t travel during these coronavirus days?

Six degrees of separation: From ‘The Turn of the Screw’ to….

It’s the first Saturday of the month, and so it’s Six Degrees of Separation day. The rules of the meme are here. In October the starting book is Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw which I confess to not having read. But I gather that it’s about a governess – and I have read about governesses, so off I go!

The first governess I thought of was Caroline Newcomb, who shifted across from Hobart to Port Phillip in 1836 to act as governess for the (in)famous John Batman’s family in the very early days of Melbourne’s settlement. She ended up in Geelong, where she met Annie Drysdale, and together the two women formed a partnership to run sheep on the the 10,000 acre Boronggoop property on the Barwon River as women squatters – certainly a novelty at that time. Their lives are described in Miss D. and Miss N. where Bev Roberts edits and annotates Anne Drysdale’s diaries.

Sometimes I’m a bit of a purist with my historical fiction, but I love it when a novelist does the research then subverts it completely. This is the case with Peter Mews’ Bright Planet, which takes its name from a real ship that often appeared in the Port Phillip Shipping News columns. It’s set in a Melbourne known as Bareheep in the early 1840s, complete with a mixture of historic and fictional characters, and like Robyn Annear’s Bearbrass , it’s a real hoot.

Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries uses astrological principles as an organizing structure for her sprawling (and too long, in my opinion) book about the New Zealand gold rush in Hokitika. It’s a bit like a great big Victorian door-stopper of a book with myriad characters. I thought that it was technically clever, but just too long-winded.

Think New Zealand, and think Janet Frame. Owls Do Cry was her first novel, a thinly disguised autobiography, and it is often considered to be New Zealand’s first modernist novel. It’s a startlingly original book, dealing with mental illness and it still packs a punch after more than 60 years.

Speaking of owls, I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven is a quiet, meditative book about a young priest who, unknown to him, has only a few years left to live. He is sent to minister to a small Indian village, where Christianity, commercialism and the outside world are encroaching on the traditional myths and practices that the villagers share with him. It’s a beautifully written book, but a bit ponderous.

Not at all ponderous is Marie Munkara’s Every Secret Thing. It is a series of tales set around an Aboriginal mission in far northern Australia with the Mission mob, the Catholic clergy, trying to convert the Bush mob who lived just outside the Mission. The Bush mob move back and forth between the arbitrary strictures and efforts of the clergy and their own more grounded life outside. They are clear-eyed about the hypocrisy and smallness of these white priests and nuns, but they are also painfully aware of the degree of control that the mission has over their lives. It is imbued with a quick, cutting, deft wit that overlays anger and sorrow.

And so that brings me to the end of my chain. It seems that with the exception of one book, I’ve stayed mainly in the Southern Hemisphere this time!

Six degrees of separation: From Rodham to….

Well, another book that I haven’t read to start off this month’s Six Degrees of Separation. For the rules of the game, see here. On the first Saturday of every month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. Readers and bloggers are invited to join in by creating their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book.

The first book is Curtis Sittenfeld’s Rodham. I don’t know anything about this book except that it’s a fictionalized story of Hilary Clinton. Of course, Hilary never got to be President, but someone who did get to be Prime Minister was Julia Gillard which leads me to…

The Gillard Project (2015) was written by her speechwriter, Michael Cooney. I really intended to read Julia Gillard’s own autobiography – which I even purchased and even now is still sitting in its paper bag unopened- but I picked this up while waiting for books to be delivered at the State Library. It’s interesting that Julia Gillard is best known for her misogyny speech (“I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man”) which was delivered off the cuff, and not written by a speechwriter at all.

One of the best known recent prime ministerial speechwriters is Don Watson, whose Recollections of a Bleeding Heart I loved, but did not review in this blog. However, Don Watson was originally a historian and Caledonia Australis was a very early book, first published in 1984 and republished in 1997 and 2009. It is about the Scots emigration to Australia, starting back with the Highland Clearances, then hones in on Angus Macmillan, the so-called ‘Father’ of Gippsland. Although lionized as a ‘pioneer’ in times gone past, Angus Macmillan bears a more ambiguous reputation today – and indeed, his statue was recently targeted as part of the Black Lives Matter Campaign (although it still stands – for now).

Don Watson wrote about Gippsland, to the east of Melbourne, but Margaret Kiddle wrote about the Western Districts in her Men of Yesterday, which was written in 1961. It’s a rather unfashionable and blinkered book today, with its blithe dismissal of the dispossession of the indigenous people on the lands that her forebears “took up”. But it is beautifully written, and I wish that I had blogged about it in more detail (and in fact, I’ve included it in a Six Degrees previously, so it certainly made an impression).

Clang! Here I go off onto a digression. “Yesterday” surely evokes the Beatles, rousing all my baby boomer enthusiasms. Looking Through You: Rare and Unseen Photographs from the Beatles Book Archive is a collection of photographs of the Fab Four taken by photographer Leslie Bryce. They were originally published in a small A5 booklet format called The Beatles Monthly Book. They’re beautifully clear photographs, many of which I hadn’t seen before.

The Beatles came from Liverpool of course, and Liverpool is one of the settings in Peter Behren’s The Law of Dreams (2006), which awarded the Canadian Governor-Generals Literary Award for Fiction. It reminded me of a Canadian version of Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, because both books are written about one of the author’s forebears and their journey to a British settler colony. In this case young Fergus, orphaned by the Irish Potato Famine, ends up in Liverpool working on railway construction, before heading for America.

And here I’m feeling very smug at ending up with Barak Obama’s Dreams from My Father (1995), which of course leads me right back to where I began with the American presidency (although, of course, Obama actually won). A beautifully written book, penned years before the Presidency, which makes you miss him even more and despair at what replaced him.

Six degrees of separation: from How to Do Nothing to…..

odell_nothingSo, another month- another Six Degrees of Separation – see the ‘rules of the game’ here.

I haven’t read the starting book, Jenny Odell’s How To Do Nothing (2019). I think my son read it, but it has really passed me by. I think that the title must offend my Protestant Work Ethic background.

Johnson_cleanstrawBut the title put me in mind of George Johnston’s Clean Straw for Nothing (1969), the second of his David Meredith trilogy, and the sequel to My Brother Jack. Unfortunately, I read it before I started my blog, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that I absolutely loved all three books of the trilogy.

wheatley_cliftSo caught up was I by the trilogy that I became fascinated by Charmian Clift, writer and journalist and, as it happens, George Johnston’s wife. Nadia Wheatley wrote a brilliant biography of her called The Life and Myth of Charmian Clift (2002) which, again, I read before starting this blog.

 

australian-women-war-reportersClift was a journalist, although more of the domestic kind, with long-running columns in the ‘women’s pages’ of the newspaper. Jeannine Baker explores the world of Australian woman war journalists in her Australian Women Reporters (2015). She traces through the various wars that Australia has been involved in, identifying women reporters who had to forge their own roles in a journalistic genre that lionized male war reporters.

Hotel Florida by Amanda Vaill.jpg

And one of the biggest male reporters of them all is Ernest Hemingway, who is just one of the journalists that Amanda Vaill deals with in Hotel Florida (2014). During the Spanish Civil War, international journalists were based at the Hotel Florida in Madrid, and she traces through the interleaved lives of press journalists Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gellhorn, photographers Robert Capa and Gerda Taro and press officers/censors/propagandists Arturo Barea and Isla Kulscar.

mccamishMentioned in passing is the Australian journalist Alan Moorehead, who was also in Spain during the Civil War. Thornton McCamish wrote a fine biography of Moorehead in his Our Man Elsewhere (2016). This book dealt with Moorhead’s experiences as a war correspondent, then his plunge into popular history with, for example, his book Coopers Creek about Burke and Wills.

murgatroyd_digMoorhead wasn’t the only historian to write about Burke and Wills. English writer Sarah Murgatroyd wrote an eminently readable history in her book The Dig Tree (2002), which again, I read before I started this blog. It was quite tragic to learn that she died of cancer just a few weeks after it was published. It has been republished as one of the Text Classics, which is impressive for a book published so recently.

My, I’ve been non-fiction-ny this month.

Six Degrees of Separation: from What I Loved to….

It’s the first Saturday of the month, and so it’s Six Degrees of Separation day. To find out more about this meme, check out Books are My Favourite and Best where all will be explained.

what-i-lovedSo, the starting book is Siri Husdvedt’s What I Loved. I could have sworn that I have read this book, but I have no record of it at all, and when I read the synopsis it doesn’t sound familiar either. But I gather that it starts off with an art historian and a painting, so that leads me to….

 

sittersAlex Miller’s The Sitters which is about an aging portrait painter and his young portrait subject, a visiting academic. It’s only a small book, and like much of Miller’s work, it has layers under its apparent simplicity. Talking about sitting for a portrait leads me to…..

 

thelongingCandace Bruce’s The Longing, which has a dual narrative: one set in the mid 19th century where a young indigenous woman working as a domestic servant in one of those large Western Districts homesteads, observes her mistress’ infatuation with a visiting portrait painter, and a second narrative where 150 years later an art historian visits the same homestead to make a significance assessment of a portrait kept by the family in their now-decayed mansion.  That Western Districts of Victoria setting takes me to….

kiddle_menofyesterdayMargaret Kiddle’s Men of Yesterday: A social history of the Western District 1834-1890. This book, written in 1961, is written by a daughter of the Western District herself, celebrating the white settlement of western Victoria. Its reverence for ‘settlement’  and ancestral pride, without considering the theft of indigenous lands, does not sit well today but it is beautifully written by a young historian who died before it was published. Another historian who discovered Margaret Kiddle’s work was Maggie Mackellar, who used it in writing her own work on Western Districts squatter Niel Black. I haven’t read that work, but I did read Maggie Mackellar’s memoir which led me to….

Whenitrains

When it Rains, Maggie’s memoir of packing up after a family tragedy to return to her grandparent’s property in outback New South Wales. She steps into small town life, while continuing to write through her grief, which she expresses as a series of short chapters, acting as a voyeur in her own life, circling around the pain. The isolation of pain and grief leads me to….

bereftChris Womersley’s Bereft, set during the influenza epidemic of 1919, when Quinn Walker returns from the Western Front of WWI to his childhood home. There is no grand home-coming for him because he had fled his hometown ten  years earlier, when he was accused of a rape, and had been reported dead on the front.. Realizing that his mother is very sick with influenza, he approaches the house when his father is absent, and speakers with his mother, who thinks she is hallucinating. The setting of the book during Australia’s influenza epidemic leads me to….

Spinney_paleriderLaura Spinney’s Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and how it changed the world  is  a global account of the influenza pandemic that reached Australia in 1919. It is well researched and fascinating. She focuses on the disease, its manifestations and the scientific response, but she also interweaves this with a consciousness of how the experience of suffering and recovering from the flu leached out into music and literature in the succeeding decade.

How odd. I seem to have spent quite a bit of time in Australian literature this time, with only my book-end books set internationally.

 

 

 

Six Degrees of Separation: from ‘Normal People’ to….

normal-peopleUsually the first Saturday of the month passes me by and I miss out on the Six Degrees of Separation meme from Kate’s blog Books Are My Favourite and Best.  But I’ve caught it this time, even though I haven’t read the starting book, Sally Rooney’s Normal People.

On the first Saturday of every month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. Readers and bloggers are invited to join in by creating their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book.

taylor_bright_young_people

 

Rather than normal people, I start off with D.J. Taylor’s Bright Young People: The Rise and Fall of a Generation 1918-1940. This is the story of the self-absorbed generation of London that ‘came out’ at the end of the war, partied their way through the 1920s, were brought undone by the Depression, then tended either to fascism or the idealism of the Spanish Civil War and Communism.

dancing-with-empty-pockets-australias-bohemiansAustralia had its own Bright Young People too, but they generally did not have the entrenched wealth of those in Britain, and they gravitated more towards the arts and the intelligentsia. Dancing with Empty Pockets by Tony Moore explores Australia’s Bohemians, switching the focus between Melbourne and Sydney, with chapters taking in a timespan of about twenty to thirty years, with the 1920s and 1950s given chapters of their own.

moraA real live Bohemian is the late Mirka Mora, whose biography Wicked but Virtuous takes her from WWII Europe as the daughter of a French Jewish resistance fighter through to Melbourne of the 1950s and 1960s. There she became a fixture of the contemporary art scene. More recently she became a puckish and mischievous stalwart of most documentaries of Australian cultural life.

bittoEmily Bitto’s The Strays is a coming-of-age novel set within the unconventional family setting of an artistic bohemian group.  The only child of a rather boring, middle-class family, Lily is treat as one of the ‘strays’ who circulate around the loud, bold Trentham family.  It is an exploration of the heady combination of sex, alcohol and freedom, and the lure of a transgressive lifestyle.

 

doveyWhen I think of strays, I think of dogs which takes me to Ceridwyn Dovey’s Only the Animals, which not only has a dog but camels, tortoises, apes, parrots and dolphins as well. A series of separate short stories, these animals are each caught up in a human conflict during the twentieth century. In each case, there is a connection with a writer who paid homage in some way to an animal in her or his work.

 

Hocking_DismissalDovey? Dovey? Where have I heard that name before? That’s right- Margaret Whitlam was Margaret Dovey before she married Gough. I haven’t yet got round to reading Jenny Hocking’s two-volume biography of Gough Whitlam. However I did read her The Dismissal Dossier, which should be read by those of us who think we remember the 1975 dismissal should read, as well as those who weren’t born at the time.

 

From a romance of two millenials from the same Irish town to the maelstrom of Australian politics – now that’s a journey!

Six Degrees of Separation: From The Outsiders to….

I did this last month and enjoyed it, so I’ll do it again! See the ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ meme over at BooksAreMyFavouriteandBest. This month we start off with S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. I’ve never read it and I confess that I had to look it up on Wikipedia to see what it was about. I knew that it was ‘young adult’, but I thought it was science-fiction. It’s not- instead it’s about gangs in 1960s Oklahoma.

larrikinsAh! they’re a gang of larrikins – such a beautifully Australian word!- which is explored in Melissa Bellanta’s history Larrikins: A History. Bellanta’s book takes larrikins like Steve Irwin, the forgettable (and best forgotten) Corey Worthington, the Beaconsfield miners and former Prime Minister Bob Hawke and explores the concept of the larrikin throughout Australia’s history.

hazelBob Hawke was a bit of a larrikin, and played up to the image. His America’s Cup jacket and white bathrobe were a bit cringe-inducing, but many Australians had a soft spot for his wife, Hazel. She was a dignified Prime Minister’s wife, especially after he left her for a younger woman, and she was courageous in her openness about her battle with Alzheimer’s (or ‘The Big A’ as she called it), documented in her daughter Sue Pieters-Hawke’s book Hazel’s Journey.

russell_franklinBefore there were Australian Prime Ministers, there were Governors, and Lady Jane Franklin was the wife of Governor Sir John Franklin in Van Diemen’s Land in the late 1830s and 1840s, before he sailed off into the Arctic in the Erebus, never to be seen again. On a much smaller scale, Jane Franklin was pretty intrepid too, traveling alone to Port Phillip and Sydney, and in An Errant Lady, historian Penny Russell presents Jane Franklin’s diaries.

wantingJane Franklin has spawned a number of biographies and has been incorporated into fiction as well, most recently in Richard Flanagan’s Wanting where Flanagan draws together a whole cast of mid-century ‘historical’ characters – Charles Dickens, Sir John and Lady Jane Franklin, George Augustus Robinson, Wilkie Collins – into the fictionalized rendering of the true-life story of the young Aboriginal girl Mathinna in Van Diemen’s Land.

shakespearePeripatetic English author Nicholas Shakespeare was not born in Tasmania, but felt drawn to it by its beauty, only to find that he had family connections there as well: Army officer and merchant Anthony Fenn Kemp and Petre Hordern, a failed alcoholic from a wealthy family, who submerged himself in the bush and dragged his family into poverty. In his book In Tasmania, he uses these two characters as bookends to explore a narrative of Tasmania.

lakeshorelimitedAnd with a surname like ‘Shakespeare’, of course one thinks of plays – especially ‘Hamlet’.  The play-within-a-play is a motif that Sue Miller, whose books I’ve been reading for decades, uses in her The Lake Shore Limited, set in Boston. Not quite Oklahoma where I began, but a round trip from America to Australia and back again.