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From Glasgow to Avignon


It’s time for this month’s chain of reading, set off by Kate’s Six Degrees of Separation, in which we are invited to build a chain of 6 books that bear some form of connection to the one before them – be it author, theme, style, location, title, era, language, ….. – starting from a book suggested by Kate.

This month, we are going to journey our way around the world, from Scotland to France (via South Korea, Africa and US), all triggered by Glasgow-based Shuggy Bain, the starter book given by Kate.

It was written by Douglas Stuart and won the Booker Prize in 2020. It tells a fascinating story of hardship, differences and discrimination. It manages to be both bleak and beautiful, with a tale that is equally sad and amusing. The hardship can make it a tough read at times, but I thoroughly recommend it.

Picking up on the topics of discrimination and difficulty of fitting in, my chain starts with The hen who dreamed she could fly, by Sun-Mi Hwang.

This was a bestseller in South Korea and its popularity has spread around the world. Use of myths and fables, tells the story of a caged hen dreaming of having babies, mixed race fostering and a free range hen that doesn’t want her chicks mixing with ducklings. An easy but thought-provoking read, with plenty of smiles as well as tears.

Next, we’ll stick with the myth theme and hop to Africa for a variety of tales, courtesy of Alexander McCall Smith, in The girl who married a lion.

I’ll admit I’m a big fan of McCall Smith; I’ve enjoyed many of his books and love hearing him speak. He is a great story teller with a strong sense of humour and he uses these skills admirably here to retell a number of tales from Zimbabwe and Botswana. If you’d like to hear the author talking, here is a recent conversation he had with James Naughtie.

I always find it hard to leave Africa once I’m there, so for our next book we’ll pop to Nigeria, and meet My sister, the serial killer.

This was a novel debut for Oyinkan Braithwaite, becoming a Times bestseller and winner of Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019. It contains hints of home violence and sibling rivalry, and these serious elements are topped by an element of black comedy. A great read.

Now time for another serial killer, and it had to be one of the Dexter series by Jeff Lindsay.

Dexter Morgan is well known following the popular Dexter tv series. He is a forensic technician specialising in bloodstain pattern analysis for the fictional Miami Metro Police Department, where he leads a secret parallel life as a Robin Hood serial killer, hunting down murderers who have slipped through the cracks of the justice system. The first episode of the tv series is based on the first novel, Darkly Dreaming Dexter, but the series veers away from the novels as its progresses. So do try out the novels that inspired the series.
And for fans of the tv series, you are promised a new 10 episode series later this year.

While in Miami, let’s take a break and enjoy the Tourist Season, Carl Hiaasen’s first solo novel.

This book contains more than just a crime story, it also uses satire to address issues associated with tourism, sports and race relations. A great read.

Now, for our final link in the chain, let’s move from tourism in Miami to the Strange Hotel, by Eimear McBride.

We enter a hotel in Avignon with a woman and her worries, but this is no simple meander in Provence. My interest was piqued by the opening section which appears to be a travel list, with Avignon, her chosen destination at the bottom. This method is used each time we move to another hotel with her, but don’t get your hopes raised if you want a travel tale as we never leave the hotel rooms, other than through her thoughts and memories. The books has received very mixed reviews and I have a mixed view on it myself – clever, intricate use of words but after a while it felt too artificial to me – great skill, but too internal for me and not enough solid story. But test it out yourself, you may be one of the book’s great fans. And if you’re not, don’t cross the author off your list as this was a big change from her previous works.

I hope my chain of six pieces of fiction prompts a good read for you in April.
Next month we’ll be setting off from Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary.

Note: Most of my links this week are to Hive, an online bookseller that gives part of the income to local booksellers, and you get to choose the bookshop you’d like to receive the benefit. I’m delighted that my local bookshop, Books on the Hill, is on the list, and have been happily supporting them in this way.



Copyright Debbie Smyth, 10 April 2021

Posted as part of Six Degrees

10 replies »

    • I must read more. I bought this one for my daughter when she was heading out to Miami a couple of years ago. But haven’t got round to reading more. Never enough time!


  1. Oh, there are a few for the TBR list here! I had The Hen who Dreamed she could Fly in a previous chain, before you joined in. The McCall Smith sounds a good suggestion – I haven’t read any where he re-tells folk tales. And actually, as I go on through your chain, I find there’s nothing here that I don’t want to read! So is it time to thank you, or utter a deep sigh? That long unread list ….


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