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, ….. – all starting from a book suggested each month by Kate.
This month’s book to get our journey started is Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. With no disrespect to this great novel, my links are based more on the title than the contents.
© Google Maps
Frome might be Ethan’s surname, but it is also the name of a town in Somerset, a town that was one of the largest in the county until the Industrial Revolution, and was larger than Bath until 1650. So my six literary steps this month will take us on a journey around Somerset.
I thought we should start with a classic and who better to turn to for that than Jane Austen? Her early years were spent in Hampshire, but when her father retired the parents and their two unmarried daughters, Jane and Cassandra, moved to Bath. Whilst Jane seemed a less prolific writer in her years there, both Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were inspired by the city.
“They arrived in Bath. Catherine was all eager delight; her eyes were here, there, everywhere, as they approached its fine and striking environs…” – Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey.
Royal Crescent, Bath, 2015
From Jane Austen’s classics, we’ll move to Miss Austen by Gill Hornby.
What a wonderful read – much of it is told in the fictional words of Jane in her letters and her readings to her family. It took me back in time to the days of the Austens, to the subjects of family life and the necessity of marriage for women, topics that were key to Jane’s works. But more than that, it addressed the mystery of why big sister Cassandra destroyed the letters that Jane wrote to her – what was she hiding? I won’t tell you more – just read it.
Next, it’s time for some crime, and to keep us in Somerset, I’ve got a body floating in a lake near Bath.
This story is also tightly linked to Miss Austen, with a couple of lost letters written by Austen playing an important part in the solving of the mystery. The book in question is The Last Detective by Peter Lovesey, the first in his Peter Diamond series and winner of the Anthony Award for Best Novel in 1992.
Whilst on the subject of crime fiction, I always find it hard to ignore Agatha Christie. Her short story, The Four Suspects, makes the perfect fourth step in this Somerset chain. It is an investigation into the death of Dr Rosen, a secret agent who helped bring about the downfall of a German criminal organisation, who now resides in a small village in Somerset.
The story was first published in the USA as ‘Four Suspects’ in both Pictorial Review and Storyteller in 1930. It then appeared in a short story collection, The Thirteen Problems in the UK and The Tuesday Club Murders in the US, in 1932 and 1933 respectively.
It’s a great Miss Marple story and if you just want the one story you can get it on Kindle.
Staying with some espionage, let’s now move to a John le Carré: Our Game. Here we meet Tim Cranmer, a retired secret servant, enjoying some relaxation in his Somerset home until another agent and Tim’s mistress vanish.
At this point we are whisked away from peaceful Somerset to the lawless wilds of Russia and the North Caucasus for a gripping story.
Time to bring us all back to Somerset, and we’ll close with another British classic – Lorna Doone: a romance of Exmoor. Written in 1869, this historical novel takes us back to the times of the Monmouth Rebellion in the seventeenth century. We find everything in this classic romance – outlaws, murder, poverty, wealth, mystery, and above all, love.
The book was praised by Robert Louis Stevenson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Thomas Hardy, has never been out of print, and is said to have been the favourite book of outlaw Ned Kelly. It was also voted favourite novel by students at Yale in 1906.
I hope my chain of six pieces of fiction prompts a good read for you in December. Maybe something to add to your Christmas list?
Next month we’ll be setting off from Rules of Civility, Amor Towles’ first novel. I wonder where that will take us.
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, 7 December 2021
Posted as part of Six Degrees