Six Degrees of Separation: Pride and Prejudice to Digging to America

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month’s chain begins with the universally loved classic, Pride and  Prejudice, by Jane Austen.

Pride and Prejudice

This is a long time favourite of mine, a book I first read when I was about 12 after seeing a BBC adaption. It’s full of wit and humour and timeless characters – foolish people, flirts, bores, snobs, self-centred and dishonest people as well as “good” people like Jane Bennet, who is determined to see good in everyone. Since then I’ve read all of Jane Austen’s books, apart from her Juvenilia books.

17th July was the 200th anniversary of her death and my first book in the chain is a book published to mark that anniversary. It’s a book I’m currently reading: Jane Austen at Home: a Biography by Lucy Worsley.  it focuses on her family and the places she lived during her short life. It really is a fascinating book for Jane Austen fans.

Jane Austen at Home

This leads nicely onto the second book in my chain – another biography of a favourite author, seen through the places she lived. It’s Agatha Christie at Home by Hilary Macaskill, an overview of Agatha Christie’s life followed by descriptions of the houses and countryside she loved – from Ashfield in Torquay her first home, where she was born and brought up, to Greenway, a Georgian mansion above the River Dart, now owned by the National Trust.  A beautiful book, with many photographs.

Agatha Christie at Home

Next a book also by a Hilary, Ink in the Blood: a Hospital Diary by Hilary Mantel, a short memoir which she wrote during the summer after she won the Man Booker Prize for Wolf Hall, when she was very ill. She had a marathon operation, followed by intense pain, nightmares and hallucinations. Illness she found knocks down our defences, revealing things we should never see, needing moment by moment concentration on breathing, on not being sick and being dependent on others for your well-being.

Ink In The Blood: A Hospital Diary

Blood provides the next link – The Blood Detective by Dan Waddell, crime fiction that absolutely grabbed me apart from the ending. It’s the sort of story that if I was watching it on TV I’d have to peep at through my fingers or even cover my eyes completely until the grisly bits were over. There are bits of graphic violence earlier in the book, which I could just about cope with, but the grisly stuff at the end was a step too far for me. It’s not just crime fiction though as DCI Grant Foster enlists the help of genealogist Nigel Barnes to track down the killer helping to solve the murders using family history.

The Blood Detective (Nigel Barnes #1)

Also crime fiction – and also a bit grisly is The Legacy by Yrsa Sigurdardottir, the first in the Children’s House thriller series. I loved it and once I started reading I just didn’t want to put it down, even though there are some particularly dark and nasty murder scenes, which would normally guarantee that I’d stop reading. It’s dark, mysterious and very cleverly plotted, full of tension and nerve-wracking suspense about three children, two brothers and their little sister who were adopted.

And so to the last book in my chain, Digging to America by Anne Tyler, also about adopted children. It  captivated me right from the start, with the description of two contrasting families waiting at Baltimore Airport for the arrival of two Korean babies they have adopted. The story develops as the two girls, Jo-Hin and Susan (originally Sooki) are integrated into their families – one American, the Donaldsons, outgoing and confident and the other the Yazdans, American/Iranian, reserved and restrained.

Digging to AmericaI never know when I begin a chain where it will lead. This one has gone from 18th century England to 20th century America, via Iceland, and passing through biographies, a memoir, and crime fiction. ‘Family’ is a theme in all the books in one way or another and adopted children feature in three of them – in Jane Austen’s own family one of her brothers was ‘adopted’ by a wealthy relation and another went to live with another family because of his epilepsy.

Quite surprising, really. I wonder where other chains will go?

The Legacy by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

The Legacy is my first venture into Icelandic Noir and the first in a new series by Yrsa Sigurdardottir – the Children’s House thriller series, translated from Icelandic by Victoria Cribb.

I think the first thing I should say about this book is that I loved it and once I started reading I just didn’t want to put it down. What is so remarkable about that is that there are some particularly dark and nasty murder scenes, which would normally guarantee that I’d stop reading. I am so glad I did read on. The Legacy is an excellent book. It’s dark, mysterious and very cleverly plotted, full of tension and nerve-wracking suspense. Although I thought I’d worked out who the murderer is I was completely wrong, but looking back I could see all the clues are there, cunningly concealed – I just didn’t notice them.

It begins with a prologue set in 1987 when three young children, two boys and their little sister are waiting to be adopted. It’s hard to find anyone willing to adopt all three and they are separated. The psychiatrists’ opinion is that it is in their best interests to be parted and that their horrendous background be kept secret, hoping that time and being split up would obliterate their memories. I did try to keep the events in the prologue in mind as I read and had some idea of how it related to the rest of the book, but it was only when I came to the dramatic conclusion that everything became clear.

Move forward to 2015 to Elisa whose husband is away leaving her on her own with three young children for a week. Her seven-year old daughter, Margrét wakes her, frightened because there is a man in the house. What follows is the first horrifying murder (read it quickly and try not to linger over the details because the pictures they paint don’t bear thinking about). Margrét, who was hiding when her mother is killed, is the only witness and she’s too traumatised to say very much.

She is taken to the Children’s House where Freyja, the child psychologist in charge and the detective Huldar, in charge of the police investigation, try to get to the truth. It’s immensely difficult, complicated by more murders. Freyja and Huldar are both sympathetic characters, both deeply committed to their jobs, but because of past history between them unable to trust each other.

The narrative is in the third person and switches between Freyja’s and Huldar’s viewpoints, interspersed by that of another character, Karl a student and radio ham enthusiast who has been receiving strange messages from a mysterious numbers station broadcasting, unusually, in Icelandic. These consist of long strings of numbers read out by synthesised voices. Karl dreams of successfully cracking the codes. I was both intrigued and completely mystified by this part of the novel. I was completely engrossed in the plot and the characters and I shall certainly be reading more of Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s books in the future.

My thanks to the publishers, Hodder and Stoughton, for an e-book copy for review, via NetGalley.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2046 KB
  • Print Length: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (23 Mar. 2017)
  • My rating: 5* (despite the horrific murders)