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Six Degrees of Separation in Books

burial-rites-978144723316901Norwegian Woodphoto 1Red Hook RoadThe BelieversTortilla Curtain

Thank you to writers Emma Chapman and Annabel Smith for inviting me to take part in their Six Degrees of Separation blog meme – I say no to these all the time but this one really captured my imagination and it’s been interesting reading other people’s too. The first book, BURIAL RITES, was fixed but from then on it’s six degrees of free association. I was inundated with ideas and actually found it quite difficult!  This is what I came up with in the end:

BURIAL RITES (2013) by HANNAH KENT was one of my Top Books of 2013. One of the things which drew me to it was the sheer unlikelihood of a young Australian author setting a novel in nineteenth century Iceland.

It reminded me of my surprise on discovering a book called NORWEGIAN WOOD by Japanese author HARUKI MURAKAMI (2000, Trans. Jay Rubin). The title refers a Beatles song I didn’t then recall, although it came back to me when I listened to it. It’s a tragic and macabre story of troubled adolescence, as is…

THE VIRGIN SUICIDES (1993) by JEFFREY EUGENIDES, the closest thing to a perfect novel I’ve read. (There are no perfect novels, of course.)

Another less bizarre but moving story of family life in the aftermath of death is RED HOOK ROAD (2010) by AYELET WALDMAN. I came across it by accident thinking it was about the Red Hook neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. (In fact, it’s set in coastal Maine).

For my money, one of the best books which actually IS set in New York is THE BELIEVERS (2008) by ZOE HELLER, an author I hugely admire particularly for her stance on the characters and empathy issue.  This is another family drama which plays out against the backdrop of someone dying. As will be obvious by now, I like dark subjects; I also enjoy novels which offer an insight into different cultures and ways of life.  The portrayal of Orthodox Judaism in this one was absolutely fascinating.

An equally eye-opening novel which has stayed with me is THE TORTILLA CURTAIN (1995) by T C BOYLE, in which a traffic accident in southern California randomly unites the fates of two couples: illegal Mexican immigrants and wealthy residents of a gated community respectively. This powerful story has a vivid sense of place but addresses universal issues such as class, consumerism, racism and moral justice.

And not that it had to, but the last of those themes brings us neatly back to BURIAL RITES.

I hope you enjoyed my Six Degrees of Separation in Books which turned out to have a Death and the Unexpected thread – these titles all come highly recommended.  Have you read any of them?

Anyone can take part – post on your own blog and use the #6Degrees on Twitter.  Here are the rules.


I’ll now be vacating the Literary Sofa for a couple of weeks to devote time to my family, my writing and a weekend in Barcelona. Enjoy the holidays!

About Isabel Costello

Writer (novels: Paris Mon Amour 2017; Scent 2021).Host of the Literary Sofa blog. Co-founder of Resilience for Writers with Voula Tsoflias. Perfume lover and Francophile.


7 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation in Books

  1. What a great post !! Seems like fun ….may have a go myself next month . Have a good break and look forward to your return to the sofa soon .

    Posted by hastanton | April 7, 2014, 09:42
    • Please do join in – next month we will be posting on saturday May 3rd, starting with Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar as the first link in the chain.

      Posted by annabelsmith | April 10, 2014, 08:57
  2. What a fabulous idea to apply the six degrees to novels. Like your choices, especially good to see The Virgin Suicides and The Believers flagged up there. Enjoy your holiday break

    Posted by Annecdotist | April 7, 2014, 10:23
  3. Great link between Norwegian Wood & The Virgin Suicides. Seeing Zoe Heller in there reminded me I’ve been meaning to read another one of hers since Notes on a Scandal. Now, is Ayelet Waldman Michael Chabon’s wife? I didn’t know she was a writer too. Thanks so much for taking part.

    Posted by annabelsmith | April 10, 2014, 08:58
    • I had great fun doing this, thanks to you and Emma for starting it! Yes, Ayelet Waldman is married to Michael Chabon and she’s an excellent writer too. As for Zoë Heller, if you enjoyed Notes… I think you’d love The Believers. It’s even better IMO.

      Posted by Isabel Costello | April 12, 2014, 18:22
  4. An interesting blog tour idea that I haven’t come across. Enjoy Barcelona!

    Posted by helenmackinven | April 14, 2014, 09:50

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