From “Shtum” by Jem Lester to “Kiss Me First” by Lottie Moggach.
This 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. The rules are here in this graphic.
This month (August 3, 2019), the chain begins with the book we finished with last month, for me that’s “Shtum” by Jem Lester.
This is a freebie/wildcard month; that means we start with the book we finished with last month (or newcomers to this meme can start with their own choice of book). For me, that means “Shtum” by Jem Lester, which novel takes place in England. The story is about a couple with a severely autistic son named Jonah, who is 10 years old. Jonah’s parents are Ben and Emma, and they’re having a very hard time finding getting their son accepted to a school that truly meets Jonah’s needs. When Emma discovers that disabled children with parents who are separated or divorced get bumped up the waiting lists for prime facilities, they fake a separation, and Ben moves in with his elderly father Georg, with whom Ben has a very rocky relationship. This novel also has quite a bit of humor in addition to the many poignant passages, and if I had read it in 2016 when it was published, I’m certain it would have made my top-five list that year.
First Degree. The obvious connection here would be to the book that got me to “Shtum,” but that’s cheating, right? But the fake separation bit got me thinking about Margaret Atwood’s “The Heart Goes Last.” This speculative fiction novel has its protagonists Charmaine and Stan decide to solve their unemployment and homelessness problem by moving to the experimental town of Consilience and its Positron project. The deal is, they give you a home and a job in their newly built town of Consilience, but every other month, you become a prison inmate (with all that entails, from what you can wear and what jobs they assign you while you’re inside) while the people in the prison take over your home for that month. Furthermore, to get a spot in Consilience, you have to cut yourself off totally and utterly from the rest of society – no phones, no internet, no television or radio (except for what they pipe into the system for you). While this sounds like it could be heavy going (and some of it does feel pretty dire), Atwood livened this one up by adding several very funny bits – and I mean laugh out loud stuff – and I highly recommend it.
Second Degree. I know, Atwood and humor don’t sound like they’d go together, do they? In fact, they almost seem like polar opposites. Well, that’s my connection to the next book, “Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides, which is about a young person who has been raised as a female, but discovers that they were actually born a hermaphrodite, and soon realizes that her parents made the wrong decision, and should have raised her as a boy. This book also has one of the best openings I’ve ever read, which is “I was born twice: first, as a baby girl on a remarkably smog-less Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan in August of 1974.” How’s that for a start?
Third Degree. One could almost say that in that book, Calliope was actually Cal in disguise. Which brings me directly to Greer Macallister’s novel, “Girl in Disguise” about the first woman to ever get a job as a detective, Kate Warne (and no, I don’t care that I used this one last month, it fits here too, and it is my favorite of her books – so far). Although I’ve read all three of Macallister’s books, this one is still my favorite (but only by a whisper). I knew nothing about Kate, although I had heard about the agency where she convinced the owner, Mr. Pinkerton, she could be an asset to their investigative work, and apparently, she really was – both in Chicago where the offices of the agency was located, and on the road on assignment, possibly even spying for the Union during the Civil War.
Forth Degree. I could have gone with Chicago here (my home town), but civil unrest and intrigue brought me squarely to “Anil’s Ghost” by my all-time favorite author, Michael Ondaatje. This story of a forensic archeologist who is requested to return to her home country of Sri Lanka to investigate the bones of a body of an unknown person, nicknamed “Sailor.” This was the second of Ondaatje’s books I read. While less poetic than his more famous “English Patient” the story he weaves here is still filled with lyrical prose. I always recommend this and “The Cat’s Table” to those who want to start reading Ondaatje but are looking for something to start with that is a bit more conventionally written.
Fifth Degree. This idea of going back to a country of your heritage where you haven’t been for a long while made me think of “A Tale for the Time Being” by Ruth Ozeki. In this novel, Ozeki tells the tale of Nao, a girl who has to move back to Japan from the United States, after her father loses his job in California when the “dot com” bubble burst. Nao’s diary ends up found by the narrator of the story (named Ruth, who is also part Japanese – so yes, semi-autobiographical), when a “Hello Kitty” lunchbox is washed up on the shores of her Canadian island after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. As the story unfolds for Ruth, she finds herself impacted by it in ways she cannot understand. This is one of the few times where the bits of magical realism didn’t bother me, and it was my favorite novel of that year.
Sixth Degree. The idea that someone totally disconnected to your own life, can actually become almost larger than life to you, the more you learn about them, brought me to a very unique novel “Kiss Me First” by Lottie Moggach (if the name sounds familiar, she’s the daughter of Deborah Moggach who wrote “These Foolish Things” aka “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel“). Although the ending of this book was a bit on of a letdown for me, the concept was very unique. This is the story of a veritable recluse named Leila, whose whole life is on the internet. When she finds her way into the dark web and a site that allows people to commit physical suicide while keeping their online presence alive (in order to not worry friends and family), her job is to learn how to practically become someone else – Tess. But learning enough about Tess to impersonate her, makes Leila start to regret taking the job on. Yeah… fascinating and horrifying, right? Plus, if you think about it, death is the ultimate silence, and the first book in this chain is about an Autistic boy who can’t speak… seems to connect back, right?
Okay, I did NOT see this one coming! Seriously, I was going to go off on another tangent altogether. Then I hit a dead end, and had to backtrack and change my third degree and go in another direction, which did lead me to one I connected to last month, but I think that’s okay, right? (By the way, this dead end made me realize that I need to read and/or review more books either set in Australia or by Australian authors – never mind; long story!)
If you don’t know any of these books, I hope you’ll click on the links to my reviews and check them out!
If you decide to join in on this meme, I hope you’ll give me the link to your post in the comments below, as well as on the linky page that Kate has on her blog for this meme.