From “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson to “The Girl on the Landing” by Paul Torday.
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:
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This month we start with “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson!
This month (October 2, 2021), the chain begins with a short story – “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. Well, I can read a short story as quickly as anyone, and this one, first published in The New Yorker in 1948 was easy to get my hands on, and I zipped through it in only two sittings, in less than one day! That’s very fast for this dyslexic reader, and you can find my review of it here. Now, this story has been touted as “one of the most famous short stories in the history of American literature,” and well… I don’t know how famous it is, because I’d never heard of it before. Now, my regular readers know that I honestly believe that a really well-written short story is a joy to behold, so I have no problem with the format, and the story isn’t bad. I’m just unsure that this should be considered all that famous. But you know, hype is hype and always will be hype!
When I think of hype, I can find many books that I thought weren’t worthy of all the excitement. One of those would be “The Kalahari Typing School for Men” by Alexander McCall Smith. I know, maybe I should have started with the first of the books in that series, but that was the one that someone (my sister?) told me they loved and recommended to me (or gave me – I forget). In fact, tons of people said I should read them because I like Agatha Christie’s books. Well, I’m sorry, but although it was cute, and I liked Precious, I wasn’t bowled over, and I’ve never gone back to reading any of the others. (I’m also sorry to say that I tried to watch the TV series based on these books and although it was fun, I’ve decided there are better things to watch.)
Speaking of a novel that was turned into TV series, I think for this next link, I’ll go with “The Miniaturist” by Jessie Burton. Now don’t feel bad if you didn’t know that this was made into a TV mini-series; I found it by accident myself. Now, obviously, after enjoying this book so much, I was reasonably wary of any film version. However, I’m very happy to report that this is one of the best adaptations I’ve seen in a very long while. It is all of two (fairly long) episodes, but I think they really captured what Burton was trying to convey here, and I didn’t notice any real changes from the novel. What’s more, the actress who plays Petronella, the main protagonist in the book, was none other than Anya Taylor-Joy, the girl who swept everyone off their feet with her amazing performance in the TV series “The Queen’s Gambit”!
As you know, “The Queen’s Gambit” was about a young girl who becomes a grand master at chess, and chess is the next link in this chain. This next book is a fairly unknown novel called “The Death’s Head Chess Club” by John Donoghue. It is a fascinating story about how an officer in Auschwitz, is tasked with raising morale among his staff, which he does by starting a chess club. When the club starts to wane, he finds out about the Jewish prisoner known as “Watchmaker” who is rumored to be unbeatable at chess. Obviously, the Nazi is sure that the Jew is no match for his officers and to spice things up for the club (and thereby also prove the inferiority of the Jews to the Aryans), he decides to have him play against his fellow officers and enlisted men, with the only condition being that the Jew must play to win. No spoilers, but 20 years later, Watchmaker and this SS Obersturmführer find themselves both competing at the 1962 Amsterdam Chess Tournament (which also makes a connection to our previous book, and not just the TV show).
Nazis, of course, were hateful people, which brings me to the next link, with a hateful character. If you recall the Charles Dickens novel “Great Expectations” there’s a character called Magwitch, who is being deported to Australia for his crimes, when Pip shows him a little bit of kindness. Author Peter Carey uses this as the basis of his novel “Jack Maggs” where the main characters come together in a type of continuation of Dickens’ novel. There’s a whole lot of subterfuge going on here, and quite a few underhanded deals being made, all unbeknownst to our protagonist, who is called Philips (instead of Pip). I wasn’t thrilled with this novel, although I have to admit that the premise is very good, even if he did rip it off from Dickens.
Now, the connection to my next link is a touch tenuous here, so bare with me, please. As I said, Carey’s book uses elements of a Dickens story. When I read this next book, my immediate thought was that this was a new Christmas Carol of sorts (which was, of course written by Charles Dickens). I’m talking about Fredrik Backman’s “A Deal of a Lifetime.” In this book too, the main protagonist isn’t a very nice person (like Scrooge), and the whole “deal” here is a way for him (he’s unnamed) to find some kind of redemption before he dies. Thankfully, as the story progresses, we come to have quite a bit of sympathy for this man, and can appreciate his relationship with a young girl who is also dying. In my review, I called it “a thought-provoking novella about love, death, choices and consequences.”
Now, I could have gone the Christmas route for this next link, but October is the month for Halloween, and I thought instead I’d us a holiday themed link up to a novel with some unexplained, slightly spooky stuff going on. That’s why I chose to end this chain with “The Girl on the Landing” by Paul Torday. This is a bit of a psychological thriller type of story, and was not something I was expecting from Torday. Furthermore, another thing that connects this story to the previous one is how the protagonist here (Michael) begins to change his behavior, and in Backman’s novella, the protagonist also changes from the start of the story. In both these books, the way these men evolve from the start of their stories, also changes our perception of them by the end of our reading.