I know that I am horrendously late with this post, but I had it all planned out when the dreaded lurgy struck and I am loath to waste the thought that went into a meme hosted by Kate at Books are my Favourite and Best, which I have to come to really enjoy participating in. So, ten days late – here goes.
January’s Six Degrees of Separation has as its starting point John Fowles novel, The French Lieutenant’s Woman. I am of the generation who was bowled over by the 1981 film staring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons. I remember the wonderful scene shot on the Cobb at Lyme Regis and I did think about making my first leap into Jane Austen’s Patience, which also has scenes set in that picturesque South Coast town or possibly to Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier for the same reason. However, in the end I decided to stick with one of the stars of the film, Jeremy Irons, an actor I saw several times at Stratford but whose ‘acquaintance’ I first made through the televisation of Evelyn Waugh’s book, Brideshead Revisited. There has been a later cinematic version of this, but for me it didn’t come anywhere near that earlier dramatisation which was my first introduction to Waugh’s works and which prompted a splurge on almost everything he had written.
Jeremy Irons played the part of Charles Ryder. One of the novel’s other leading characters is, of course, Aloysius, Sebastian Flyte’s Bear. As many of you know I too share my life with a number of distinguished and erudite Bears (they are looking over my shoulder as I write so I wouldn’t dare say anything else!) one of whom is also called Aloysius. In our previous home Aloysius sat on the same shelf in the bookcase that contained all our Harry Potter books and as a result, in a reference to Hagrid’s role at Hogwarts, he became known as The Keeper of the Harry Potters. My second link, therefore is to the first of the Harry Potter novels, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I read this in my role of Lecturer in Children’s Literature and am therefore very proud of the fact that I was a Harry Potter fan before most of the world knew that he existed.
In this earliest novel Voldemort is searching for the philosopher’s stone in the hope that it will grant him everlasting life. Another novel in which the search for eternal existence is key is Peter Ackroyd‘s The House of Dr Dee. Again, this was the first novel that I had read by this particular author and again, it sparked off something of a binge where Ackroyd’s novels were concerned. It could link into my fourth choice, in two ways. Firstly, there is a title link and secondly it is a novel which takes place in two different time spans. As I want to use the second link between my next two books, I am going to go with the first of those and claim a link through the title of Daphne Du Maurier’s The House on the Strand.
As some of you know, I run a Summer School each year, where we read three books linked thematically in some way and several years ago now that theme was ‘Then and Now’; all three books were set in both the author’s present and a particular moment in history. The House on the Strand was one of these, featuring a character who moves between his own time and the fourteenth century. Another choice was Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott. Stott is one of a number of writers who have written excellent books that I have really enjoyed but who appear to have vanished from the literary scene. She is well known for her academic writing, but this 2007 work and a slightly later novel The Coral Thief, are her only works of fiction. Ghostwalk is excellent. It is a literary murder mystery set in present day Cambridge but also exploring that city’s past, in particular the life and work of Isaac Newton. In fact, it links back to two earlier choices because the victim, Elizabeth Vogelsang, is writing a book on Newton’s involvement with alchemy. Vogelsang dies with a prism in her hand and that, along with the Newton connection provide me with my final link to Jodi Taylor’s novel A Second Chance.
A Second Chance is the third in Taylor’s series The Chronicles of St Mary’s, which relates the adventures of an intrepid group of historians who explore historical events in contemporary time. Don’t call it time travel. Dr Bairstow doesn’t like it. At the beginning of this particular book Taylor’s heroine (?), Max, is busy preparing for the expedition of a life time, to visit Troy immediately before and after the Trojan War of The Iliad. However, as a favour to Dr Bairstow she agrees to take a old friend of his back to seventeenth century Cambridge to catch a glimpse of his hero, Isaac Newton. It is a the St Mary’s equivalent of the prime directive that its historians must in no way interfere with past events but sometimes Max just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or as she would see it the right place at the right time and who knows if Newton would ever have made all those discoveries about light if it hadn’t been for the small hand mirror that she carries to help her see what is going on when she is supposed to be keeping her eyes modestly to herself? Newton runs off with her mirror and the rest, as they say, is history.
So, from the nineteenth century Cobb at Lyme Regis to a seventeenth century Cambridge quad in six moves. Next month’s six degrees starts with Fight Club, a work I haven’t read turned into a film I haven’t seen. I shall have to do some digging!