Follow the hashtag #6degrees on Twitter to check out everyone else’s chains.
This month the chain is starting with Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss, in which the author bemoans the state of punctuation in the United Kingdom and the United States and describes how rules are being relaxed in today’s society. Her goal with the book was to remind readers of the importance of punctuation in the English language by mixing humour and instruction.
Harper Lee is another writer for whom punctuation or the lack of punctuation was important. She has firm ideas on how exactly her second novel’s title should appear. When shown a mock-up of the book jacket by her US publisher, which presented the title as ‘Go, Set a Watchman’ (as it is written in Isaiah 21:6 from where it is taken), Lee reportedly said there should be no comma after ‘Go’. An editor argued that there was one in the King James Version. “That’s the Lord’s book,” the 89-year-old author replied. “This is my book. And there is no comma.” Go Set a Watchman it duly became.
Go Set a Watchman is a debut novel (although published second), which features characters from a later book by the same author. In the same way, Virginia Woolf’s debut novel A Voyage Out features an appearance by Clarissa Dalloway, who would become the main character in Mrs Dalloway. In A Voyage Out, she is a passenger aboard a ship bound for South America. The main character in the novel is Rachel Vinrace, who is launched on a course of self-discovery in a kind of modern mythical voyage.
A ship bound for South America also features in Chess Story by Stefan Zweig. Sometimes known as The Royal Game, this novella explore what happens when passengers on the ship discover that on board with them is the world champion of chess, an arrogant and unfriendly man. They come together to try their skills against him and are soundly defeated. Then a mysterious passenger steps forward to advise them and their fortunes change. How he came to possess his extraordinary grasp of the game of chess and at what cost lie at the heart of Zweig’s story.
A chess prodigy is at the heart of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union in which Meyer Landsman, an alcoholic homicide detective with the Sitka police department, is investigating the murder of a chess player in the hotel where Landsman lives. Beside the corpse lies an open cardboard chess board with what appears to be an unfinished game set up on it. This will be the key to solving the whole case. The novel is set in an alternative history version of the present day. The premise is that contrary to real history, the United States voted to implement the 1940 Slattery Report, which recommended the provision of land in Alaska for the temporary refugee settlement of European Jews who were being persecuted by the Nazis during World War II.
Another book, which features an alternate history of World War II, is The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick which takes place fifteen years after a different end to World War II, and depicts intrigues between the victorious Axis Powers—primarily, Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany—as they rule over the Southern and Western United States. Important to the plot of the book is the fact that several characters in it read a fictional popular novel called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, by Hawthorne Abendsen, which is about an alternative universe, where the Axis Powers lost World War II, and the book has been banned.
This literary device of an embedded narrative is used to great effect in The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. The novel’s protagonist, Iris Chase, and her sister Laura, grow up as wealthy orphans in a small town in southern Ontario. As an old woman, Iris recalls the events and relationships of her childhood, youth and middle age, including her unhappy marriage. However, rather than presenting a linear narrative, the book includes a novel within a novel, a roman à clef attributed to Laura about a politically radical author of pulp science fiction who has an ambiguous relationship with the sisters. That embedded story itself contains a third tale, the eponymous Blind Assassin.
So there you have it!
From punctuation to literary devices via cruises, chess and alternate histories, these are my six degrees of separation for this month!
Next month (August 7, 2021), we’ll start with a bestselling work of autobiographical fiction, Postcards From the Edge by Carrie Fisher.