Six Degrees of Separation: May 2024

Six Degrees of Separation is hosted by Kate of

For May our starter book is The Anniversary by Stephanie Bishop. It's about a couple taking a cruise to celebrate their wedding anniversary. When the husband falls overboard, and as the search to find out what happened to him begins, the truth about the marriage is gradually revealed.

I haven't read this book and I doubt I ever will - to be honest I'm a bit tired of this kind of thing. The plot summary does remind me of Anatomy of a Fall, the film of which I saw a while ago and enjoyed - but I think my enjoyment came as much from the outstanding acting and cinematography as the plot itself, I'm not sure the story would have gripped me half as much in book form.

So going completely off on a tangent, my next book is Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie - the connections being boats and death. I am not a huge Christie fan, but I found this one more engaging than most. During a cruise on the Nile, a wealthy socialite, Linnet Doyle, is shot dead. The main suspect is her former friend, Jacqueline de Bellefort, her alleged motive being that Linnet stole and subseqently married Jacqueline's fiance Simon. There are of course plenty of other suspects on the boat, and there are several more deaths before Poirot finally identifies the murderer. Agatha Christie herself had travelled widely in the Middle East with her second husband, an archaeologist, so the settings in this book were no doubt familar to her. 

From a vast Egyptian river to a rather more sedate one, my next link is to Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows. This book has been a favourite of mine for so many years, and I still reread it often. It tells the stories of Ratty, Mole, Badger, Otter, and the irrepressible Mr Toad. Ratty and Mole live near the river (although some reviewers thought Grahame's inspiration came from the Crinan Canal), Badger lives deep inside the Wild Wood, and the wealthy but feckless Toad resides at the palatial Toad Hall. Grahame brings all these characters to life so well, and of course, as the ever-resourceful water rat says to his unwordly friend Mole.

'Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.'


More otters - real ones this time - appear in Gavin Maxwell's famous memoir of his life at Sandaig (Camusfearna)
, at the north western end of Lock Nevis. To his waterside house there, Maxwell brought Mijbil, an otter he had found in the Iraqi marshes. Ring of Bright Water soon became a bestseller, and in 1969 was made into a (fictionalised) film starring Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers. I have to confess that I've never read Ring of Bright Water - because a schoolfriend told me what happened at the end of the film, and after that I simply could not bear to watch it, nor read the book.

Jim Crumley has said that Ring of Bright Water was his greatest inspiration when he decided to become a nature writer. The first book of Crumley's I ever read was his wonderful Nature's Architect. It's about beavers - their importance to the eco system, the history of their persecution, and their renewed resurgence today - and it incorporates references to Crumley's beloved jazz, and to Frank Gehry, architect of - among numerous other buildings - the Louis Vuitton Foundation for Creation in the Bois de Boulogne. Beavers - talking ones - appear in another favourite book of my childhood, CS Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Top dam makers Mr and Mrs Beaver, risking their own lives, bravely shelter Lucy, Susan and Peter, and lead them to Aslan. It's only recently occurred to me that the Narnia books are examples of fantasy - yet I shy away from the fantasy genre in my adult reading. Maybe I should be more open minded.

The White Witch is the most feared character in Narnia. She has made winter last for a hundred long years. I have to say that, as a child, I found her a more appealing character than some of the 'good' ones. She did, after all, give Edmund Turkish Delight! And I love snow.

Another novel in which witches are far more ambivalent characters is Sylvia Townsend Warner's Lolly Willowes. In the early years of the 20th century, Laura (Lolly) is the spinster aunt who has stayed at home to care for her ailing father. On his death, Lady Place, their home, passes to Laura's younger brother, and it is assumed that Laura will go to London to live with her older brother and his family. This she dutifully does, becoming unpaid nanny and general help in Henry's household. After twenty years she suddenly decides to kick over the traces - she will buy a house in the Chilterns and live alone. Her brother is not only scandalised, he is forced to admit that, thanks to his woeful financial mismanagement, most of Lolly's inheritance has disappeared,. Undeterred, Lolly sets off for the village of Great Mop, where she lodges with a woman who introduces her to a very different kind of life, and a very different kind of man. Eventually Lolly has to make a decision (and no, it's not a romantic one, thank goodness.) By doing so she gains a certain, very valuable, kind of freedom.

Lolly Willowes is a feminist masterpiece. Lolly is a brilliant creation. And the book's funny too. There's even an interesting cat. As I haven't read The Anniversary, I have no idea how the plot plays out. Maybe JB has something in common with Lolly? I rather hope so. Next month's starter book is Butter by Asako Yuzuki.


  1. Very nice... almost totally aquatic, too!

  2. How can I not love this chain with Christie, Wind in the Willows and Narnia on it. So pleased so see three of my favourites in a chain!

  3. Ah, quite a few favourites here - especially Wind in the Willows, which my children and I almost could recite by heart! I was also reminded of Anatomy of a Fall from the description of The Anniversary, although I haven't read it either.

  4. Oh...Wind in the Willows! This was my grandmother's favourite so whenever I hear it I can't help but think of her!

  5. I love your linking from Wind in the Willows to Ring to Bright Water via the otter! And love also that one Agatha Christie appears here. I can't seem to avoid a Christie or two in most of my Six Degrees! ;)


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