Book covers: Hydra by adriane Howell; The New One by Evie Green; The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz; The Kind Worth Saving by Peter Swanson; Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent; The Rose Code by Kate Quinn; Small Mercies by Dennis Lehand.

6 Degrees of Separation: From Dark to Darker

It’s time for another adventure in Kate’s 6 Degrees of Separation Meme from her blog, Books Are My Favourite and Best. We are given a book to start with, and from there we free associate six books.

Before we get started on this month’s exercise, here’s a bonus offering:

What Does the Term ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ Mean?

Moving on, we start this month with a book on the Stella Prize 2023 shortlist – Hydra by Adriane Howell.

From the Amazon description, I think this novel would be squarely in my wheelhouse: “Hydra is a novel of dark suspense and mental disquiet, struck through with black humour. Adriane Howell beguilingly explores notions of moral culpability, revenge, memory, and narrative – all through the female lens of freedom and constraint.” Many phrases from the descriptive blurbs also sing to me: “A fever dream of a debut – elegant, savage, and delightfully unhinged”; “A puzzle box of creeping dread, Hydra had me questioning my own grasp on reality”; “Hydra crosses planes; it is superb, distinct, and breathtaking. It surprises, disturbs and enthralls at every turn.”

Creeping dread, grasps on reality, dark suspense, culpability, female lens, mental disquiet, revenge, memory, unhinged minds, savagery, and narrative. Sounds perfect. Unfortunately, Hydra is not available at either my city or county library, and I was therefore not able to read it. However, over the past six weeks or so, I’ve read (or listened to) several books that illustrate many of the same characteristics. 

first degree

The New One by Evie Green is a science fiction novel that explores the question of memory and how memory helps people create their sense of identity. Tamsyn and Ed have a daughter, Scarlett. As a youngster, Scarlett was a sweet child. But just before her 13th birthday, Scarlett turned sullen, resentful, and rebellious. Shortly after her 14th birthday Scarlett was hit by a speeding car and left brain dead. As the time approaches when the family’s insurance will no longer cover Scarlett’s hospital expenses, a medical institute offers to build a hybrid replica featuring Scarlett’s body and consciousness. The replicated consciousness will not include the memories of Scarlett’s last year, the year during which she changed so much. What could possibly go wrong?

second degree

Dark suspense drives the unfolding story of Tamsyn, Ed, and the new Scarlett. Dark suspense also propels The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz. What is billed as a wonderful writing opportunity turns out to be a savage competition to produce the next manuscript worthy of being published under the name of a well known but reclusive horror writer.

third degree

The Kind Worth Saving by Peter Swanson brings together two women with unhinged minds bent on committing acts of extreme moral culpability.

fourth degree

Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent checks several of the boxes: creeping dread, moral culpability, and savage revenge—all seen “through the female lens of freedom and constraint” and told, in part, by a narrative demonstrating a tenuous grasp of reality.

fifth degree

Revenge drives the ending of The Rose Code by Kate Quinn. But overall, this historical novel, set during and just after World War II, is much less dark than the previous four. If you need a break from all the creeping dread and unhinged minds, pick up this one.

sixth degree

Small Mercies by Dennis Lehane is another historical novel, this one set in Boston in the summer of 1974 as the city prepares to integrate its public schools. The first step in integration will bus high school students between “Southie,” the predominantly white, working-class housing projects of South Boston, and Roxbury, the city’s Black section. The focal character in the novel is Mary Pat Fennessy, from Southie, whose 17-year-old daughter, Jules, is about to begin her senior year. But Jules has disappeared, and as Mary Pat’s search for her daughter gets more and more frantic, anti-busing demonstrations also escalate. As suspense and dread increase, so do Mary Pat’s attempts to convince herself that she’s not racist—although she acknowledges, deep down, that she really is. Mary Pat isn’t unhinged, but she definitely experiences mental disquiet as she realizes her own part in creating and maintaining the social tensions that are about to explode.

All these novels feature women in the starring roles, and all these women negotiate their lives in society “through the female lens of freedom and constraint.”

I look forward to seeing where others’ lists took them this month. I also hope to see some discussion from people who have read Hydra.

© 2023 by Mary Daniels Brown

As of December 1, 2022, I am no longer using Twitter. Instead, I’ll be promoting blog posts—other bloggers’ and my own—on Mastodon. You can find me there under this name:

@[email protected]

You cannot search for people by their real names on Mastodon. To find someone, you must go to Mastodon and search for the user name. I think you have to have your own account with Mastodon to do this.

10 thoughts on “6 Degrees of Separation: From Dark to Darker”

    1. The description certainly makes me want to read it. But the only way I could get it would be to buy the Kindle ed., which costs more than I want to pay. Sooner or later, the book will probably be published here in the U.S., and then I’ll check it out from the library.

      1. Some Kindle books are surprisingly expensive. There is a book of literary criticism by a former colleague I wanted to read, but the discounted ebook was $35!

    1. Hi, Davida. Yes, I saw you on Mastodon and followed you. Don’t be afraid to just jump in over there; people are amazingly friendly. One good way to get started would be to follow the hashtag #bookstodon , which is what the bookish community calls itself. Find a few people whose posts appeal to you and follow them. Gradually you’ll build up a following of people whose posts you enjoy. And don’t be afraid to follow people and later unfollow them. Nobody takes that personally. In fact, that’s how people are expected to get involved. So follow, then unfollow as necessary to find your people.

  1. I don’t think Hydra has been published in the UK yet, so you might have to wait a bit. The only author I’ve read from your choices is Kate Quinn, so I might try this one out. Small Mercies sounds interesting too.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Margaret. Both Rose Code and Small Mercies are excellent novels. In fact, I gave both a 5-star rating, which is something I don’t do lightly.

I'd love to hear from you!

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