Six degrees of separation: Burial Rites

I’m taking part in a new meme for writers and book bloggers based on Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy’s 1929 short story ‘Chains’ in which he coined the phrases ‘six degrees of separation’. Each month, WA writers/bloggers Annabel Smith and Emma Chapman choose a book and invite others to create their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book. Their inaugural choice is Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. Feel free to join in and post a link to your six degrees chain in the comments section.

Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites was one of my favourite reads of 2013. I read it during an unseasonably cold November in Melbourne, but I could not bring myself to complain about the weather — not when Agnes Magnúsdóttir was bedding down each night in a cottage in with fish skin for windowpanes and walls of turf, a place where ‘blizzards howl like the widows of fishermen and the wind blisters the skin off your face.’

When I said something on social media about Burial Rites making me shiver, Amanda Curtin warned me that her novel, Elemental, was likely to do the same. So I read it during a heatwave in Melbourne in January and it sure did take my mind off the weather — but not just because it was set on the frigid coast of northeast Scotland where fish-gutting girls like Meggie Duthie could lose fingers due to the harsh conditions. Elemental was a book to savour, evoking reflection on big issues like remembering and the repression of memory, on fear, courage, love and forgiveness.

Elemental is a book I’ve become evangelical about, recommending it to everyone I know. I gave it to my mother, who said it had been a long time since a book had affected her so deeply. She even said Meggie Duthie Tulloch is up there with Anne Elliot from Persuasion as one of her favorite fictional heroines.

6 degrees Burial Rites collage Persuasion is one of those books I’ve always been meaning to read; 2014 might just be the year I read it. I try to get to one or two ‘classics’ each year. In 2013, I read an abridged version of The One Thousand and One Nights, which I was interested to see referenced by Michel Foucault in his 1979 (English translation) essay ‘What is an author?’ when he spoke of “writing’s relationship with death” — specifically in Scheherazade’s case, “the eluding of death”.

I’m reading Foucault because I’ve enrolled in a PhD in Creative Writing. It’s more than 20 years since I was last at university, but back then I was reading Foucault, too: his History of Sexuality was a seminal (no pun intended) text for those of us enrolled in the Social History of Medicine, a subject that changed my life by leading to an interest in medical anthropology, which found me heading to Laos for six months, only to stay away more than six years…

Those years spent living and working in Southeast Asia continue to inspire my own fiction, and I read anything published in English by authors from Southeast Asia that I can get my hands on. My most recent find was Rattawut Lapcharoensap’s Sightseeing, a collection of seven stunning short stories set in Thailand.

Twenty-first century Thailand might seem a long way from nineteenth century Iceland, where this all began. But Burial Rites and Sightseeing have qualities in common: both describe inequalities and injustices without being didactic, both entertaining and absorbing books that also educate and enlighten.

Check out Annabel’s chain and Emma’s chain.


About Angela Savage

Angela Savage is a Melbourne writer, who has lived and travelled extensively in Asia. She won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript, and the Scarlet Stiletto Award short story award. Her latest novel is, Mother of Pearl, published by Transit Lounge. Angela holds a PhD in Creative Writing, is former CEO of Writers Victoria, and currently works as CEO of Public Libraries Victoria.
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21 Responses to Six degrees of separation: Burial Rites

  1. Ben Lever says:

    I love this idea! I haven’t actually read Burial Rites yet (I bought it the other day, it’s in the mail) but I already know the chain of books that led me to it, so I might have to join in 🙂


  2. I agree with your comments, and I too hope to take part in this meme, Angela. I love your choices, especially as I too, am evangelical about Elemental, having most recently bought my 7th copy to give away!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Angela, thanks for the reviews about Hannah Kent’s novels. I’d certainly be interested in reading one or both at some point this year.


    • angelasavage says:

      Hi Prashant, BURIAL RITES was actually Hannah Kent’s debut novel, making it all the more remarkable. Both this and Amanda Curtin’s ELEMENTAL are excellent reads.


  4. Margot Kinberg says:

    Angela – What an interesting idea for a meme! And that really is the way we humans think. I love it! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on these books.


  5. amandacurtin says:

    To Angela and Rashida, many thanks from Meggie 🙂 What a great idea of Annabel’s and Emma’s!


  6. writenote1 says:

    We both chose Elemental on our posts. I have to agree that Meggie is an unforgettable heroine.


  7. suzigun says:

    I too thought Burial Rites was one of my top reads last year, but I hadn’t come across Elemental at all (adds to already too long ‘to read’ list). Great idea for a blog post!


  8. kathy d. says:

    Well, I guess Elemental is elementary! It’s going on my TBR list, and — fingers crossed — hope that it’s in my library.


  9. With a recommendation like that, I had to look up Elemental immediately *TBR stack groans…*

    Here’s my chain –


  10. Hi Angela,

    Great chain. I didn’t release you used to live in Asia too: so fascinating. Where were you based? I also need to read Elemental: I bought it when it first came out and then it got lost in out move, but our boxes are arriving today actually so hopefully I can find it and get reading. (Ues, that does mean our boxes have taken 9 months to arrive!! Don’t get me started.) I love Amanda’s writing and have heard so many good things.

    Thanks again for taking part.



  11. annabelsmith says:

    I really enjoyed the connections you made Angela – so personal – revealing about your life as well as about your reading habits (which books always are, aren’t they?) I especially love the leap from 1001 Nights to A History of Sexuality!


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