6 degrees of separation: from W Somerset Maugham to Rana Dasgupta

This month, the six degrees challenge set by Kate W, at booksaremyfavouriteandbest, is to begin with a title that has concluded a previous chain. Last month I finished with Maugham’s short story, A String of Beads.

This is such a very short story that it might seem slight. Should I simply follow the governess? The snag is, that would almost inevitably lead back to the starting point for the chain it came from, The Turn of The Screw, by Henry James.

Photo by Elina Sazonova on Pexels.com

As with so many Maugham stories, all this one needs is a second read. There are several lines I could pick up, all tempting. But then, this is a story about story-telling. I’ve chosen the moment when Laura pauses her story so that she can explain it.

“We all laughed. It was of course absurd. We’ve all heard of wives palming off on their husbands as false a string of pearls that was real and expensive. The story is as old as the hills.”

“Thank you,” I said, thinking of a little narrative of my own.

Could the narrator, perhaps, be remembering Maupassant’s short story, The Necklace? At any rate, I was.

My link is in the introduction to the pretty and charming girl who has had no chance of marrying ‘a man of wealth and distinction‘, and so has ‘let herself be married off to a little clerk in the Ministry of Education.’

She suffered endlessly, feeling herself born for every delicacy and luxury. She suffered from the poorness of her house, from its mean walls, worn chairs, and ugly curtains.  All these things, of which other women of her class would not even have been aware, tormented and insulted her.

When her husband gets tickets for an influential party, she sees the possibility of a triumph. All she needs to complete the new outfit she buys is to borrow a diamond necklace from her rich friend.

This reminds me of an Elizabeth Taylor story, I Live in a World of Make-believe. Mrs Miller is ‘absorbed and entranced‘ by the ‘grandeur‘ of the big house across the road from her. ‘Symbols of all that seemed worth while in life passed and crossed on that gravelled courtyard...’

It is Mrs Miller’s small son who creates the connection, in innocence. After that you’d think she’d be contented, wouldn’t you?

‘I wish we had more books…’

‘Books?’ [Mr Miller] echoed, looking worried at once. ‘What for?’

‘For all those built-in shelves. I’d like to call that room the library.’

Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

Discontent is beautiful story material. In Jumping into Bed with Luis Fortuna, the fourth story in my chain, Dilys Rose also explores it.

She’d got herself anchored: house, job, man, kids. The backpack was long gone, she was well and truly stuck.

Like the Maupassant story, our protagonist remains a ‘she’ throughout. This ‘she’ has become focused on a novelist called Luis Fortuna.

She didn’t believe in heroes but still, in spare moments down town, she’d nip into bookshops in search of his latest novel.

The story charts her attempt to compose a letter to Luis, in between her family commitments.

Her husband was put off Luis Fortuna by the trashy titles and lurid covers and she was glad. She had him to herself.

Deborah Moggach’s story, A Real Countrywoman, opens with letters and Christmas cards. The one in the brown envelope comes from the County Council.

‘A two-lane dual carriageway!’ said Edwin. ‘Right past our front door. Thundering pantechnicons!’ This exploded from him like an oath.

While Edwin is horrified, his wife, our nameless narrator, doesn’t quite seem to be on the same page.

When you live in the country you spend your whole time in the car. This was our first Christmas in the country, the first of our new pure life, and I was trying to work up a festive spirit unaided by the crass high-street commercialism that Edwin was so relieved to escape. Me too, of course.

One of the solutions Edwin offers is an underpass. Elsewhere, the local council are putting them in to save colonies of great crested newts, that’s just the kind of ammunition an anti-road campaign needs. Or is it?

That road takes me to my sixth story, Rana Dasgupta’s, The Flyover. Marlboro, a young man who lives, with his mother, ‘on Lagos Island near to the hustle and bustle of Balogun Market‘, has grown next to the arches of a flyover. His oldest brother is in university in India, the second oldest has gone into business with a friend.

Marlboro has no job, and no idea about what he might do, and seems to have no interest in that.

‘Why don’t you tell me who my father was? Marlboro would ask late at night as his mother put up her cerise-toenailed feet that perfectly matched her cerise lipstick and flicked between soap operas, turned up to full volume to cover the scream of the flyover outside.

Instead, she leaves, and he is enticed into working for a protection racket. It’s a very long way away from Somerset Maugham’s dinner party… or is it?

Balogun Market, by Yellowcrunchy – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=63542539

32 thoughts on “6 degrees of separation: from W Somerset Maugham to Rana Dasgupta

  1. This is a fascinating journey. I have to admit that I’m not familiar with all of the references, but I love the idea of ‘Jumping into Bed with Luis Fortuna’. I frequently dive under the duvet with a favourite author!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Such an intriguing post. I have only read Maupassant’s The Necklace, but now would like to read the other 5 stories as well. The quotes mesh beautifully and are impactful.
    Lovely!
    Thank you once again Cath for introducing me to these awesome authors and stories. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Even though I’m not familiar with many of the stories you connect up, I really enjoy reading your posts on this challenge. For if people are only six or less connections away from each other, why not apply the same theory to book characters! A truly wonderful post. Blessings always, Deborah

    Liked by 2 people

  4. so much to think about here, thank you! I still haven’t read any of Maugham’s short stories but love his writing, and not wanting to share your favourite authors is something I can really identify with!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I was with you with Maugham and Maupassant as these were familiar favourites and then found all these other riches to contemplate. Thanks for leading the way with these connections. I kept thinking why haven’t I read more of ….?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Yes! Discontent. You struck me there. It reminds me of that one Edith Wharton novel, the one with the protagonist Undine…well, not really a protagonist. Let’s be honest, she was the villain of that story. I only read that story once, back in college, and pieces of it still sit with me, especially that ending with the lone child crying at the end. Undie has what she wants at last–all the class, posh, etc, because that was all she cared about. Whatever was created or destroyed in that process mattered naught, including her son. Even as a dumb teenager, I caught that and never once, never, did I root for Undine. Were we supposed to? I hope not…

    Like

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