Six Degrees of Separation: From Shuggie Bain to The Changing Outer Hebrides

It’s the first Saturday in April, so it’s time for another Six Degrees post. This meme is hosted by Kate over at BooksAreMyFavouriteAndBest.

We all start with the same book and then add six linked titles of our own. It’s amazing and fascinating to see how differently all the chains turn out.

This month the starting title is Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart. Set in Glasgow, this won the Booker Prize last year, and deservedly so. It is an incredible read, so poignant and authentic. As this year’s book prize season is in full swing, I have decided to pick titles from a range of different prizes, so they all link from that perspective. And each pair of titles in the chain has its own bespoke link too, just to make it extra fun.

My first link is In The Dream House: a Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado. This has recently won the Rathbones Folio Prize so has winning in common with Shuggie Bain. In addition, Shuggie has many semi-autobiographical elements from Douglas Stuart’s life as a gay child and then adolescent. Machado’s book is of course fully autobiographical and recounts her life of suffering through queer domestic abuse.

Memoir takes us to memory for my next title: In Memory of Memory by Maria Stapanova (translated by Sasha Dugdale). This has been long listed for the International Booker Prize. With the death of her aunt, the author “is left to sift through an apartment full of faded photographs, old postcards, letters, diaries, and heaps of souvenirs: a withered repository of a century of life in Russia”. 

Another book to emerge from old papers, diaries and other documents is Kate Grenville’s A Room Made of Leaves, which has been shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. This novel tells the tale of how Elizabeth comes to marry John in 1788 before they journey from Devon in South-West England to settle Australia.

An epic journey is also the backbone of Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi, which has been longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Gifty is intrigued by her family’s migration from Ghana to Alabama, but the realities of immigration wreak havoc on her father and brother, driving Gifty to seek answers to generational questions. I loved Yaa Gyasi’s previous novel Homegoing so am looking forward to reading this one.

Next, from a book that is transcendent in name, to one that is transcendent in nature. The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey won the Costa Book of the Year 2020 and has been shortlisted for the Republic of Consciousness Prize. Set in St Constance, a tiny Caribbean village on the island of Black Conch, “a fisherman sings to himself in his pirogue, waiting for a catch but attracts a sea-dweller he doesn’t expect. Aycayia, a beautiful young woman cursed by jealous wives to live as a mermaid, has been swimming the Caribbean Sea for centuries. And she is entranced by this man David and his song”. I don’t always get on with magical realism books but this sounds intriguing.

From a fictional Caribbean island, we leap for my sixth and final link (or is it….?) to the real islands in the Outer Hebrides. Frank Rennie’s book The Changing Outer Hebrides has been shortlisted for the Highland Book Prize. This is described as a “fascinating and intimate account of the inter-relationship between one small island village in the Hebrides and the wider world. From the formation of the bedrock 3 billion years ago, to the predictable near-future, the layers of this unique landscape are explored.” Since I am obsessed with Scottish islands, I’ll definitely be reading this one.

Finally, a cheeky extra link, this time to an even smaller Scottish island. In honour of Kate and her brilliant hosting of this meme, I could not finish a chain based on book prizes without mentioning the fabulous Stella Prize, which celebrates Australian women’s writing and champions cultural change. On this year’s shortlist is The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld. This somehow ties a tiny rocky outcrop to the lives of three women from the early 1700s to the present day. Another one that I will definitely be reading.

So this chain takes us from bonnie Scotland, all around the world and back again. How very satisfying!

Next month’s chain will be starting with Beezus and Ramona. I hope to see you then! 😀

*Featured image: Photo by Jonathan Singer on Unsplash

30 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: From Shuggie Bain to The Changing Outer Hebrides

    1. Oooh you are in for a rabbit hole experience! Once you get sucked in to the wonderful world of book prizes, there’s no turning back 🤣 I’m off to have a look at your chain now…. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, I do read book prize winners, just hand’t heard of those. I read Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners (even contribute to a page about Nobel Prize winning books) and some German awards but not these. I’m sure there are some great books to explore. Sigh. My TBR pile is already sooooo high. LOL

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Just read your comment on my page. Thanks for that. Sorry I didn’t remember I’d been to your page. It’s the name, I hadn’t heard your last name.

        Anyway, I have changed the way people can comment on my page, so hopefully this won’t be a question again next time.

        Have a nice week.


  1. An award winning chain here. But you know, it seems to me that these long lists are coming out much earlier than usual. Seems a bit… unfair, if you ask me – like a whole bunch of books are being overlooked.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, it’s one of the main talking points about prizes isn’t it – which books get included or not, which ones win. Look at the controversy around Evaristo and Atwood winning the Booker a couple of years ago. Never a dull moment!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. It can’t be easy regularly finding links in order to make an interesting Sixty Degree blog. This is an informative, interesting and challenging set of recommendations. Well done Liz.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Awwwww! Thanks for linking back to the Stella Prize and closing the Scottish loop! I’ve read a few and have a few from your list – Dream House is high on the list. I’ll have to seek In Memory of Memory – sounds like the sort of book I’d enjoy.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Bonnie Scotland, och yes! I have a fascination for all things Scottish too, and never having travelled there before, must depend on the books. So I am going to add The Changing Outer Hebrides to my TBR for sure. And since I am a fan of all things SFF, including magical realism, The Mermaid of Black Conch looks amazing. And oh, let me add In Memory of Memory, because historical Russia is another one of my fascinations… oh, well. I would add all your books to my TBR. Thanks for a lovely #6Degrees post.
    ~ Lex

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I am always amazed by the remarkable serendipity that occurs between Edinburgh and Scotland. Did you know that Audible’s daily book is Shuggie Bain: “This is the unforgettable story of young Hugh “Shuggie” Bain, a sweet and lonely boy who spends his 1980s childhood in run-down public housing in Glasgow, Scotland. Thatcher’s policies have put husbands and sons out of work, and the city’s drugs epidemic is waiting in the wings….”. I am so pleased that you listed this book today as I had decided NOT to purchase the audio book and now I will press the “buy it” button. Sending hugs and more hugs along with my gratitude for another brilliant post, Liz!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad you have decided to give Shuggie a go. It’s a long time since I read a book like this, where the characters stayed with me when I was not reading, and after I had finished.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I love your chain this month! I don’t really follow many book prizes, but as I enjoy historical fiction I always look out for the Walter Scott Prize shortlists. A Room Made of Leaves is one that sounds particularly appealing to me this year.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Kate Grenville’s always rewarding, so that goes on the list, as does Transcendent Kingdom as you’re not the only one to include that one. In fact I’ve TBR’d the lot. Oh dear!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh Liz! I make a point of not reading these posts until I’ve published my own. Which means that 5 minutes after publishing a strong rebuttal of Shuggie Bain, you have me rethinking that maybe I ought to try it! Several others from your list are already on my tbr. Those that are not are very likely to be added!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry about that!! I can totally understand why Shuggie Bain might not immediately appeal. But it is a masterpiece of writing. Even though the subject matter is rather grim, Douglas Stuart handles it with lightness, beauty and humour. It’s a long time since I read anything like this, where you miss the characters when you are not reading and are desperate to get back to them.

      Liked by 1 person

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