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Marion Halligan on fact, fiction and character

September 2, 2011

More on playing with that line between fact and fiction… One of my favourite writers – though I have nowhere near read all her works – is Marion Halligan, who also happens to be local to my town. Halligan has been shortlisted for and/or won several signifcant Australian literary awards but I’d be surprised if many readers overseas had ever heard of her. A particularly beautiful novel of hers is The fog garden (2002) which she wrote after her  husband’s death. It’s about love and grief (reminding me of Joan Didion‘s non-fiction work, The year of magical thinking which was published in 2005), but it also explores the nature of fiction, and the relationship between life and art.

And so, here she is introducing the heroine:

She isn’t me. She is a character in fiction. And like such characters she makes her way through the real world which her author invents for her. She tells the truth as she sees it, but may not always be right.

And here she is, the next page, on keeping your character honest:

A reader could think that, since Clare is my character, I can make all sorts of things happen to her that I can’t make happen to myself. This is slightly true, but not entirely … only if it is not betraying the truths of her life as I have imagined them.

Some readers may not like this sort of self-conscious writing but I often enjoy it … I like the recognition that we are, writer and reader, meeting in a very particular space, that of art (or is it artifice!). I like it that Halligan is here writing fiction inspired by a very personal experience and tackling head on the questions her readers will raise … playing with us, teasing us even, but also teaching us about the nature of fiction.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. September 2, 2011 11:12 pm

    Do you have The Apricot Colonel? I think I meant to read that but never did!

    Also, I just made myself a bowl of peanut butter, coconut, and maple syrup from your cupboard, and ate it with a spoon.

    I feel sick, and it’s your fault.

    • September 4, 2011 5:35 pm

      No, and that’s probably not the one of hers I would have at the top of my Halligan TBR. I’d like to read it for its local relevance but there are others that I haven’t read that I’d put ahead of this.

  2. September 3, 2011 1:58 am

    Darn you for making me want to read books that I can’t get locally! The only one I can get from a local library is The Living Hothouse but I have no idea what it is about. Have you read it?

    • September 4, 2011 5:38 pm

      No, in fact I hadn’t even heard of that one! I think it’s short stories. My favourites so far are Lover’s knots, The fog garden and The valley of grace. I’ve read a couple of others too, but but I haven’t read Spidercup which Lisa below had read.

  3. September 3, 2011 5:08 pm

    My favourite books of hers are the early ones: Spider Cup, and Wishbone. I rank these books as my first discovery of brilliant Australian contemporary fiction. Last week at the Writers Festival I bought her latest book, Shooting the Fox which looks very tempting, and BTW also has the most gorgeous cover, rather Japanese and so typical of Halligan’s meticulous attention to noticing beautiful things around her.

    • September 4, 2011 5:40 pm

      Those are two I haven’t read. My first of hers was, I think, Lovers knots which I enjoyed a lot. I have Wishbone in my pile here to read … bought away back when!

  4. September 6, 2011 12:47 pm

    I haven’t read any of Halligan’s books yet, but I did hear her speak recently at MWF as part of a panel, and now I definitely intend to! I really want to read her short story collection Shooting the Fox because of the short stories that she talked about sounded like a lot of fun!

    • September 6, 2011 4:50 pm

      Oh she’s great, Marg. I’ve seen her speak a few times so can understand her inspiring you. I once saw her interview Margaret Atwood in the Playhouse here. That was special. And if you click on her name in this post you’ll see my discussion of the time she came to my book group.

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