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Favourite quotes: from Marion Halligan’s Fog Garden

June 19, 2021

Some time ago, I started a little ad hoc Favourite Quotes series but I haven’t added to it for some time. This post, I actually drafted back then, but never got around to completely it, but I will now!

One of my favourite Australian writers, though I’ve only reviewed one of her recent books on my blog, is Marion Halligan. It’s fitting therefore, that she feature in this little series. The quotes – and there are four – all come from The fog garden, which was shortlisted for the Queensland Premier’s Literary Award and the Nita Kibble Literary Award (which is for “life writing”). I loved it, and felt it deserved these and more accolades.

I read The fog garden in 2002, a year after it came out, and so, unfortunately, a few years before blogging. It’s an autobiographical novel. In other words, it’s a novel, it’s fiction, but it draws from Halligan’s life. It is about Clare, a novelist, and how she copies with grief after the death of her beloved husband. The novel was triggered or inspired by, or a response to – I’m not sure which here is the most accurate – the death of Halligan’s husband of 35 years.

What I love about it is that as well as being about grief, and the wisdom one learns from the tough experiences of life, it is also about fiction. What I love, in other words, is that it’s about life, it’s about writing, and it is also about reading. It asks us readers to think about how we read. It’s cheeky – and those of you who know how much I love Jane Austen, how much I love Carmel Bird, will know how much I love cheeky writers.

So, here is our first person narrator writing about her character Clare:

She isn’t me. She’s a character in fiction. And like all 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.  (p. 9)

I mean, really, you’ve got to love that. It’s the real world, but a version of it invented by the author for her character. Just because it’s a recognisable world, and just because the things Clare says and does are “true” doesn’t mean that they are the things author Halligan said, did and believed. They could be but they aren’t necessarily so, and we should not assume they are so, because this is fiction not a memoir. If Halligan had wanted to write a memoir she certainly would have. By writing fiction Halligan was freer to explore her feelings and to play with where they might take her.

Anyhow, here again is our first person narrator writing about writing Clare:

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 and character as I have imagined them. (p. 10)

Of course: once you create a character, that character must be true to what you have created.

And here is a little insight into the challenges of writing. I certainly know about writers’ metaphors that have taken me in wrong directions.

That is the trouble with metaphor, it may take you to places you don’t want to go. (p. 279)

And, finally, one of my favourite quotes from all the books I’ve read, and one I’ve shared before.

Read a wise book and lay its balm on your soul.

If you haven’t read The fog garden, and ever get a chance, do give it a go. It’s a wise – but also lively – book.

Meanwhile, do any of these quotes speak to you?

12 Comments leave one →
  1. June 20, 2021 06:58

    That last quote is a beauty. How often does a book act like a ‘balm’ on a reader’s soul? For me this is one reason why I read. To learn and to marvel, certainly, but also to escape and to be soothed.

  2. June 20, 2021 08:25

    All wonderful quotes from a wonderful novel

  3. June 20, 2021 13:27

    I haven’t read this particular Halligan, but I read & still have a few of her earlier books (the great pre- Raphaelite civets drew me in). I lived the emotional truth in her writing. This sounds like one I would appreciate too.

    Like the quote post idea too. I’ve dabbled with this over the years but haven’t hit on a format that works for me yet. I liked how you gave a little personal context to each one & loosely linked them. I hope you do more!

    • June 20, 2021 13:30

      The above spelling typing mistakes is what happens when I blog on my phone 😂😱

    • June 20, 2021 14:44

      Thanks Brona. First, I do recommend more Halligan, and second I will try to do more of these. I have a Word document full of favourite quotes. I haven’t added to it for year’s but it would keep me going for a while.

  4. Meg permalink
    June 20, 2021 16:26

    Hi Sue, though I read Fog Garden some years ago, I do remember really loving it, and I am sure I have read all her novels. I think the quotes you have given are all relevant to my way of thinking sometimes. Though I suppose the one about metaphors is more relevant. How often you look at one and it leads you to another one. Like you, I keep a book with quotes and also one with outstanding facts that amaze me.

  5. Meg permalink
    June 20, 2021 16:34

    Hi Sue, forgot to add that yesterday in the Australian Magazine, Bernard Salt wrote “The pandemic has thrown up some truly beautiful words that just dance off the tongue. Here’s my favourite ‘efficacy’.” I added it to my book.

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