Favourite quotes: from Marion Halligan’s Fog Garden

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?

Favourite quotes: from Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley

Finally, the third in my funny little Favourite Quotes series which I resurrected earlier this year.

Waverley book coverIn August I posted a review (of sorts) of the first volume of Sir Walter Scott’s first novel, Waverley, and I included a quote describing his hero’s unstructured, undisciplined reading encouraged by a theory of education that sounds a bit like Mary Poppins’ “spoonful of sugar”. The longer quote is as follows:

With a desire of amusement therefore, which better discipline might soon have converted into a thirst for knowledge, young Waverley drove through the sea of books, like a vessel without a pilot or a rudder. Nothing perhaps increases by indulgence more than a desultory habit of reading, especially under such opportunities of gratifying it. I believe one reason why such numerous instances of erudition occur among the lower ranks is, that, with the same powers of mind, the poor student is limited to a narrow circle for indulging his passion for books, and must necessarily make himself master of the few he possesses ere he can acquire more. Edward, on the contrary, like the epicure who only deigned to take a single morsel from the sunny side of a peach, read no volume a moment after it ceased to excite his curiosity or interest; and it necessarily happened, that the habit of seeking only this sort of gratification rendered it daily more difficult of attainment, till the passion for reading, like other strong appetites, produced by indulgence a sort of satiety.

I like Scott’s reference to the fact that poorer people have no option but to read deeply (and are therefore more erudite!) because they have such little access to books. How many memoirs have we read about poor children reading and rereading the few books available to them – and how much luckier many of us are today to have access to free public libraries?! Let’s hope those libraries last.

As I said in my last Favourite Quotes post, my aim is to share some interesting ideas, rather than become too bogged down in explication. But, I’d love some explication from you should you be so inspired!

Favourite quotes: from the artist Hans Heysen

I started this little Favourite Quotes series some time ago, with a specific purpose in mind, but it fell by the way-side in the busy-ness of life. However, I regularly come across statements that I’d love to document somewhere useful so that I don’t lose them – and so I am resurrecting this series with a broader ambit.

This new plan was inspired by my visit to the Hans and Nora Heysen: Two Generations of Australian Art Exhibition this week, at NGV Australia, Federation Square, in Melbourne. Their art is very accessible and a joy to see, but also offers much to think about. Hans Heysen (1877-1968) focused largely on landscapes. He particularly loved gums – woo hoo – and has been described, in fact, as an early conservationist. His daughter, Nora (1911-2003), focused more on still lifes and portraits. She was also Australia’s first woman war artist. Lisa (ANZLitLovers) posted recently on Nora. Both were significant Australian artists. Hans won our prestigious landscape prize, the Wynne Prize, nine times, and Nora won our top portrait prize, the Archibald.

However, my goal here is not to review the exhibition, but to share two statements made by Hans Heysen which I think can apply to all art – not just the visual arts.

Quote 1

… while as an artist I love Australia, art has no country, but is in essence cosmopolitan.

Droving into the light (Hans Heysen, 1914-21)

Much of Hans Heysen’s work seems quintessentially Australian in content but his technique – obvious when you look at his work – is strongly informed by 19th century artists and movements, by, for example, the Pre-Raphaelites, the Impressionists, the Romantics like Turner, and artists like Van Gogh. Anyhow, I like his argument that, in essence, art is bigger than “country”. The Exhibition argues that Heysen disavowed nationalism, which is not surprising given the tough time that he, as a German-born Australian, experienced during World War 1. The label for “Droving into the light” argues that “not so much nationalist as pantheist, Heysen’s landscapes do not refer merely to what it is to be Australian but rather to explore what it is to belong to nature in a more holistic sense.” So, for example, Heysen biographer Klepac says that Heysen was “inspired by the light and the landscape of Hahndorf and the Adelaide Hills, which he transformed into an Arcadian vision that can still haunt us with its sense of timeless beauty”.

I like these interpretations of his work, and would argue that taking a broader perspective is the aim of many creators, regardless of how specific their settings are.

Quote 2

I am trying only to paint as truthfully as I can, and that which my eyes see and perhaps what I unconsciously feel. Truth to Nature after all is the goal, but Truth interpreted through temperament.

Hans Heysen wrote this to his artist friend Lionel Lindsay in 1919. I like his clarification that while his aim is “Truth”, it can only be a truth that he sees and feels. I may be drawing a long bow – and perhaps even mixing up different meanings of “truth” – but it reminded me that although “truths” can be universal, they are also individually interpreted. Why else, I suppose, would we keep looking at art, reading literature, listening to music, and so on? It would be pretty boring, if not meaningless, if everyone expressed these “truths” the same way. Just compare Heyson’s Australian landscapes with those of other artists and we can quickly see how differently the “truth” of the landscape can be conveyed – one seeing it as Arcadian (idyllic), for example, and another as Gothic (terrifying.)

Anyhow, the aim of these posts is to share some interesting ideas, rather than become too bogged down in explication. Hopefully, you can see why I wanted to “keep” these quotes?

Favourite quotes: from Thea Astley’s Coda

I’ve decided to start a new, occasional series – a bit like The Conversation does! I have two reasons for this. One is that I’m reading pretty slowly at the moment, partly because my current read is a big one, and partly because life is busy. The other is that during my current decluttering project I’ve come across a lot of old reading notes, and they contain such treasures that I want to share them (not to mention document them so I can toss out my notes!) Who better to start with than Thea Astley?

Coda, published in 1994, was her third last novel (a novella, in fact). You know how readers love to remember favourite first lines? Well, Coda’s first line is one of mine. It starts

I’m losing my nouns, she admitted.

This immediately tells us the main subject matter of the novel – aging – and hints at the speaker’s attitude. Kathleen, our speaker and protagonist, is getting old, and when her house is reclaimed by the government for a right-of-way, her children (daughter mainly) move her into a retirement community. This is a satire, so you won’t be surprised to discover that the name of this village is Passing Downs. Kathleen, needless to say, is not happy. She’s not ready to be, as she says, “corpsed”, but she’s a wily, acerbic old woman, a self-styled “feral-grandmother” who’s pretty clear-eyed about the way life goes, about the

… four ages of women: bimbo, breeder, babysitter, burden.

In a Sydney Morning Herald article written, as it turned out, the year before she died, she is described as one of Australia’s “prose-poets”, who were “led” by Patrick White. You can see it in this line can’t you? The confident alliteration that ensures the words are almost spat out as befits their meaning.

I’m not going to write a review here. It’s too long since I read it, but this is one of those books that has left a lasting impression on me. It’s wicked, funny, bitter and, yes, poignant, too, because it deals with a situation for which there are no simple answers (except, of course, compassion, which is lacking here). I will though share a few more quotes to show the way Astley uses language. You’d be hard-pressed to find a cliche in an Astley book.

Here is a description of, as I recollect (my notes aren’t clear here), her husband’s island dream going sour:

The island had become for him a bright stamp whose colours had run.

Then there’s Kathleen describing her income, her

Public service pension that drizzled brief fortnightly puddles of support into her bank account like a rusty tap.

And here she is, looking for words:

She was scrabbling and rooting about for words in that old handbag of her years.

I love how these images draw on the familiar – and yet they have a freshness that grabs me, and makes me smile, every time I read them.

For a recent review of this novel, check out Lisa’s at ANZLitLovers.