Marion Halligan

Marion Halligan is a prolific writer, and this is not the first time I have reviewed one of her books. Once, when she branched out into the genre of lightweight crime – The Apricot Colonel (2006) and Murder on the Apricot Coast (2008) – I commented on the problem faced by Cassandra, the novel’s narrator. An editor-turned-author, she turns out boo ...

This is a book of rather brief short stories, few of which exceed a dozen pages. This leaves room for nineteen stories in a fairly short collection. Most of them read easily, each one effortlessly displacing its predecessor. There are, of course, standouts, to which I shall return, but the most striking overall characteristic is the distinctively personalised tone. The wide variety of personae ...

I was tempted to do a wicked thing when writing about Between the Fish and the Mud Cake: to take its subjects and describe my experiences with them. So I would tell you all about my lunch with Georges Perec at the French Embassy in Canberra. What he said, and I said, and the ambassador said, and what I made of it all. The book mentions touring with Carmel Bird; I could describe my friendship with her. But Andrew Riemer is not that sort of reviewer, and his book is much too interesting in itself to be one-upped like that.

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Marion Halligan’s new novel has as its centrepiece, shiny and assertive, flagged by its title, a dress made with loving care but, nonetheless, improvised just so that the fabric will go far enough. A dress that Molly Pellerin wears to a party at the laundry where she works, an event that becomes a defining moment in her life, the dress a legacy, offering an image of Molly as dazzling, beautiful, and loved. The photograph sustains her memory, potently, permanently.

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Until I reviewed Marion Halligans novel Lovers’ Knots, I didn’t really know much about what a lover’s knot was. And now I know more than I used to know about the word ‘cockle’.

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Wishbone by Marion Halligan

by
October 1994, no. 165

These are the opening lines of Wishbone. Already I know that this is a book I want to continue reading, and not just for the promise of sex, romance, and intrigue. I am also attracted by the ‘difficulty’ of knowing just what tone is being taken here, and just who is speaking to me in these words. As well as being thrown immediately into the story, the reader is confronted with this tone – analytic, cool, amused? There is the holding-back of both information and conclusions. There is the emphasis on bodies, their awkwardness, the space they take up, their economics … and later the words and wishes they produce. Knight will say to his lover, Emmanuelle, ‘I thought we could have an affair and just be bodies.’

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What do you do when you wake up in the morning and feel the shifty shadow of God lurking? You stay in bed, and hope that it’ll pass you by, that’s what. Sam Pickles doesn’t. He goes to work and loses his fingers in a winch: when he takes his glove off, they ‘fell to the deck and danced like half a pound of ...

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The task of reading these three books together provided more than I was anticipating. Their perspectives of decades of Australian society and writing practices cover the past, the personal and the politics. The writers come from three different generations (born 1903, 1923, 1940), and represent particular writing intentions or schools, certainly different genres. The connecting thread, probably the only one, is that each of the books is written form such a particularised stance. Each is written in the first person, and flirts to varying degrees with the confessional mode. The tensions between restraint and letting it all hang out, what gets said and what comes out in the not-saying, interested me.

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Would it surprise you to know that a number of our well-known writers write to please themselves? Probably not. If there’s no pleasure, or challenge, or stimulus, the outcome would probably not be worth the effort. If this effort is writing, it seems especially unlikely that someone would engage in the activity without enjoying the chance to be their own audience.

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Barbara Hanrahan has made her own the ostensibly artless narrative of simple women. Monologue might be a better word than narrative; the idea of a speaking voice is important. ‘I was born in a war, I grew up in a war, and there was war all along’ is how this one begins. It’s the Japanese War in China, the country is occupied, food is short, rice must be queued for. ‘And if the queue didn’t disappear, the Japanese up above would come to the windows and bring out the chamber pots and pour down all their terrible peeing.’ It’s a harsh world to be growing up in, but there’s a matter-of-factness in the way it’s talked about. ‘War’s war forever, until it ends.’ Or starts again. The end of this war is the beginning of the next; the communists come, one kind of oppression replaces another.

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