Valley of Grace by Marion Halligan

Last year at the Christchurch Writers festival I went to hear Marion Halligan read from one of her books. She is obviously very popular in her homeland Australia, but she was not an author I knew anything about, and unfortunately I found the excerpt she read to be a bit dull.

I was therefore quite surprised when I was intrigued enough by a review of her latest book, Valley of Grace to reserve it. I then spent a couple of days sick in bed, and found myself (and my dripping nose) transported to Paris, the setting for this book, and obviously somewhere that Halligan is very familiar with.

Central to the story is Fanny, who seems to embody all that is French; elegant, understated and chic. She meets and marries Gerard, a talented restorer of old Parisian buildings. Fanny works in an antiquarian book shop, so there is a ample opportunity via their two professions for Halligan to recount fascinating historical titbits about the history of the city, as well as the story of these two people and their desire to have a child.

For smallish book there are a number of side stories, including memories of the French resistance, a lecherous lecturer and his long suffering wife, death and the process of dying (with a wonderful visit to Lourdes), a heartbreaking story of a hidden and abandoned child, friendships, sexuality and the agonies and pleasures of raising children. There are detailed and luscious descriptions of houses and interiors, gardens full of fresh produce and dainty flowers, descriptions of cakes that sent me diving to the pantry, and a feeling that I wanted to pack my phrase book and head off to Paris tomorrow.

I’m wondering now if I judged Marion Halligan too harshly, perhaps she was just having a bit of a bad day at the Readers and writers festival and chose the wrong passage to read, (or perhaps heaven forbid, it was me, and I had festival fatigue), but whatever the reason I wish she had read a piece from this novel, because I know that I would have been first on the reserve list if she had.

2 thoughts on “Valley of Grace by Marion Halligan

  1. Robyn Stewart 11 May 2009 / 8:30 pm

    Marion Halligan must specialise in getting places just right. A few years ago I spent a week in Canberra, staying in student accomodation with no T.V., and I picked up Halligan’s book The Point at the National Museum. It’s set in Canberra and to me it captured the feel of that strange city exactly, as well as the ambience of a certain type of expensive restaurant, the sad defensiveness of teenagers who’ve had a hard time in their short lives and a whole lot of other things besides. Next on my list of Halligan’s books is The Fog Garden, the book she wrote after her husband died – I’ve heard great things about it.

  2. whisperinggums 19 October 2009 / 1:04 am

    Ah, have just come across your post. My bookgroup just did Valley of Grace AND we had Marion Halligan in attendance. If you want to read my posts (in a shameless bit of self promotion) here is the second one with a link to the first:
    I wonder what book she read from. I ahve read a few of her books and have liked them all. Lover’s knots, The golden dress, The fog garden, and The point. The first two are particularly good – and I think people who’ve read it really like her Spidercup too. I really liked The fog garden – she has a lot to say about the craft of writing fiction in that one which appeals to me.

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