Tag Archives: novel

The Shifting Fog, Kate Morton

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I love the sensation of freshly read novels percolating away in my mind. Like a deliciously brewed coffee, time and concentration filter away extraneous details as themes and flavour strengthen, simmer and crackle. One of the many stories on the stovetop of my mind at present, is The Shifting Fog by Kate Morton.

I’ve been curious of this particular author for a while. In the summer of 2011-12, my little trio road-tripped across the Nullarbor with our camper trailer, a few tonnes of water and books – the essentials. I distinctly remember seeing the audibook of The Shifting Fog at every roadhouse we stopped by. Finally, I decided to give the debut novel a go to kick off my participation in the Australian Women Writers challenge.

And you know, I enjoyed this novel. Let me tell you about it.

The Shifting Fog

The Shifting Fog is told from the perspective of Grace, a 98 year old woman who recounts her life as a young maid at Riverton Manor during a turbulent time where a famous war poet, Robbie Hunter, committed suicide. In the present day, a movie is being made about the tragic death, and the sisters Hannah and Emmeline who witnessed it. When approached by the director, Ursula, for an interview, Grace, who has spent a lifetime forgetting the events, is plunged once again into her youth and the events that darkened and shaped her life.

Ultimately, to me, the story was about Grace and her relationship with Hannah, the grandaughter of the lady of Riverton, whom Grace serves. Though there relationship is unequal, it is the bearer of secrets, and pivotal in shaping the events that transpire in the early 20th century.

Set in 1920’s England, the two eras are juxtaposed: the 1920’s aristocracy, propriety and naive belief that society will never change; to the early 21st century: where love and marriage are no longer a given, women aren’t as bound to their positions, technology continues to change the ever-changing world, and war is no longer shrouded in glory.

The gothic novel is fairly predictable, it’s not too hard to piece together the events that transpired at the lake at Riverton Manor. Having said that, I enjoyed this story, I enjoyed Grace’s narration – though I’m not sure it can be trusted. Even if the memory of a 98 year old woman wasn’t fragile, time and guilt have a way of warping events, don’t they?

Thematically, there are many issues touched on, though not delved into deeply. Nothing I wouldn’t have expected to be present: class, economics, pre and post-war ontologies and particularly women, marriage and the roles of both in an aristocratic society.

One aspect of the novel that struck me, and I imagine this is highly intentional, is the motif of secrets and inheritence. The most significant heirlooms passed down through generations are not always objects, but ideas, beliefs and secrets. Grace was born into a world of secrets, bearing her own, carrying them for others, and discovering some along the way. Secrets serve almost as a roadmap, the most ancient of GPS systems, navigating and dictating the life-paths on which to take – whether one wishes to, or not.

When all the details filter away on the bubbling stovetop of my mind, the question I am ultimately left with is this: did any of the main characters, Grace included – with their varying positions and opportunities in society, actually live the life they wanted? And if so, was it worth the price? Today, I would suggest not, tomorrow, I might feel differently. Read the book for yourself and let me know if you disagree.

I liked The Shifting Fog and am keen to explore more novels by Kate Morton.

Let me know what you think!

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Dear Virginia Woolf,

Virigina Woolf

 

Dear Virginia Woolf,

Greetings and salutations from the warm summer months of the year 2013. I am writing to discuss with you a rather personal matter – that of my 2012 Reading Goals, in which I did you a terrible disservice, dear Virginia.

Having been deceased these past 72 years, you are most likely unaware of
my resolution to read five of your works throughout the year of 2012. An honourable, realistic challenge, one would surmise. I had other reading goals, of course which I won’t discuss here, but am pleased to have achieved them – more or less .

As I reflect on my reading year gone by, I am filled with a sadness. And, something else, perhaps it is regret. You see, Virginia, my real failure, my greatest reading mistake was to leave my Woolf goal too late. I spent most of the year assuring myself that Time, devious as she is, was on my side. I was wrong, of course, as one often is in a head-to-head against Time. October appeared out of nowhere, tearing her way through my front door and into my life, underdressed, uninvited and without apology before I had read any of your novels.

All I could do was begin. I chose to read Mrs. Dalloway – and what a wonderful choice it was.

I had previously thought that streams-of-consciousness writing was not really my style, finding it a tad uncomfortable to read. However, the day of Clarissa Dalloway’s party was, what is the word? Entrancing. At times I was lost, wondering who or what was being described and how I’d arrived there. At other moments, I found myself swimming in the text, drinking in the way each word, considered with care and lyricism, knitted into narrative. I enjoyed drifting in and out of the minds of several characters, all preparing for the party at Clarissa’s house, all submerged in their own private worlds, with private thoughts and longings. It was a sadly-beautiful experience, if you understand what I mean. I was most confronted by the storyline of a man mid-battle for the remaining shreds of his sanity. In fact, I wonder how it came to be that you should have such an understanding of mental health issues? What had your experience of it been?

Dear Virginia, I found your writing excquisite, delicate yet robust, honest and unapologetic. I loved it, I adored it. But, it was not something I could so easily submerge myself in again so quickly.

I realised that to rush through another four of your novels would:
a/ probably not be possible given the late hour at which I had started my task; and
b/ would be disrespectful. Your novels require something, don’t they? Not just the usual sacrifice of time, laid willingly at the altar of Art by any lover of books. No, your writing requires an investment of another kind. Emotional safety, perhaps. You burrow deep, and deep you must burrow. Into the depths of humanity, into the soul, into what it means to exist and co-exist with others, relating, feeling, experiencing life in the shades granted by context and time.

So, given the above reasoning, I chose not to burl through four more Virginia Woolf works. Thus, I did not complete my reading goal and more importantly, I underestimated you, I underestimated what your writing would cost me – and what it was worth.

For that, I am deeply sorry.

I am so very grateful to have been acquainted with you through your writing, Virginia Woolf. I will read more of your works in future. I will not declare a number, nor will I vow to a timeline, but I need not do so – it’s not within my power to resist the gentle call of your prose. I look forward to where it will take me, and who I will encounter along the way.

Until our next meeting.

Your Reader,

Shan

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