Margie Orford’s ‘Love and Fury’: realising one’s dreams is a victory that often comes at a cost

05 June 2024 - 12:56
By Margaret von Klemperer
'Love and Fury' will leave the reader with a deep sense of admiration for Orford.
Image: Supplied 'Love and Fury' will leave the reader with a deep sense of admiration for Orford.

Love and Fury: A Memoir
Margie Orford
Jonathan Ball Publishers

Margie Orford first found fame as the author of the series of crime novels set in Cape Town that featured police profiler Clare Hart. They were clever and serious, and shone a spotlight on crime in South Africa, and especially offences against women. But after five books, Orford stopped, though she later went on to write The Eye of the Beholder. Her reasons for ending the Clare Hart series are explained in this deeply personal and sometimes harrowing memoir.

Orford grew up in Namibia and had a conventionally happy childhood. But she was packed off to boarding school in Cape Town where, rebellious and unhappy, things started to change for her. After becoming politically aware at university, she ended up being arrested and jailed, and had to write some of her final exams in prison. She had many difficult formative experiences that shaped her future path and interests, but they also scarred her.

At one point early in the book, she says: “There is no way to say something out loud that you can’t say to yourself first.” And that is as true of writing as it is of speech, and the reader comes to feel it has taken Orford many years of trauma, disappointment, success and disillusionment to be able to write this book. “Writer’s block” is a convenient phrase, but until a writer can process her own experiences, she will be unable to communicate them.

Orford takes the reader through her life, from Namibia to London, marriage and motherhood, to New York, and then back to Namibia and Cape Town, all the while facing the tension she feels between wanting the freedom to live out her dreams and write and wanting to be a good mother to her three daughters. She shows how reality can be a very hard thing to handle. And she reveals the trauma she has faced at various times in her life, and how it has shaped her, both as a writer and as a person dedicated to various causes, including feminism and ending violence against women.

But what she went through herself and saw others suffer has taken its toll. Her marriage has ended and she, currently living in London, has struggled with suicidal thoughts and her inability to write. Love and Fury represents her victory, but it has come at a cost. This is a powerfully written and cleverly structured book that is often hard to read, but which leaves the reader with a deep sense of admiration for its author.