Helen Garner Watch #6

Reviews of The Spare Room

Raffaella Barker in "The Independent": "It is difficult to get excited about this book. Helen Garner is a good writer. This is her first novel in 15 years and she has a gift for creating a scene and illustrating character that is airy and enduring and essentially Australian. No one who gets through this book would deny that Garner is skilful. Given that the central character is a woman writer in her sixties called Helen, it is probable that this is a cathartic exercise for her following a traumatic life experience of her own, but I am not convinced that it needs to be inflicted up on the reading public. It is just too depressing. It is the business of a novel to transform experience, not just for the sake of it but to illuminate our minds and to touch our hearts. If we want veritas we read non fiction, and there are numerous moving memoirs about cancer which may well provide comfort through the solidarity of shared experience and which could perhaps show us how to grieve."
David Pullar on PopMatters: "On first appearances, The Spare Room should be a difficult read. This is not for the words and sentences therein: it's a short book and written in clear, simple prose. It's more that the content appears heavy and rather bleak. The story goes something like this: an older woman provides her spare room to a friend with terminal cancer who is in town for treatment. 'Not a barrel of laughs,' you would think...Humour is not just an occasional relief in The Spare Room, it's actually the lifeblood of the book. The old cliché that 'you've got to laugh' in the face of tragedy is given new meaning by Garner. For all the sickness and suffering and thankless service involved in the story, it's only an acute sense of the absurdity of the situation that keeps the heroine (also named Helen) sane."


Garner's novel, The Spare Room, won the top prize at the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards, and at the Queensland Premier's Literary Awards, in September.
At the National Library in Canberra in October "Helen Garner, Alex Miller, Robert Drewe, Frank Moorhouse and Alexis Wright were among the authors who spoke at a colloquium in honour of Bruce Bennett, emeritus professor at the University of NSW at the Australian Defence Force Academy."

Ten Years Ago

Don Anderson on Garner's My Hard Heart: Selected Fictions, in "Australian Book Review".

What do we talk about when we talk about Helen Garner? About her writing, that is, about such a consummate novella as The Children's Bach, about extraordinary stories such as "A Vigil", in Cosmo Cosmolino, about the eponymous "Postcards from Surfers", and a dozen others? We talk about domestic realism, we talk about fiction that encompasses not merely the present supposedly self-obsessed Baby Boomer generation but children and grandparents also, we talk about discipline, control, and the assurance that more is less. We talk, despite her 'despair of feeling trapped inside [my] own style' (in True Stories: Selected Non-Fiction, 1996, from which my epigraph also is taken), of a virtuoso who hit her distinctive style early -- in Honour, say -- and has progressively refined it to more and more subtle effect. We think of a connoisseur of the moral and emotional life who renders these with unflinching honesty, whatever the cost, whatever the pain, to herself and others. We -- or, rather, I -- talk about her modesty, while not assuming patriarchally that woman ought to be modest, but with Jane Austen's letter of 1805 in mind: 'If [s]he were less modest, [s]he would be more agreeable, speak louder & look Impudenter; -- and is it not a fine Character of which Modesty is the only defect?'

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on November 7, 2008 4:57 PM.

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