Helen Garner Watch #8

Reviews of The Spare Room

Liesl Schillinger in "The New York Times": "The Spare Room reads like an unsparing memoir in which flashes of dark humor and simple happiness (a magic show, a grandchild's flamenco dance, a shared joke) lighten the grim record of an overwhelmingly difficult chapter in a woman's life, a chapter whose meaning she still struggles to decipher years on, whose sharper entries still stab her conscience, but can't be erased by time."

Jenn's Bookshelf weblog: "The Spare Room by Helen Garner is a short in length but is a very powerful little book. In a short span of time, it describes how cancer can effect a relationship. Garner's writing is painfully honest. Her characters are very real, almost too real at times. There were aspects about each of the characters that I liked and disliked. I commended Helen for her selflessness in agreeing to care for Nicola. At the same time, it angered me when, not a week into Nicola's stay, she begain to complain about how difficult the task was. And I commended Nicola for not giving in to her cancer, but was horrified at just how much she'd put her body through in the slight chance it might cure her of the disease. And the trust she put into this medicial center with very little proof of the treatment's effectiveness."

rosyb on the Vulpes Libris weblog: "This is a book about dying. About cancer. About the appalling strains that are put on the living in the face of terminal illness; about how people cope; about how people lie to themselves and to others, determined to cling onto life no matter what. About how all of us cling to certain values for comfort, how none of us can really give each other what we want and need...Stylistically, at first I did not take to this slim volume which -- in a reflection of the title -- seemed just a little too spare for my liking. Laying my cards on the table, despite the current fashion, I'm not always a fan of ultra-sparse elegance. It tends to  strike me in the same way as minimalist interior design: too controlled and lacking in personality. Garner is not a visual writer and I began to get frustrated with wanting to SEE things:  the characters and environment, particularly as it is set in Australia -- a country I have never even visited. I felt starved of visual detail and, being a visual person, I missed that...However, as I progressed beyond the beginning of the book, the sparse prose seemed less like a self-conscious style so much as a baldness, a rawness -- an attempt, perhaps, to present a no-bones account, a stark account of a painful reality. Garner might not draw many vivid pictures of the outside world, but she is masterful at drawing believable and absorbing psychological portraits of her characters...I found myself completely engrossed."

Review of Joe Cinque's Consolation

Squibs and Sagas weblog: "Joe Cinque's Consolation attempts to be a testimony of Joe Cinque's life but is actually a testimony on three main fronts.  Firstly, it is a testimony of Mrs Cinque's grief as filtered by Garner.  Secondly, Garner provides a testimony as a personal witness of the trials and thirdly, the binding of her life to the narration of this tale is a testimony to her own life and mental state at the time.  It is not the whole story and it holds a lot of prejudices and assumptions, but don't all testimonies?"


Jason Steger, of "The Age", reported on a proposal to adapt Garner's novel, The Spare Room, for the stage.  The play is to be written by British actor Eileen Atkins, with the aim being that Venessa Redgrave might also feature in the production.

Simon Thomas sees similarities between the UK covers for The Spare Room and Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go.

Garner launched Anna Goldsworthy's memoir, Piano Lessons, in Melbourne in October.  SlowTV was there and the video of that event is now available.

Elizabeth on the Sixth in Line weblog, contemplates her relationship with, and feelings for, Helen Garner and her work:

I want to write to Helen Garner again and tell her how sorry I am. In my last letter to her I think I was trying to show off, trying to show her how clever I was under the guise of trying to get her to take me seriously in relation to my thesis topic. But now I suspect she will only experience my writing as pompous and peacock.

I am ashamed of my desire to impress Garner, my desire to seduce her, to make her my friend, to want her to rely on me for something, anything however small, just as I rely on her. I have to remind myself that I am a reader, one of many, an admiring reader perhaps but like everyone else, especially those who try to write themselves, I am prone to fits of jealousy. 

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on November 24, 2009 11:05 AM.

Australian Bookcovers #187 - The Fallout by Garry Disher was the previous entry in this blog.

Reprint: A Letter to the Editor of The South Australian Advertiser by "An Adelaide Tailor" is the next entry in this blog.

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