Helen Garner “The Spare Room”

2008, 195 p.

This is Garner’s first avowedly fiction book in over a decade, and was greeted with wide acclaim.  It is a beautifully presented book, right from its crisp front cover and its interesting face boards.  This care in presentation is amplified in the opening pages where Helen is preparing her spare room for the 3 week visit of a friend from Sydney who is seeking alternative therapy for advanced cancer.  Nicola’s death is not really the core of this story: instead the drama of the book is Helen’s rage and inadequacy in the face the demands of friendship, and her frustration at her friend’s relentless faith in a “cure” that Helen feels is quackery.  I suspect that Garner herself is ashamed at her own behaviour, and is seeking absolution from herself and her readers in this thinly disguised memoir.  I loved the embeddedness of this book within Melbourne suburbia, and her confidential and warm tone- like a good, satisfying talk with an old friend.

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