I love Helen Garner’s writing. I fell in love with Monkey Grip when I first read it at uni in the 90s. This House of Grief is an arresting true crime book that relates the trial and appeals for a terrible event. The Spare Room is snappy and unforgiving in it’s observations.
I was terribly excited to read Garner’s diaries – this edition is from 1978 – 1987, after the success with Monkey Grip, and through the writing of Postcards from Surfers and The Children’s Bach.
At dinner the surgeon asked me why I write with a pen rather than using a dictaphone or word processor. “Why would I?” “Because it’s faster and more efficient.” “But its my life’s work, I’m not in a hurray.” I was surprised to hear myself make that answer.
Garner tends to write short observations rather than lengthy accounts. There is gold on every page. Garner’s turn of phrase runs from astute and calculating to lyrical. Her critical mind sees everything, especially her own shortcomings and the ‘laziness’ that she regularly accuses herself of.
A man once told me years after we broke up, that he had built a shrine inside himself, and that I had got in and kicked it all to bits. At the time I had no idea what he meant. But now I get it, watching another man hovering reverently over the little altar of his sufferings, wanting me to approach and genuflect.
Garner relates her interactions with others, her anxiety over attending functions, the trouble she has with male academics. The love for her daughter is lovely to see especially as her daughter grows older and she understands her role as a parent to a child is coming to an end. (I should probably more say that this is relatable for me, being in a similar stage myself at the moment.)
I see that compared to Doris Lessing I am lazy and a spendthrift.
Whether or not you are a fan of Garner, if you want to read some pithy observations about life and love, literature and the act of writing this is the book for you. If you are a fan of Garner, you should probably just read this immediately.