The Spare Room by Helen Garner


It must be a couple of years ago now that I first learned about this book. The Book Programme had a feature where it asked authors to talk about three books they had read recently. Peter Carey was a passionate advocate for The Spare Room, and expressed the hope that it would reach a wider audience outside Australia.

Now it has and I can understand why he felt so strongly. The subject matter is difficult, and I had to read just one chapter at a time, but I am so glad that I did read The Spare Room – it is quite extraordinary.

The story opens with Helen preparing her spare room for a friend’s visit. She is thoughtful, practical and a little anxious – understandably so given that her friend is gravely ill. It felt completely natural to warm to Helen and to be drawn in by her narrative.

Nicola is coming to stay because she isn’t fit enough to stay in her own inaccessible house and because she has put her faith in questionable alternative treatments for her cancer that are available at a nearby clinic.

She either cannot or will not acknowledge the seriousness of her illness and she completly fails to recognise the heavy burden that her declining health, the side effects of her treatments and her cavalier attitude are having on her friend.

The author portrays the full range of Helen’s emotions – grief, anger, resentment, frustration and, eventually, despair as she begins to feel that she really cannot cope – quite wonderfully. Every emotion and every incident rings true and Helen Garner writes clearly and beautifully.

The Spare Room is a powerful and deeply emotional book. It was difficult and sometimes painful to read, but I am so glad that I did.

7 responses

  1. Kathy – it’s excellent but, as I am sure you realise, it’s a book you have to pick the right moment and be in the right frame of mind to read it.

    Staci – Thank you!

    Stacy – I hesitated and a few years ago I wouldn’t have read it. I lost my father to cancer and it would have been too painful. But now more time has passed I can appreciate the quality of the writing and the insight into so many different emotions.

  2. I’m not sure what made me click on the link to your book blog on A Work in Progress’s blog. When I did I found one of my favourite paintings staring at me – The Rain it Raineth. Not that I know much about art – I just happen to be from Penzance (but now live in Devon). An interesting blog you have here, I’ll certainly return soon.

  3. Pingback: Friday Finds - May 22, 2009

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