The Spare Room by Helen Garner

I had no interest in picking up Helen Garner’s latest novel The Spare Room. Helen has always seemed a little worthy, a little hard core for me.

I based this assessment on what I’d seen of her in the media and some vague memory of her writing something on sexual harassment… I haven’t actually read anything of hers before.

Such is the way opinions are made and held.

The cover didn’t inspire me either. It was hard cover. A quiet, worthy looking design.

However my boss offered me the book and I find it hard to say no, so I said yes and dutifully put it in the pile of books on my bedside table for later.

Later happened.

I picked it up preparing to read the first few pages and put it down again, distracted by the next shiny covered airport novel to catch my attention – within the first page I was hooked.

The Spare Room has been described as exquisite. I agree.

It’s been described as blunt, bold and evocative. Yep, I’m right there with you.

It’s the story of a dying woman, Nicola, who goes to stay at her friend Helen’s house in another city to fight her cancer at a dodgy clinic. She doesn’t want to admit defeat. She also remains defiantly cheerful in the face of death – which she in fact, doesn’t face.

It’s the story Helen who takes on her Nicola’s anger, absorbs it. Who is desperately caught between the role of supporting Nicola in her pathetic endless quest for a cure and wanting to shake her and stop the farce… and then of course feels guilty… and angry.

The mirror that shatters in the first pages symbolises the struggle. How can you face death if you can’t see it… and you have to walk pretty carefully if there is broken glass on the floor…

Nicola doesn’t want anyone to reflect her truth, but by denying it, she keeps Helen at arms length.

I really enjoyed the read. Couldn’t put it down.

It’s not a long book – 2-3 hours – but it stays with you.

Interview with Helen Garner