Kirkus Reviews QR Code


by Helen Garner

Pub Date: Sept. 13th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-925355-36-9
Publisher: Text

A veteran Australian novelist and essayist returns with a motley, spirited collection of pieces dating back more than a decade.

One of the first things readers new to Garner (The House of Grief: The Story of a Murder Trial, 2015, etc.) will notice is her candor. She writes frankly about her youthful indiscretions, failed marriages, temper (she goes off on a teenage girl taunting older women), and ignorance about certain subjects (ballet, for example). She does so in the same frank and clear voice she uses throughout these essays that range from memories (a rare book from girlhood) to reviews (of films and personalities, from United 93 to the complete films of Russell Crowe) to searches for meaning in her quotidian experiences (she invariably finds something). A couple of times Garner mentions key dreams that conveniently fit with the theme of the piece, but she nonetheless convinces throughout that she is one on whom little is lost. Most pieces are quite brief, just several pages, and they appear in thematic rather than chronological order. Most are from the 2000s, but one about pianist Glenn Gould is from 1994: “J.S. Bach is God, as far as I’m concerned, and…Gould was one of his major prophets.” Throughout, we learn quite a bit about the author. Her feelings about her parents, her fondness for her ukulele, her gratitude to a tough teacher from girlhood, her admiration for writers (from Elizabeth Jolley to Janet Malcolm; she calls the latter “Dear boss”), her broken relationship with a family dog, her battle with depression, her responses to aging (she’s now 73)—these and other richly human subjects connect the author emotionally to her readers. Among the most engaging pieces are three selections from her diary; though generally very brief, they provide sharp images of her work, her reading, and her fellow travelers.

Like strolling around in an idiosyncratic, surprising, and informative museum.