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Continuing my exploration of Australian literature, I read ‘The Spare Room‘ by Helen Garner today. This is the first book by Helen Garner that I have read.

The story is narrated by the main character Helen. Her friend Nicola is coming to stay with her for three weeks. Nicola has cancer and all her treatment options have been exhausted and doctors have said that it was time to prepare for the next step. But Nicola refuses to give up and she is trying alternative therapy now. That is the reason she is coming to stay with Helen. What happens over the course of the next three weeks is narrated in the story.

I found ‘The Spare Room‘ moving and powerful. It almost read like nonfiction. Anyone who has taken care of a family member or a relative or a friend with a terminal condition or a longterm chronic condition will be able to relate to it – when you have to frequently wake up in the middle of the night for emergencies, when emergencies have a sneaky way of arriving only during the weekend or in the middle of the night when medical help is not easy to get or transportation is hard to organize, when you get up in the morning and the first thing you do is check how the person under your care is doing and that determines how the rest of your day is going to be, how the person under your care refuses to listen to you and refuses to do the simple things right or does things which are not good for their condition which makes you angry and howl with frustration, how you love this person and want to take care of them because they are suffering but you also hate them at the same time – all these are realistically depicted in the book. The narrator is portrayed as a complex, real, imperfect person and Helen Garner gets that pitch perfect and it is beautiful to read. Helen Garner’s prose flows beautifully and the pages just fly. It is surprising given the fact that the book’s subject is heavy.

I loved my first Helen Garner. I can’t wait to read my next one.

You can find Lisa’s (from ‘ANZ Litlovers’) nuanced review of the book here.

You can find Kim’s (from ‘Reading Matters’) effusive review of the book here.

Have you read ‘The Spare Room‘? What do you think about it?

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