Saturday, 11 June 2016

Whisper and Hum

I get excited every time a new Helen Garner book is released. Her latest, Everywhere I Look (2016) is a collection of essays and insights on a wide range of topics. I have literally just finished consuming her words and want to rush out and give a copy to every woman I know!

Garner always has something interesting to say.  Whether she is writing about sexual harassment on campus as in The First Stone (1995), the murder of a university student by his girlfriend in Joe Cinque's Consolation (2004), or a court case of an ordinary man who suddenly took the lives of his three young children in This House of Grief (2014) - Garner has a way of finding stories and exploring them in a humane and compelling way.

In this collection of essays and diary excerpts she writes about aging, movies, families, travelling and much more. In the everyday - haircuts, dog walking, catching the train - which most writers would find mundane, she finds insight. There is literally a story everywhere you look.

I enjoyed the chapters on court cases, her friendships with writers Elizabeth Jolley and Tim Winton, and the diary excerpts from life at home with her grandchildren. Her encounter with Rosie Batty is wonderful and I loved "The Journey of the Stamp Animals" in which she recollects a favourite childhood book, long out of print. I laughed aloud at her week watching Russell Crowe films in "Hit Me" in which she comes to find a new appreciation for his work.

Garner's crisp writing is always spot on. Her prose about being a woman, especially an older woman, is deeply personal and brilliant, for example 'Last week I had my hair cut. I was pleased, but in the limited way one dares to be at this age' (p58).  In "The Insults of Age" she writes of the invisibility of old age in which older women are routinely patronised - 'really, it is astonishing how much shit a woman will cop in the interests of civic and domestic order' (p211) - to which she decides to fight back in her own way.

This book is extremely readable, with it's bite-sized chunks and compelling subject matter. She places herself in each chapter and hones her eagle eye on sometimes disturbing material as she tries to make sense of things. I think this is what makes her such an accessible writer - because as a reader you feel she has let you in to her world, sat you down over a cup of tea, and told you about her day in wondrous detail.

My review of Garner's This House of Grief can also be found on this blog.