On a crisp autumnal Sunday afternoon, I curled up with a cup of tea and spent a few hours in the company of an old friend, Helen Garner's The Spare Room (2008).
Garner is my favourite Australian author and having seen her recently at the Sydney Writers' Festival I have been on a bit of a Garner kick - reading or rereading some of her work. The Spare Room is a delightful short novel that can be read in a few hours.
Set in Melbourne, Helen is busily preparing her home for the Nicola's arrival. Nicola has come to stay with her for three weeks while she undergoes treatment for her advanced cancer at the Theodore Institute, a clinic offering hope to the terminally ill by way of vitamin C injections and caffeine enemas. As Helen spends her days in waiting rooms and nights changing sheets, tending for her friend, she suspects the treatments are doing more harm then good. She grows frustrated with Nicola’s unwillingness to come to terms with her situation and finds it difficult to be a supportive friend.
Anyone who has cared for someone during a debilitating illness will be able to relate to this story.
I love Garner’s crisp prose. She has an uncanny ability to get under the skin of a character and doesn’t shy away from a situation riddled with complexities. This book is deceptively simple but provides much to think about long after you have turned the last page.