Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner

I am a big fan of Helen Garner’s writing, especially her non-fiction.  Why?  Because she combines acute observation with superb writing, in a way which distills the essence of she wants to say without wasting a word.

Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner

‘Journeys through life’

‘Everywhere I Look’ is a collection of essays, diary entries and true stories written by Helen Garner.  While thirty of the stories in the collection have previously been published (between 1994 and 2015), the other three pieces (‘Whisper and Hum’, ‘Before Whatever Else Happens’ and ‘Suburbia’) have not.

What an interesting and eclectic collection: the first essay is about one about wanting a ukulele, about learning to play it.  But the ukulele is part of a wider story: the collapse of a marriage, learning about self.  The second essay is about buying a table – ‘to be elegant in my solitude’.  And the table is also part of a wider story, including appearances, expectation, and craftsmanship.

There are six parts to this collection.   While I enjoyed the entire collection, I particularly enjoyed two parts.  Part Two: ‘Notes from a brief friendship’, with its essays ‘Dear Mrs Dunkley’ (about a teacher of Helen’s in 1952), ‘Eight Views of Tim Winton’ (about her friendship with Tim Winton) and ‘From Frogmore, Victoria’ (about Raimond Gaita, and his memoir ‘Romulus, My Father’ and the movie).  Part Four: ‘On Darkness’ with its essay about Rosie Batty (‘The Singular Rosie’).  ‘Punishing Karen’, about a teenager who killed her newborn baby is unsettling, as is ‘The Man in the Dock’ where a young woman (‘this brave, foolish, big-bosomed girl in her white blouse and chipped nail polish…’) stands in support of a violent young man.

The essays also include one on ageing ‘The Insults of Age’, one about Russell Crowe (‘Hit Me’), others about life with grandchildren close by.

There’s something wonderful about Helen Garner’s writing.  Her observations are keen, her words always well-chosen, her meaning clear, if not always comfortable.  Events pass into history, but good writing is timeless.  These pieces are worth reading, or re-reading.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AWW2016

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