The Collected Short Non-Fiction True Stories by Helen Garner

‘Everything around me is seething with meaning, if I can only work out what it is.’

I want to have my own copy of this book: this collection of Helen Garner’s short non-fiction, spanning fifty years of her work.  I’ve borrowed a copy from the library, had access to an electronic copy for review purposes, and I’ll be buying a hard copy of my own.

There’s something about the way in which Helen Garner translates experiences and observations into words.  Some of these pieces I can identify with easily.  As Ms Garner writes, in ‘The Insults of Age’:

‘I had known for years, of course, that beyond a certain age women become invisible in public spaces.’

It’s one thing to know it, another to experience it. Sigh.

Other pieces, such as ‘Killing Daniel’ (about the murder of Daniel Valerio) and ‘Why She Broke’ (about Akon Guode driving into Lake Gladman) reduce me to tears.  Ms Garner adds depth in her non-fiction short stories, illumining aspects that are rarely apparent in the frenetic media cover of these horrific events.

I’ve read many of these non-fiction pieces before: in ‘Everywhere I look’ or ‘The Feel of Steel’.  And, even when the subject matter is of limited appeal to me (‘A Spy in the House of Excrement’) there’s something in Ms Garner’s writing that holds my attention.

While many of these pieces of non-fiction are about events that are external to Ms Garner (in the sense that she is primarily an observer) others are about her role as a daughter, a mother, a teacher.  ‘My Child in the World’ is a beautiful account of Ms Garner watching her daughter in the schoolyard, at the edge of her social group.  And her accounts of life as a grandmother are just magical!

This book and its companion, the much smaller ‘Stories: The Collected Short Fiction’, have been released as Helen Garner turns 75.  Both will find a home on my bookshelf.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Text Publishing for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith