Stories: The Collected Short Fiction by Helen Garner

‘Everything is spoken, nothing is said.’

This is one of two books published to celebrate Helen Garner’s seventy-fifth birthday in 2017. This book is by far the smaller book of the two (the other book, ‘True Stories: The Collected Short Non-Fiction’ is around 800 pages). This book, with its fourteen stories, contains just over 200 pages.

I’ve read this book twice. It takes me longer to read Ms Garner’s fiction: I need to work hard for my understanding of it. Not, I hasten to say, because of Ms Garner’s writing. No, it’s because most of these stories have many layers and in order to appreciate the whole story I need to identify the different parts.

There are no perfect characters, nor are there any stereotypes, in Ms Garner’s fiction. Each character has a past and a purpose. The future may be less certain, as in many stories the characters are anxiously navigating the present. We meet these characters, effectively described by Ms Garner, we journey alongside them for a while, witness an aspect or two of their lives, and then part company. There are no neat conclusions and no complicated backstories. And I think that is one of the reasons I find Ms Garner’s fiction harder work. Not because I need conclusions and backstories but because given an opportunity I will try to imagine them for myself. Ms Garner’s short story has finished on the page, but sometimes it is still taking place in my mind. Right now, I’m still in Surfers (‘Postcards from Surfers’) knitting, contributing my own monologue.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


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