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The Spare Room: A Novel Paperback – February 2, 2010
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In her first novel in fifteen years, Helen Garner writes about the joys and limits of female friendship under the transforming pressure of illness. "The clear-eyed grace of her prose" in this darkly funny and unsparing novel has been hailed by Peter Carey as "the work of a great writer." Garlanded with awards, dazzling reviewers around the globe, The Spare Room is destined to be a modern literary classic.
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“My favorite discovery of the year.” ―Anne Enright
“Luminous. . . It reminds us that literature not only can, but must, address the most important subjects, because it does so in ways no other form can.” ―Claire Messud, Newsweek
“Garner is perhaps most easily introduced to new American readers as the Joan Didion of Australia--a person who writes with a diamond drill, depicting human relationships with such brutal clarity they seem to be rendered for the first time.” ―April Smith, Los Angeles Times
“A Molotov cocktail of a book. . . Her voice is full of unexpected humor.” ―Emily Carter, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“A book so sensitive, sad, funny, and alive that it surely deserves an honored place on many shelves.” ―Diana Athill, The Daily Telegraph (UK)
“Two women who have known each other for fifteen years, spending three weeks together with the weight of one crushing disease. How do we calculate what's important in our lives? Highly recommended.” ―Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal (starred review)
“Only great fiction demands us to reset our moral compass and look at our value coordinates all over again. The Spare Room achieves this.” ―Neel Mukherjee, The Times (UK)
About the Author
Helen Garner was born in Geelong, Australia, in 1942. Her award-winning books, including The Spare Room, Monkey Grip, The First Stone, and Joe Cinque’s Consolation, include novels, stories, screenplays, and works of nonfiction. She lives in Australia.
- Publisher : Picador; First edition (February 2, 2010)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 175 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0312428170
- ISBN-13 : 978-0312428174
- Item Weight : 8.8 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.43 x 8.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,033,892 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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The good: The book is well-paced and interesting. Garner is a talented writer, and she describes beautifully the reality of caregiving. Here are some examples:
“We led (Nicola) into the spare room and she sat shivering on the edge of the bed. I banged down the window and switched on the oil heater. No, thank you—she didn’t want to drink, or eat, or wash, or go to the toilet. She was silent. Her head hung forward, as if a tiny fascinating scene were being enacted on her lap.”
Bessie, age five, who is denied attention due to Nicola’s needs, “...hesitated, glaring at me over her shoulder, long enough for me to see her pearly skin, the vital luster of her pouting lower lip.”
Description of a quack clinic: “The room within was painted a strange yellow, the color of controlled panic.”
At the realization she’d have no choice but to offer up the next few weeks to continuing Nicola’s care: “My heart was full of holes. Everything strong and purposeful was draining out of me. When my coffee came I could hardly lift the cup. I drove home. My desk was buried under sliding heaps of unread and unanswered mail. I had lost control of my life.”
I also enjoyed the vernacular of urban Australia. The story is set largely in Melbourne, and their everyday language is different from what I'm used to. That added another layer of interest.
The not-so-great: this is a chronicle of a debilitating and wondrous period in the author’s life. It’s really interesting to the reader, like driving past a wreck, but I like to see character growth. In that sense, the ending was a bit unsatisfying. Helen and all the other caregivers continue sacrificing themselves for Nicola right up until the last page. No changes.
However, the story contained two powerful reminders. One, to appreciate my life, in spite of the fact that I can no longer leap tall buildings. Spare Room imparts gratitude for the joy of relative health and independence. Two, to do everything in my power NOT to let caregiving mow me down, the next time I’m in that situation. So thanks to Helen Garner for sharing her story with us. I recommend this book.
My only disappointment was the feeling of a rushed ending. A period of time is condensed into one chapter. As it is not a long book, I wanted this to have been lengthened, although I can understand why Garner would not want to - as it stands the book is a close look at the short period of time where Nicola and Helen are together.
I thought it was well written and portrayed the difficulties of such a friendship well. Recommended.
The book centres on the emotional aspects surrounding death. How hard it is for some to "give up" and accept death, how hard it is for those around those dying, the burden of it and the range of emotions experienced - sadness, anger, loss, tiredness,helplessness and finally the guilt of relief. The feeling while being beside death of being on the outside of everyday life.
Told in a straightforward and honest manner, it is a good read.
I disagree with the Publisher's Weekly review which mentions that "Garner paints Nicola's unflinching optimism with a heavy hand, and her grand naïveté is unconvincing" - unconvincing? This made me laugh out loud. I know that we're all expected to deal with terminal illness with iron wit and stoic resolve. But from personal experience there is nothing that can prepare anyone for the reactions to terminal illness that one will face. And from this perspective I was happy to read something so ludicrous and far-fetched in Nicola's reactions... and the humour was definitely realistic!
It was a book that at times was quite a funny , but of course the underlying sadness could not be ignored, however that did not take over the tone of the book.
It was a very easy read, not a big book. I will probably pick it up again.
Am keen to read more of Helen Garners books.