I seem to have been posting quite a lot of book reviews lately, so I have decided to try a new format.
The spare room by Helen Garner.
Borrowed from my local public library.
* * * * "Enjoyable"
From the cover notes: "Helen lovingly prepares her spare room for her friend Nicola. She is coming to visit for three weeks, to receive treatment she believes will cure her cancer. From the moment Nicola staggers off the plane, gaunt and hoarse but still somehow grand, Helen becomes her nurse, her guardian angel and her stony judge. The spare room tells a story of compassion, humour and rage. The two women - one sceptical, one stubbornly serene - negotiate an unmapped path through Nicola's bizarre therapy, stumbling toward's the novel's terrible and transcendent finale."
This book is a work of fiction. But because Garner has named her narrator Helen, and because the writing is so extraordinarily honest, I would swear that this book is the the recounting of actual events in the author's life. The dialogue is pitch perfect - exactly as people really speak. Garner doesn't fluff around with language either, but uses it deliberately and sparingly. Consider this short passage:
"A dry breeze puffed up the slope. It lifted her hair and showed the pitiful thinness of her neck. I put down my sandwich and grabbed her hands."
My favourite character is Bessie, Helen's grand-daughter that lives next door:
"Something rustled at the back door. Bessie slid into the kitchen, beaming, in a floor-length flounced skirt and fringed shawl.
'No, sweetheart - sorry. Not now.'
Her smile faded. 'But I've got a new dance to show you.'
'Nicola's asleep. She needs a very quiet house because she's terribly sick.'
She stared at me, sharply interested.'Is Nicola going to die?'
She began to twist the doorknob, writhing and grizzling. 'I need you to play with me. I'm bored.'
'Don't push it, Bess. You heard what I said.'
'If you don't let me come in, I won't be able to stop whining.'"