Text Publishing, $19.95 pb, 242 pp,
‘Curiosity is a muscle,’ Helen Garner declares in the first essay of this selection, displaying again the metaphorical spark that marks her out and keeps her readers plundering her pages. She is writing about writing, and her revelations couple a disarming intimacy – Garner the wry, lifelong apprentice, confiding trade secrets – with shrewd and reflexive moral admonition. Here, in a brief paragraph, is laid out the disciplinary ground of fiction and reportage, plus a private view of Garner’s workshop and tools: ‘Patience is a muscle,’ she continues. ‘What begins as a necessary exercise gradually becomes natural. And then immense landscapes open out in front of you.’ It’s a beguiling act, this ability of hers to be forever the journeywoman but in the assured allegorical diction of a latter-day Bunyan.
True Stories, a selection of her non-fiction works, is the yield of a quarter century of Garner’s habitual, patient, writerly curiosity. And of something else as well. Call it tenacity maybe, a stroppiness that is part anarchist perversity, part determination to winkle out the truth in complex human affairs. And always there is the mark of the scourge that she wields against narcissism, her own and others.