The Spare Room marks Helen Garner’s return to fiction after a long interval. Since Cosmo Cosmolino (1992), she has concentrated on non-fiction and journalism: newspaper columns and feature articles. She has speculated in public about her distance from fiction, while giving us The First Stone (1995) – an account of an incident at a Melbourne university and its bizarre aftermath – and the lancing, forensic Joe Cinque’s Consolation (2004).
Why this new work is presented as fiction is not immediately obvious. Read as a long essay in a magazine, it would be convincing, perhaps more so than this novella. The subject, the sensibility, are very familiar by now. The narrator’s name is Helen (‘Hel’ to her friends); she is a writer and a journalist, in her mid-sixties; she lives in an inner suburb of Melbourne and rides a bicycle; she has a friend called Rosalba in Newcastle; her daughter lives next door; a ukulele is always at the ready; her marriages she describes as ‘train wrecks’.