Peter Rose reviews 'The Spare Room' by Helen Garner

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’.

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Published in May 2008, no. 301
Peter Rose

Peter Rose

Peter Rose is the Editor and CEO of Australian Book Review. His books include a family memoir, Rose Boys (2001), which won the National Biography Award in 2003. He has published two novels and six poetry collections, most recently The Subject of Feeling (UWA Publishing, 2015).