Helen Garner

Following True Stories, published in 1996, The Feel of Steel is Helen Garner’s second collection of non-fiction. It comprises thirty-one pieces of varying lengths. Longer narratives such as ‘Regions of Thick-Ribbed Ice’, about a hair-raising trip to Antarctica, and ‘A Spy in the House of Excrement’, about the outcome ...

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‘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.

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Dear Editor,

Dr Jenna Mead claims, among other things in her most recent attempt to discredit The First Stone, that I have ‘invented dialogue’ and written ‘hypothetical meetings with imaginary characters’. All the conversations and encounters in the book are documented in detailed, scrupulous notes. This includes my account of a telephone conversation between Dr Mead and me, which she would perhaps prefer to think of as a figment of my ‘merciless imagination. If only Dr Mead were an imaginary character – but it would strain the ingenuity of a better writer than I am, to have dreamt her up.

Helen Garner, Elizabeth Bay NSW

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We meet in one of the ubiquitous coffee shops in Brunswick Street. I order a cappuccino, all milky froth. Hers is a short black; bitter and strong. Over the past decade our relationship has been desultory, unevenly balanced: we live in different states and she is a famous novelist. I have always been in a supplicant role. We have something approaching a friendship, maybe. Today she defers to me. She has just reviewed my book on the Orr case for the Times Literary Supplement. And liked it, she says. She wants my help.

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The inner-suburban dinginess of Cosmo Cosmolino could place Helen Gamer within an honourable tradition stretching at least from Dickens (Charles) to Dickins (Barry). It is a tradition that, observing the mundane and the domestic (not to be confused with each other), has produced works of pathos and wit, of great emotional intensity and sparkling humour. It is a tradition within which great writers have managed to invest dull lives, mean-spirited characters, and tawdry events with charm and universal significance, with an appeal reaching beyond the local and the specific. It is also a tradition within which great novelists ensure that their readers’ sympathy and curiosity are aroused to the extent that they will keep turning the pages well beyond bedtime and care about what comes next.

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The publishing world and other allied industries, namely the media and literary critics, tend to promote authors on a ‘star’ system. Especially women writers. They allow certain women to become ‘flavour of the month’. Recently, if you remember, it was Beverley Farmer, and then Kate Grenville. For a short period, every newspaper, magazine, or radio program with a literary bent featured them and their fiction. This treatment is reserved for fiction writers. Never is such sustained coverage given to that awesome creature, the ‘woman poet’.

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This book is about a twelve-year-old boy called Ort Flack, into whose life, at a moment of drastic need, bursts none other than God, in the form of a silvery white cloud. The cloud has been there all along, hanging over the house, a personal vision of Ort’s, as mysterious and troubling and comforting to ...

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Lines Of Flight by Marion Campbell & Postcards from Surfers by Helen Garner

by
December 1985–January 1986, no. 77

Marion Campbell’s first book is an ambitious work in which large themes are explored through the consciousness of a complex character, Rita Finnerty, a twenty-five-year-old Australian artist living in France. The writing is richly dense with images, symbolic clues, psychological insight poetic and painterly language, time layered with memory and even stories within the story.

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Divorce Dilemma is a book for those contemplating divorce, but it should be compulsory reading for those contemplating marriage! Warwick Hartin brings a wealth of research and practical experience to this clear and searching analysis of divorce and marriage in our society. He courageously examines the sacrosanct institution of marriage, our reasons for marrying, the divorce rate and the effect of divorce on children.

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