Helen Garner

Helen GarnerHelen Garner (born 1942) is an Australian novelist, short-story writer, screenwriter and journalist. Garner’s first novel, Monkey Grip, published in 1977, immediately established her as an original voice on the Australian literary scene – it is now widely considered a classic. She has a reputation for incorporating and adapting her personal experiences in her fiction, something that has brought her widespread attention, particularly with her novels, Monkey Grip and The Spare Room (2008).

Throughout her career, Garner has written both fiction and non-fiction. She attracted controversy with her book The First Stone (1995) about a sexual-harassment scandal in a university college. She has also written for film and theatre, and has consistently won awards for her work, including the Walkley Award for a 1993 Time Magazine report. Adaptations of two of her works have appeared as feature films: her debut novel Monkey Grip and her true-crime book Joe Cinque’s Consolation (2004) – the former released in 1982 and the latter in 2016.

 


The Writers on Writers series aims to tease some of Australia’s literary treasures out of the Aladdin’s cave of canonicity. A collaboration between publisher Black Inc., the University of Melbourne, and the State Library of Victoria, it began in 2017 with Alice Pung’s book on John Marsden and Erik Jensen’s on Kate Jennings. The series now boasts eleven titles, the most recent of which is Sean O’Beirne’s book on Helen Garner ...

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Oh, how I detest tiny books – those cutesy little hardbacks that are sold next to the novelty bookmarks and greeting cards. 101 Reasons Why Dogs/Cats Are Better Than Cats/Dogs; Inspo quotes for Insta feminists; The Pocket Marcus Aurelias (for the stoic on-the-go); The Pocket Tarot (for the soothsayer on-the-go); The Tao of Something. They are the literary equivalent of supermarket checkout chocolates – sugar-fix books. Stocking stuffers. Gag gifts. Op-shop cloggers. Toilet-floor lint collectors.

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‘I would like to write about dominance, revulsion, separation, the horrible struggles between people who love each other,’ wrote Helen Garner, foreshadowing How to End a Story, the final instalment of her published diaries, following Yellow Notebook (2019) and One Day I’ll Remember This (2020). While the first two volumes spanned eight years apiece, How to End a Story spans only three. Starting in 1995, shortly after shortly after the release of Garner’s The First Stone, it details the dissolution of her marriage to another writer, V. As Lisa Gorton notes, this volume differs from its precursors both in tone and focus: ‘This one is as compelling as a detective story. This one is edited with the sense of an ending.’

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The first two volumes of Helen Garner’s diaries – Yellow Notebook (2019) and One Day I’ll Remember This (2020) – cover eight years apiece. This one covers three. It is an intense, even claustrophobic story of the breakup of a marriage – a story told in the incidental, fragmentary form of a diary.

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Wherever She Wanders 

by
12 November 2021

On the evening of Wednesday, 16 October 1991, after the annual Valedictory Dinner at Melbourne University’s august Ormond College, the Master allegedly made unprovoked sexual advances to two female students. These incidents lead to a scandal which rocked the Melbourne establishment, caused the exit of the Master, and became the basis of Helen Garner’s hugely controversial exploration of sexual politics, class, and power, The First Stone (1995).

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‘Unerring muse that makes the casual perfect’: Robert Lowell’s compliment to his friend Elizabeth Bishop comes to mind as I read Helen Garner. She is another artist who reveres the casual for its power to disrupt and illuminate. Nothing is ever really casual for her, but rather becomes part of a perfection that she resists at the same time. The ordinary in these diaries – the daily, the diurnal, the stumbled-upon, the breathing in and out – is turned into something else through the writer’s extraordinary craft.

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In our new episode, ABR Editor Peter Rose reviews Yellow Notebook, the first volume of the diaries by Helen Garner, a most anticipated book. Here, we delve into Garner's own private musings, the diaries she kept during the pivotal years of her writing life. 

 

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Anyone who keeps a diary day in, day out for decades knows why Helen Garner, a few years ago, destroyed her early ones, deeming them boring and self-obsessed. Incineration has a long, proud history: think of Henry James, late in life, at his incinerator in Rye, burning all his letters and private papers – that lamentable blaze. The sheer misery and tedium of our early journals can be dejecting. ‘What is the point of this diary?’ Garner asks herself in 1981. ‘There is always something deeper, that I don’t write, even when I think I’m saying everything.’

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Joan Didion. Not sure what happened, to her or to me, but she lost me about twenty years ago.

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Who is the I in Helen Garner’s work? This is the question Bernadette Brennan probes by canvassing more than forty years of Garner’s writing and her seventy-four-year existence ...

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