Helen Garner: This House of Grief

by Jennifer Bryce

What courage it must have taken to write about the court case of a man, recently separated from his wife, who drove his children into a dam – maybe accidentally – on Father’s Day. All three children drowned.

Helen Garner was able to do it. The criticism I have come across seems to have been mainly from those who haven’t read the book. Some assume that Garner sided with the father and had little sympathy for the wife, because the wife had taken up with another man. But there was no taking of sides. The central question that Garner examines is: how could a human being do this?

The court case went on and on. Ultimately there was a retrial. Such description might be tedious, but no, there is the strain, the pent up emotion of all players in this drama, but there is also the odd whimsical description of a barrister, a witness . . . Overall Garner seems to see Farquharson, the father, as a pitiful, dull, rather stupid man – she has sympathy for him but this doesn’t involve taking sides.

In the end we come to see that this terrible tragedy is our grief – a grief that must be shared, because a person who lived right here, in our community, did do this. It was a masterful piece of writing.