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Tag: Helen Garner

Helen Garner: Yellow Notebook

 

Helen Garner 5

 

When I first read that Helen Garner had published her diaries kept from 1978 to 1987, I selfishly thought, oh — if only I’d kept a journal — what a way to publish your autobiography! I do wish that I had kept diaries, as Helen Garner has done, but I doubt they would be as readable as Garner’s. And this is not an autobiography.

Helen Garner 2

After burning her early journals, Helen Garner decided to start writing in a journal again – around 1978 – and did so in a yellow notebook –  hence the title. When I picked up the published book, I expected to find that the journal had been edited – maybe there would be themes – after all, Garner has been known to say that her first novel, Monkey Grip was just an edited version of her diaries of that time.

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Clearly, the extracts have been selected, but they are presented as a serendipitous collection of musings, quotes, descriptions… Her endeavours to keep friends, lovers, husbands anonymous sometimes make the reading heavy going. As a writer, I found it fascinating to have glimpses of Garner’s daily routine, of how she quite often had to drive herself to write. I was surprised that this writer who, even back in 1978, was ‘successful’, has a  lurking lack of confidence. She is cut to the quick when there are harsh reviews of her work and elevated to blissful delight when the reviews are good.

Helen Garner 1

Garner has been a hero of mine ever since I read Monkey Grip back in 1978.  In both her fiction and non fiction (and I have heard her discuss that there is not a lot of sense in these distinctions) Garner confronts the reader with the reality of our existence — be it in a rooming house imprisoned by drug addiction or in a courthouse confronted by human frailty. So too in these diaries there were moments when I was entranced by her attention to detail or her encapsulation of a feeling by use of metaphor. We do have to wade through some of Garner’s everyday notes. This is not intended to be a polished novel or essay, but, as Peter Craven has written in The Saturday Paper, ‘worlds of incident and feeling are clipped into a shape of entrancing implication’.https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/culture/books/2019/11/30/yellow-notebook/15726132009005

A few of these descriptions are:

‘doors open in my head like those in a cuckoo clock’ [page 7], on preparing food ‘the brutality of its preparation’ [page 19], ‘her permed brown hair quivering’ [page 30], ‘the music ran, bounced and thickened’ [page 42], ‘500-watt blue eyes’ [page 82], ‘she paraded in, chin high, teeth blazing’ [page 118], ‘a grille clanged down between him and the world’ [page 233], ‘the jaws of my purse straining wide’ [page 245], ‘the monolith of his marriage’ [page 253]

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More metaphors

Here are some more metaphors and phrases I’ve discovered in my reading:

Leaning forward into Bastien’s breath Alan Hollinghurst: The Sparsholt Affair, p.121
The soft jolt of happiness Alan Hollinghurst: The Sparsholt Affair, p.179
The moment … to act moved stiflingly closer Alan Hollinghurst: The Sparsholt Affair, p.222
Later in the night, spooned into Suzy’s back Richard Flanagan: First Person, p.43
His gaze skidding around the room Richard Flanagan: First Person, p.128
Describing musical improvisation: to cast off from the notated shores Virginia Lloyd: Girls at the Piano, p.160
That springtime fragment of a boy’s youth Michael Ondaatje: Warlight p.44
Expressionless as royalty Michael Ondaatje: Warlight p.86
The howl of a train Michael Ondaatje: Warlight p.230
My maths was rusting up Ian McEwan: Enduring Love p.76
Astonishment loosens the hinge of her jaw Ian McEwan: Enduring Love p.83
You are in love, at a point where pride and apprehension scuffle within you Julian Barnes: A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters p.238
History just burps, and we taste again that raw-onion sandwich it swallowed centuries ago Julian Barnes: A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters p.241
He was dying, just a whisper of himself. Germaine Greer on the death of Harry Hooton, cited in Elizabeth Kleinhenz: Germaine, p.75
Brooding like a storm Toni Jordan: The Fragments, p.20
An underlying spine of melody Toni Jordan: The Fragments, p.203

It’s been a while since I’ve added some favourite ‘metaphors’ (or great descriptions) to this section. Lately I’ve been very busy with a writing class but have read some great books, so here are some more metaphors/ descriptions that I’d like to share:

Pale amniotic light Simon Mawer: The Glass Room, p. 400
His gaze slid away Ian McEwan: The Children Act, p.160
The whole landscape is holding its breath Helen Garner: True Stories, p.95
The house hunches itself in the deepening dark Helen Garner: True Stories, p.97
A shadow of betrayal Jane Harper: The Lost Man, p. 178
Brutal heat Jane Harper: The Lost Man, p.323
Dead Hector: I spread the linen sheet gently over his poor ruined face and tiptoed away, leaving him alone under the indifferent stars. Pat Barker: The Silence of the Girls, p.227
After Achilles’ death: the great roar of absence Pat Barker: The Silence of the Girls, p.308
The cicadas stitch their song into the day Carrie Tiffany: Exploded View, p.167
I felt a rope of fear uncoil in my stomach Esi Edugyan: Washington Black, p.70
His face vacant as a freshly washed plate Esi Edugyan: Washington Black, p.387
He changed his clothes and grunted off to his shed Jen Hutchison: Motherling, p. 28
An unmoving clotted silence Stanislaw Lem: Solaris, p.188
As quiet as cancer Adam Roberts: The Snow, p. 1
A big 600 page thudder of a book Adam Roberts: The Snow, p. 202
Sheep dog my thoughts back into their pen Adam Roberts: The Snow, p. 227
Amplified silence Adam Roberts: The Snow, p. 234

 

Helen Garner: This House of Grief

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.

Barry Lee Thompson

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