Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner

Everywhere I Look, by Helen Garner, enthralled me.

This book is purported to be ‘a collection of essays, diary entries and true stories’ which, of course, it is. But on another, deeper level, it is much more. The stories, snippets and longer essays can be read as a memoir of the life of an older writer. It spans about fifteen recent years of Helen Garner’s life.

Everywhere I Look, by Helen Garner

Everywhere I Look, by Helen Garner

My first encounter with this amazing writer was in 1977. I read her first novel, Monkey Grip  soon afterwards. In my thirties and recently divorced I faced the daunting prospect of raising six young children as a single parent. Monkey Grip was one of the the first books I ever read that felt truly Australian. Helen Garner was almost my age. At the beginning of my journey into feminism, the book provided a glimpse of hope for the future.

I have read every book Helen Garner has published. I have also devoured her essays and snippets of writing in a variety of media. Each one has renewed that sense of a down-to-earth, clear woman’s voice telling a story as it really is. I have reviewed Joe Cinque’s Consolation and  Killing Daniel on these pages.

Helen Garner,

Helen Garner,

Now, writing a review of Everywhere I Look, I know I cannot do justice to the special quality that Helen Garner brings to the page.

The topics covered in Everywhere I Look are wide-ranging. In each piece of writing, the author’s voice is clear and unmistakable. The words trip of the page as if she were talking to the reader, sharing her thoughts and ideas, describing her worries, fears, distractions and hopes. There seems nowhere she will not go in her writing.

The collection is grouped loosely together into a series of themes. She writes about the elements that go to make a home. She writes snippets about her relationships with her daughter and her grandchildren, who live next door to her house. The writes about her friendships with other writers including Tim Winton, Elizabeth Jolley and Raymond Gaita.

Helen Garner has grouped together a series of essays about rape and murder. Three of her previous books have centred on criminal trials. She acknowledges the difficulty of writing such stories. One essay in Everywhere I Look tells of the trial of a seventeen-year old woman who has concealed her pregnancy. She murdered  her newborn baby. Another records an interview with Rosie Batty, whose son, Luke,was brutally murdered by his father, at cricket practice.

At times Garner’s language is rich, almost lyrical, as when she writes about her much-loved ukulele.

And I saw that the ukulele, despite the snotty entry in the Oxford Companion, has in fact a simple and benevolent purpose; to create a gentle bed of sound for the human voice; to enrich the single line of melody that a human voice is capable of.

But at others it is economical, sparse even. For example she dismisses a failed marriage,

Somewhere in the background…my marriage crashed and my daughter grew up and left home.

Almost all of the work in this collection has been previously published. However, put together in this way, the individual pieces create a satisfying whole.

Earlier this year Helen Garner was announced a beneficiary of the Windham-Campbell literary prize for her non-fiction work. She is a worthy recipient.

Helen Garner, Everywhere I Look, Text Publishing, Melbourne: 2016.  PB 272 pp. RRP $29.99.

 

This is a review for the Australian Women Writers  Challenge, 2016.

 

AWW Challenge 2016

AWW Challenge 2016

10 thoughts on “Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner

  1. Thank you for this review, Maureen, you have put my thoughts into words, and I’m really pleased we are doing this for Our BookClub – I agree with all that you say.

    • Great choice of a book for our book club, Coral. Thank you for commenting. What will be left to talk about when we meet?

  2. I also really loved this book. I said i was just going to read one story at bedtime – and before I knew it I had read half the book.

    She was also one of the first Australian writers I got to ‘know’ (through her books), and as you say, she has a wonderful distinctive voice.

    • Yes, I find her voice thoroughly seductive, Annabel, and can’t put her new books down. I’ve heard her speak a few times at writers’ festivals and loved the way she spoke and answered questions live.

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  4. I kept this book in my work backpack so that I could only read one piece at a time during my lunch break! I loved letting each essay sit and work it’s magic before embarking on the next one.

    I’ve only also read This House of Grief – something I really must rectify. I suspect Joe Cinque will be my next Garner, unless you can convince me to try something else instead 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment on my post, Brona. What a good way to read “Ëverywhere I Look”. I was greedy, and read it all at once. But then I went back and dipped in and out.

      As a total fan of Helen Garner, I am not the person to ask for recommendations! I’ve read everything she has published in book form and think she is one of the best Australian writers. I reviewed ‘The Consolation of Joe Cinque’ on my blog. “The Spare Room”, a novel, is one of my favourites.

      Happy reading!

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