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.
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.
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.