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The Spare Room - Book of the Month

by Helen Garner

THE SPARE ROOM is a deceptively small novel that looks beyond the narrow confines of the narrative to big questions of how we die, the limits of friendship and how much spare room we have in our lives for other people. It is a courageous book written with a lightness of touch that makes the difficult subject matter not only bearable but compulsive and darkly funny.

Helen is a sixty-something independent woman living contentedly on her own in a pleasant single-story house with a veranda, next door to her daughter and grandchildren. One October day, her old friend from Sydney, Nicola, comes to stay for three weeks. Nicola has cancer which is now in its fourth and terminal stage but she has booked into a clinic in Melbourne for a course of treatments and is relying on Helen to put her up.

Helen – a natural coper – is unprepared for Nicola’s state of deterioration and, as she worsens, finds it increasingly difficult to manage. The sleepless nights administering to someone who is as helpless and vulnerable as a baby test her compassionate and caring nature to its limits. Combined with this, Nicola is ‘raging against the night’ and far from accepting that she is dying, is desperately chasing quack cures. Garner is quietly but sharply satirical about the unacceptable extremes of alternative medicine.

This is a wonderful story endowed with the veracity of experience yet shaped by a great writer into a psychologically acute and perfectly judged novel in terms of tone and length.

It is a short 195 pages and the UK edition is attractively bound with gorgeous endpapers. It’s still in hardback but can be bought from Amazon for £7.79 (link above).

Read our interview with Helen Garner.

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