Helen Garner’s latest offering, Everywhere I look, is a collection of essays, diary entries and true stories. She writes about everything — furniture, suburbs she’s lived in, her grandchildren, her take on movies like United 93, books, Tim Winton, writing, Rosie Batty and so much more. Most of her works have been previously published in magazines. One of her best essays for me was On Darkness. Here she talks about why she follows ‘dark’ stories such as in The House of Grief or Joe Cinque’s Consolation. I haven’t read the former but I want to now. In it, she says on Page 152:
Sometimes it seems to me that, in the end, the only thing people have got going for them is imagination. At times of great darkness, everything around us becomes symbolic, poetic, archetypal. Perhaps this is what dreaming, and art, are for.
Garner’s prose is beautiful. She makes even the mundane sound interesting. While reading her work, I can’t help but wonder — did she slave over her sentences for hours till she got some of them just right? Or is she one of those blessed few whose prose is just easy and beautiful all at once? She doesn’t just write about darkness. There is a lot of humour in her prose too. Like when she talks about The Insults of Age on Page 213:
Hard chargers in a hurry begin to patronise you. Your face is lined and your hair is grey, so they think you are weak, deaf, helpless, ignorant and stupid. When they address you they tilt their heads and bare their teeth and adopts a tuneful intonation.
There is a lot of meaning in her writing. Some of it is while she reflects on life and her seven decades on earth, others from what she is currently experiencing. From Suburbia on Page 23-24:
In the 1990s I lived in Sydney, in Elizabeth Bay, a part of town full of flats and cool cafes, but empty of children; then on the border of Bellevue Hill and Bondi Junction, to me a place of loneliness and strange humiliation, where the young residents of my apartment building would sail through the lobby, each morning without even granting the fact of their neighbours’ existence.
This spoke volumes about what I’ve been wondering about myself in 2016 about the city we live in. The suburbs are friendlier but the way Sydney is growing, probably not as different as where Garner lived in the 90s.
Her profile on Rosie Batty, Mother Courage, is moving and informative. She catches the little nuances of Batty that we may have all seen on the television. Garner brings this to life with her words. She brings to life the atrocities without any sensationalism whatsoever. And that, I think, is one of her biggest strengths. To say so much with so little.
Needless to say, she is an inspiring writer. I hope to be able to write creative nonfiction to the standards at which she does. Some day, I hope I get close.
Until next time,