I finished reading Helen Garner's The Spare Room a few days ago, and I read it pretty much in one sitting on a banana lounge in the sun. The Spare Room has all the hallmarks of a Garner read: it presents a finely wrought, almost deceptive 'still life' focus on the minutiae of the personal and domestic sphere underlaid with a strong sense of narrative propulsion. As in some of her previous fiction such as the novella Other People’s Children and Cosmo Cosmolino, The Spare Room explores the dynamics of a female friendship within an enclosed domestic space (thankfully not a shared household). It poses a question often at the heart of Garner’s writing, this time against a more foreboding backdrop. If nothing is more certain or resilient in a woman’s life than female friendships, how does she face the necessary mortality of those bonds, and, by implication, her own mortality?
I won't rehearse the basic story-line of The Spare Room, (others such as Dr Cat give a far more comprehensive coverage of this and other aspects of the book), other than to say that it concerns a woman seeking to deal with her friend’s denial of a terminal cancer diagnosis. Thematic and narrative elements such as facing mortality and dealing with someone seemingly in denial of their imminent mortality and doing so within your own living space have already featured in Cosmo Cosmolino. Here they are given a more stark and confrontational rendering, not least perhaps because of Garner’s use of a semi-autobiographical mode (if it was the eighties, I’d insert a slash between ‘auto’ and ‘biographical’).
(Warning: long, rambling post over the fold, full of blogger's own strange preoccupations)