Many years ago I interviewed Helen Garner at the Adelaide Writers’ Festival for the ABC. It was the occasion of the publication of her first novel, Monkey Grip. I was impressed by her then, so imagine how impressed I now am by her writing ability. She is amongst the most admired and respected Australian writers still working today, whether in fact or fiction. Bernadette Brennan states that she has not written a biography of Helen Garner, but an assessment of her forty years of writing. This is, of course, true, but in that scholarly assessment of her work, Garner’s life naturally is covered. It has been in many ways a turbulent one. The same could be said of her books, written with great honesty, particularly in those where she has tackled controversial subjects. Can readers ever forget the uproar that followed after THE FIRST STONE was released? That scandal at Ormond College became almost personal. The same fearless writing was evident in THE HOUSE OF GRIEF. Readers were almost forced by the power of her commitment to take one side or the other.
A devotee of Australian literature, Dr. Brennan has brought Garner to life as fearlessly as Garner herself has confronted it not an easy task when the subject is still alive. For this, lovers of literature can be thankful, and grateful too that Garner has allowed her access to much material hitherto embargoed. This particular writing life has enhanced the world of letters as nothing has done before it. Highly commended to all those fans of Helen Garner, amongst whom this reviewer has deemed herself since that Adelaide radio interview, all those years ago.
A WRITING LIFE HELEN GARNER AND HER WORK by BERNADETTE BRENNAN
PUBLISHED by TEXT for a recommended $32.99