Congratulations to Helen Garner
Helen Garner, one of my favourite Australian writers, deserves this hurrah. She writes across genres, and has recently won the prestigious Windham-Campbell prize for non-fiction. When she received an email asking for her telephone number from someone at Yale University, she thought it was a case of spam. This brings great validation to her as a writer, as well as $US150, 000 in prize money. The judges’ citation stated: “Helen Garner brings acute observations and narrative skill to bear on the conflicts and tragedies of contemporary Australian life”.
This novel was given to me as a present in the late seventies by a feminist girlfriend at the time. The Melbourne setting was reminiscent of digs I’d shared with university students in Sydney, when I first came back from living in academic campuses in France. The novel Monkey Grip, written in 1977, was a unique commentary on Australian youth culture at the time. I empathised with the characters and the stories, while realising that my experiences in French campuses during the sixties had been very different.
The First Stone
Since then, she has written three important non-fiction books, including Joe Cinque’s Consolation (1994).
One of them, The First Stone (1995) , was part of the university curriculum when I studied Creative Writing at the University of Technology, Sydney in the nineties. It asked questions about sex and power inspired by a 1992 sexual harassment scandal at Ormond College, one of the residential colleges of the University of Melbourne. It has become a classic for studies in universities since its inception, especially because of its power to create controversy and polarise opinions among young and old.
This House of Grief
Her latest book, This House of Grief (2014) was based on a harrowing court case that focused on a man who drowned his three young sons by driving his car into a dam.
Many readers, including this reader, have enjoyed her personal, journal-style, almost confessional writings, in books, such as True Stories, Postcards from Surfers and The Feel of Steel. But even in her fictional novels and non-fiction books, the style is similar, and the narrator comes across as if she is speaking to you, sitting with you in the same room. I particularly enjoyed her The Children’s Bach and Monkey Grip.
Helen Garner is a courageous writer. I’d find the subjects that she chooses to research too harrowing, such as in This House of Grief about a father who causes the deaths of his three young sons, and Joe Cinque’s Consolation, about a similarly tragic true story. For this reason, I say once again Hurrah Helen Garner!