Thursday, 31 July 2008

Through the emotional wringer

It is not often that I make it through a book in twenty four hours. Agatha Christie, yes - that's easy. And Harry Potter 6 I read in nine hours, having bought it at midnight and refusing to go to bed until I found out who died. But, like I say, it's not normal practise, especially when it's a work day.

So to say that The Spare Room by Helen Garner held me captive and refused to let me go, even when my heart was being ripped out, would not be doing justice to this small and beautifully formed novel. Other blogs, of a more exalted quality than this one, have praised this novel, and I can do nothing but say with sincerity that I concur.

Hilary Mantel describes it as 'a book for grown-up people', and this is true; but there's a brutality to it that makes it as hard for a grown-up to read as for an adolescent. It's beautifully constructed - so simple in it's premise of caring for a friend with cancer - but beneath the almost trivial exterior lies a painful place of warring emotions where the need to pretend all is well clashes with the equally powerful need to tell the truth - and that, for me, is the most brutal part of the book. When Helen rips through the veil of breezy cheerfulness that Nicola exudes whilst crippled with pain, knocks the breath from the body, but it doesn't stop us from urging her to continue.

Susan Hill wrote on her blog that '
THIS WILL WIN THE BOOKER PRIZE' (Caps are Susan's own) ... as we all know by now, it didn't even make the longlist, and my disappointment was based purely on the thoughts of those bloggers who I respect most. Now I've read it myself, I am glad that I put it on my anti-booker list. This is a book with lots to say and it says it whilst trying to come to terms with the most demanding of patients, suffering from a most demanding disease.

Read it, that's all I have to say!


StuckInABook said...

Oo, after Susan, and now you, I really want to read this...

oxford-reader said...

You should, it's a small piece of fictional gold.

Karen said...

I was lucky enough to hear Helen Garner speak at the Sydney Writer's Festival a couple of months ago after having read (and loved) The Spare Room - totally engaging book and author.