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The Spare Room


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'Swift, beautiful, and relentless, The Spare Room is a brutal novel in the best sense' Alice Sebold

About the Author

Born in 1942, Helen Garner lives in Australia. She has written both fiction and non-fiction, and also journalism, and her writing has been nominated for and won many awards. This is her first novel for fifteen years.


This is Helen Garner's first novel in 15 years, though it could as easily sit with her formidable body of essays and nonfiction such as Joe Cinque's Consolation and The First Stone with its familiar personal and direct subject matter and style. In fact, with a first- person narrator called Helen detailing a story as harrowing in its own way as the subject matter of those two books, you could be forgiven for seeing it as such. No matter, the subject matter is compelling, and Garner's writing so assured and compassionate that any reader will be enthralled and swept along. Helen's Sydney friend, Nicola, suffering what looks like stage four cancer, has come to stay, (in the eponymous spare room) while she is to undertake a controversial, vitamin C-based treatment she believes will cure her. Dialogue, description and pacing need to be seamless and convincing to carry the story of host and patient, as they battle and bargain their way to resolution in a (literally) very painful life situation. Few Australian writers would be bold enough to take this on as a subject for a novel, but we know Helen Garner relishes a challenge. It's her triumph to pull it off. David Gaunt is co-owner of Gleebooks in Sydney

* The Spare Room is a perfect novel, imbued with all Garner's usual clear-eyed grace but with some other magnificent dimension that hides between the lines of her simple conversational voice. How is it that she can enter this heart-breaking territory - the dying friend who comes to stay - and make it not only bearable, but glorious, and funny? There is no answer except: Helen Garner is a great writer; The Spare Room is a great book. -- Peter Carey * Garner writes with the cool authority of personal experience, and apprehends Helen and Nicola's loving and warring worlds in such fine and sensuous detail that pain itself is rendered beautiful Sunday Telegraph * A compulsively readable, searing novel...the best book I have read for years. Beautifully written, The Spare Room is terse and pacy. Every taut sentence rings with painful purity and attack -- Stevie Davies Independent * Outstandingly vivid Sunday Times * Exceptional ... an unsettling and skilled work that raises important questions about the process of dying and what caring ewll for the dying requires ... So powerful is The Spare Room's communication of the the triumphs and failures involved in dying ... [that] ther reader painfully ricochets between the various positions ... somehow as we read we actually become these characters. Financial Times * A wise and affecting book. Daily Mail * Bleak and comic, written with unflinching candour. -- Erica Wagner The Times 20090502 * A tart exploration of friendship under trying circumstances, The Spare Room packs a lot into a volume as short as it is sentimental. There's humour to be found in Nicola's crackpot remedies, but it is of the desperate kind that doesn't obscure the sad truths found in the book. -- Colin Waters Sunday Herald 20090510 * This is no mere cancer memoir. Rather, in Garner's brilliant retelling, it is a complex examination of the limits of friendship and of the problems of remaining a single woman into middle age ... This is a superbly clever novel. Guardian 20090509 * In its bleak and highly comic storytelling, despite the subject matter, the novel's main concern is how people behave towards each other and the repercussions of that behaviour. -- Penny Perrick Sunday Times 20090503 * Beautifully written ... this is a novel admirably scraped clean of sentimentality. -- Anita Sethi Independent on Sunday 20090531 * Helen Garner's style is informal, but there is no denying the force of her storytelling ... This is a novel that will stay with you, perhaps against your wishes. -- Jo Caird Daily Telegraph 20090523 * This is a superbly clever novel, in which death looms large, while the narrative and the narrator exist in vital present: cancer is a fact of life, not an ending. Guardian 20090509 * Bleak and highly comic storytelling. -- Penny Perrick Sunday Times 20090503 * This novel is admirably scraped clean of sentimentality ... the most powerful curative is a good dose of laughter, which is abundant in the spare, lucid prose even as it hurtles along with the inexorability of death. -- Anita Sethi Independent on Sunday 20090531 * A wonderful economic story, full of surprising humour as well as incisive psychology. Sunday Times 20090628 * Garner's finely honed writing and the integrity of emotion make this a genuinely uplifting testament to the power of friendship. Good Book Guide 20090701 * Garner grasps that illness confers power, portraying the tyranny that sickness exercises on the healthy -- Lionel Shriver The Week

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