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Books & Poetry

Helen Garner's Everywhere I Look

Books & Poetry

Helen Garner’s new collection of essays and stories is full of gems that beautifully and poetically encapsulate this thing called life.

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Some will bring tears to the eyes; others will elicit smiles of quiet gratitude. Many beg to be earmarked for further contemplation and enjoyment.

Take this sentence, from White Paint and Calico, a chapter about the attachment we humans feel to our homes and the wrench that can come with moving house:

How many pets, carriers of helpless and unquestioning love, lie rotting under the backyards of the world, as houses change hands and again change hands?

And later, from a series of diary snippets in the chapter titled While Not Writing a Book:

A thunderstorm at dawn! Roar of rain, drops dancing on the shed roof, the pear tree leaves springing and bouncing on their twiggy branches.

Dipping into Everywhere I Look while on holiday, without a pencil to hand, this reviewer committed the sin of turning down the pages containing such exquisite verse. Now, the book has more dog-ears than most city pounds.

The collection illustrates why Garner is widely recognised as one of Australia’s top writers. It comprises essays from the past 15 years, most of which have previously appeared in other books and publications such as The Age, Monthly and Independent Monthly.

They cover myriad topics, from a messy university party to an Anzac Day dawn service, from the criminal courts to the worlds of cinema and classical ballet.

The writing is grouped together in six chapters, each of which has a loose theme and a mood of its own. Notes From a Brief Friendship, for example, includes an ode to a rather terrifying primary school teacher named Mrs Dunkley and unique perceptions of author Tim Winton, while Dreams of Her Real Self features two collections of diary entries and a biting tale about Garner’s adventures pet-sitting her daughter and son-in-law’s mutinous red dog.

The most confronting section, On Darkness, includes an essay referencing the trial of Robert Farquharson, the father jailed for murder after driving his three young sons into a dam in Victoria. Garner’s last non-fiction book, This House of Grief, was based on Farquharson’s trial.

Read together, the collection in Everywhere I Look offers both an intimate insight into its author and a piercing view of the world we all share.

Sometimes uplifting and illuminating, sometimes reflective and poignant, sometimes cranky and bleak, it is an absorbing, enriching read that will likely be dipped into again and again.

When it comes to picking favourites among the essays, The Insults of Age – a withering rebuke to the condescension suffered by many older people – will illicit cheers from those of a certain age.

But I can’t go past Dreams of Her Real Self, such a tender and heart-rending tribute to a mother that it’s impossible to read it without feeling goosebumps.

Her ghost is in my body. I have her long narrow feet with low arches. I have her hollow bones, her hysterectomy, her fading eyebrows, her fine grey-brown hair that resists all attempts at drama. My movements are hers when, on a summer morning, I close up the house against the coming scorcher, or in the evening whisk the dry clothes off the line in weightless armfuls that conceal my face.

Everywhere I Look, by Helen Garner, is published by Text Publishing, $29.99.

Everywhere I Look, by Helen Garner, is published by Text Publishing, $29.99.

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