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The spare room by Helen Garner

The spare room (original 2008; edition 2008)

by Helen Garner

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7698112,029 (3.91)138
Title:The spare room
Authors:Helen Garner
Info:New York : Henry Holt, 2008.
Collections:Your library, Read in 2013

Work details

The Spare Room by Helen Garner (2008)

  1. 00
    Suddenly by Bonnie Burnard (kathrynnd)
    kathrynnd: Both books are about women, friendship, and cancer.
  2. 00
    Undressing The Moon by T. Greenwood (SqueakyChu)
    SqueakyChu: The value of a friend when diagnosed with cancer.
  3. 01
    My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult (lucyknows)
    lucyknows: The Spare Room by Helen Garner may be paired with The Household Guide to Dying by Debra Adelide or My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult.

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Showing 1-5 of 76 (next | show all)
On finishing this novel I had to go check on a few details. Yes it's classified as fiction and yes, it mirrors events in the author's own life. This story packs quite a punch and has a very direct, very real style of delivery. Surprisingly it's not about the sick person here, the story is all about the gut wrenching, emotional roller-coaster ride that a carer goes through, when nursing a terminally ill friend. As I turned the last page, I closed the book slowly, stared out the window and thought quiet thoughts! ( )
  Fliss88 | Sep 20, 2016 |
Helen Garner's award winning novel The Spare Room is an unflinching and at times brutally honest and unsparing exploration of a loving friendship between two women of late middle age. Nicola has journeyed from Sydney to Melbourne to stay with Helen while receiving a 3-week course of treatment for advanced cancer. Helen, anticipating Nicola's visit with a mix of anxiety and dread, has prepared the spare room in her house for her dear friend. Nicola arrives a wreck, and immediately Helen fears Nicola is at death's door. But the sick woman rallies and regains energy and her good spirits in what becomes--during the next several weeks--an agonizing pattern of euphoric highs, miserable lows and sleepless nights that grinds Helen down until she can take no more. Nicola's alternative treatments, dispensed at an independent clinic in the city, are expensive, controversial and based on a kind of science that, as Helen digs deeper into it, begins to seem not just dubious but downright fraudulent. As Helen watches her friend's suffering intensify she grows impatient, first with the treatments and then the clinic, and finally with Nicola herself, whose relentless optimism and cheerful stoicism start grating on her nerves. The rage that bubbles to the surface of Helen's normally staid and pragmatic demeanor shocks her with its raw intensity. She doesn’t want to argue and has no wish to betray her friend by cruelly destroying her faint hopes of recovery, but after two weeks she can no longer endure Nicola’s breezy insistence that the treatments are working and that she’s going to get better. Garner’s narrative is engrossing but sometimes painful to read. In this book we confront one of the most deeply ingrained of human fears. What are we to do when someone we love is dying, but won’t face up to it? Under such dire circumstances, with the inevitable outcome looming, how important is the truth? In the end, Helen and Nicola work out a compromise based on their own selfish needs. Helen Garner is an unsentimental writer who cuts through the crap like few others, dissecting human motivation with surgical precision: like a scalpel, her writing is sharp and effective. The Spare Room is a potent story that acknowledges the inevitability of death, while also acknowledging that, for the person approaching the end of life, acceptance and defiance both serve a purpose. ( )
  icolford | Feb 24, 2016 |
Helen Garner shines a harsh but loving light on the struggles of one woman as she attempts to help her dying friend cope with cancer. I found this novel at once endearing and brutal. Under Garner's sharp pen every word rang true. A quick read. A gem of a book! ( )
  cjservis | Jan 18, 2016 |
Short, sparse, and rooted in personal experience, this novel packs a serious punch while confronting one of society's biggest taboos - slow, but sure, death.

The narrator, who could, perhaps, be mistaken for Garner herself, takes in an old friend who is visiting for a radical treatment of her terminal cancer. The book uses this fulcrum to examine different attitudes towards death, caring, friendship, and nature - never shying away from the shit, literal and metaphorical, involved in slowly dying.

Sad, and uplifting without ever drifting into an easy sentimentality.

( )
  Litblog | Dec 19, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is a spare and unsparing book. At 175 pages with wide margins and large type, it is scarcely more than a novella and covers a span of only three weeks. But it packs a wallop.

As the story opens Helen, the narrator, is awaiting the arrival of her friend Nicola, a proud, independent, somewhat imperious older woman who is coming to Melbourne, Australia to stay in Helen's spare room. Nicola, suffering from stage four cancer, has come to undergo three weeks of cancer treatment at an alternative clinic. Helen is initially pleased to be able to help her glamorous, free-spirited friend, but that soon changes. Nicola turns a blind eye to the obvious quackery of the treatment, and downplays its horrible side effects, confident that it is driving out her disease. Helen, exhausted from nursing a friend who cannot acknowledge that she needs help, grows increasingly angry and frustrated.

Garner's narrator Helen struggles with agonizing choices. Does she take hope away from Nicola in order to spare her the pain of useless treatments? Is it cruel or kind to force her friend to face her mortality? And to what degree is her own fear of death fueling her anger? Garner unflinchingly tackles all these hard questions and offers no easy answers. She has said that this story is a fictionalized version based on the illness and death of her friend Jenya Osborne, and perhaps that's why its brutal honesty and powerful empathy both leap off the page. This is a book that's hard to read and even harder to stop reading.
  books4micks | Oct 27, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 76 (next | show all)
One sweltering summer day, Helen Garner joined mourners at the funeral of a former member of a performing troupe whose lives she had chronicled in her 1977 debut novel Monkey Grip, that tale of smack habits, communal houses and plenty of lustful sex. When the simple pine coffin was lowered to its resting place by men who took turns shovelling earth in keeping with Jewish ritual, "Helen pushed right to the front, to the lip of the grave, and got out her notebook and started to write," recalls theatre director Peter King. `Some people thought, `Oh my God.'"
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It is a privilege to prepare the place where someone else will sleep.
-- Elizabeth Jolley
First words
First, in my spare room, I swivelled the bed on to a north-south axis.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0805088881, Hardcover)

A powerful, witty, and taut novel about a complex friendship between two women—one dying, the other called to care for her—from an internationally acclaimed and award-winning author

How much of ourselves must we give up to help a friend in need? Helen has little idea what lies ahead—and what strength she must muster—when she offers her spare room to an old friend, Nicola, who has arrived in the city for cancer treatment. Skeptical of the medical establishment, and placing all her faith in an alternative health center, Nicola is determined to find her own way to deal with her illness, regardless of the advice Helen offers.

In the weeks that follow, Nicola’s battle for survival will turn not only her own life upside down but also those of everyone around her. The Spare Room is a magical gem of a book—gripping, moving, and unexpectedly funny—that packs a huge punch, charting a friendship as it is tested by the threat of death.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:06 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Offering a room to an old friend who is undergoing treatment for cancer, Helen finds her advice disregarded in the face of her friend's faith in alternative medicine, a situation that turns both of their lives upside-down.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 7 descriptions

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Canongate Books

2 editions of this book were published by Canongate Books.

Editions: 1847672655, 1847672671

Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 192135139X, 1921520280

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