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Helen Garner

Author of The Spare Room

35+ Works 4,033 Members 180 Reviews 17 Favorited

About the Author

Helen Garner was born on November 7, 1942 in Geelong, Australia. She received a bachelor's degree with majors in English and French from the University of Melbourne. Throughout her career, she has written both fiction and non-fiction. Her first novel, Monkey Grip, was published in 1977. Her show more non-fiction books include The First Stone, Joe Cinque's Consolation, The Feel of Steel, True Stories and Everywhere I Look. She has also written for film and theatre. She has won numerous awards for her work including Victorian Premier's Literary Awards, the Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction for The Spare Room, For the This House of Grief, she won the Melbourne Prize for Literature, the Barbara Jefferis Award, and the Ned Kelly Award in 2015, and in 2016, the WA Premier's Book Award for nonfiction. She was one of three winners of the 2016 Windham-Campbell Prize for nonfiction. Everywhere I Look won the 2017 Indie Book Award for Nonfiction. (Bowker Author Biography) show less

Includes the name: Helen Garner

Image credit: Helen Garner at Adelaide Writer's Week By Michael Coghlan - https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikecogh/16642539190/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62681310

Works by Helen Garner

The Spare Room (2008) 1,001 copies
Monkey Grip (1977) 475 copies
Joe Cinque's Consolation (2005) 434 copies
The Children's Bach (1984) 278 copies
Everywhere I Look (2016) 201 copies
Cosmo Cosmolino (1992) 176 copies
Postcards from Surfers (1985) 150 copies
The Feel of Steel (1897) 88 copies

Associated Works

Lantana Lane (1959) — Introduction, some editions — 131 copies
Australian Gay and Lesbian Writing: An Anthology (1993) — Contributor — 57 copies
The Virago Book of Wanderlust and Dreams (1998) — Contributor — 36 copies
The Best Australian Essays: A Ten-Year Collection (2011) — Contributor — 29 copies
The Best Australian Essays 2002 (2002) — Contributor — 22 copies
The Best Australian Essays 2007 (2007) — Contributor — 21 copies
The Best Australian Essays 2001 (2001) — Contributor — 20 copies
The Best Australian Essays 2005 (2005) — Contributor — 17 copies
The Best Australian Essays 2003 (2003) — Contributor — 15 copies
Penguin Australian Summer Stories (1999) — Contributor — 14 copies
The Best Australian Essays 2014 (2014) — Contributor — 9 copies
A Return to Poetry (1998) — Contributor — 8 copies
Seams of Light: Best Antipodean Essays (1998) — Contributor — 7 copies


2009 (14) 20th century (15) Australia (214) Australian (183) Australian author (75) Australian authors (13) Australian fiction (80) Australian literature (49) biography (13) book club (13) Canberra (14) cancer (68) crime (34) death (31) diary (15) drugs (21) dying (13) ebook (24) essays (67) family (26) feminism (28) fiction (301) friendship (71) illness (17) journalism (22) law (14) literature (17) Melbourne (55) memoir (40) murder (31) non-fiction (178) novel (33) read (24) relationships (20) sexual harassment (13) short stories (62) terminal illness (14) to-read (147) true crime (63) women (19)

Common Knowledge



I felt the raw and conflicting emotions as if I was Helen. The ending sentences are so sparse but heavy with the finality of saying goodbye. I also felt the description of being close but not the closest friend was deftly conveyed.
rachelobrien606 | 94 other reviews | Feb 9, 2024 |
Helen Garner is a novelist of impeccable skill whose works I rarely warm to, in spite of admiring the prose on every page. So I was glad to enjoy The Children's Bach so much. It's a very short, naturalistic novel, simple in structure and tone, but layering a number of complex, ethically dubious lives on top of one another.

I can understand some of the negative reviews based on the context. Some people are ideological readers, and unable to separate their own ethics from those of characters. It's a condition especially prominent here in the early 21st century, in the age of auto-fiction, with many readers seeking novels that define their own ideology, seeing literature as a truth/lie binary rather than a mirror of non-truths reflecting our world. Such readers have their virtues, but are prone to assuming that the author shares the views of their characters unless the novel explicitly states otherwise. As I am stubbornly in the other category, I'm happy to follow Garner down this murky ethical rabbit hole. Prying into the lives of others will (hopefully) never go out of style.… (more)
therebelprince | 5 other reviews | Oct 24, 2023 |
I have always found Helen Garner to write exceptionally well, and this story didn't disappoint in its candour and insight, yet sympathy. A horrible story well told.
JennyPocknall | 18 other reviews | Oct 19, 2023 |
Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: from Netgalley
Set in suburban Melbourne in the early 1980s, The Children’s Bach centers on Dexter and Athena Fox, their two sons, and the insulated world they’ve built together. Despite the routine challenges of domestic life, they are largely happy. But when a friend from Dexter’s past resurfaces and introduces the couple to the city’s bohemian underground—unbound by routine and driven by desire—Athena begins to wonder if life might hold more for her, and the tenuous bonds that tie the Foxes together start to fray.

A literary institution in Australia, Helen Garner’s perfectly formed novels embody the tumultuous 1970s and 1980s. Drawn on a small canvas and with a subtle musical backdrop, The Children’s Bach is “a jewel” (Ben Lerner) within Garner’s revered catalogue, a beloved work that solidified her place among the masters of modern letters, a finely etched masterpiece that weighs the burdens of commitment against the costs of liberation.

from Goodreads
Helen Garner has been a literary institution in Australia for decades. Her perfectly formed novels embodied Australia’s tumultuous 70s and 80s, and her incisive nonfiction evokes the keen eye of the New Journalists. Dubbed “the Joan Didion of Australia.” Now, the beloved work that solidified her place among the masters of modern international letters, is available in a new US edition.

The Children's Bach follows Dexter and Athena Fox, a husband and wife who live with their two sons in the inner suburbs of early-1980s Melbourne. Dexter is gregarious, opinionated, and old fashioned. Athena is a dutiful wife and mother, stoic yet underestimated. Though their son’s disability strains the family at times, they appear to lead otherwise happy lives.

But when a friend from Dexter’s past resurfaces, she and her cast of beguiling companions reveal another world to Dexter and Athena: a bohemian underground, unbound by routine and driven by desire, where choice seems to exist independent of consequence. And as Athena delves deeper into this other kind of life, the tenuous bonds that hold the Fox family together begin to fray.

Painted on a small canvas and with a subtle musical backdrop, is “a jewel” among Garner’s revered catalog (Ben Lerner), a finely etched masterpiece that weighs the burdens of commitment against the costs of liberation.


My Review
: How times have changed in forty years! Athena's bald, bold statement, referring to her "retarded" son, "'I’ve abandoned him, in my heart,' said Athena. 'It’s work. I’m just hanging on till we can get rid of him.'" is so very, very out of step with modern sensibilities that I suspect it will cause some readers to bail out on the read.

I think that's a pity. The writing of this polyvocal récit (yes yes yes, Gotcha Gang, I know so please just put a sock in it) is as modern as Modernism itself, is as pure and imagined with such honesty that it should not be ignored over some nasty, unkind thoughts by a mother about her child.

It WILL bother you. I suspect, without proof, that it's meant to. I know no one in this story is meant to be a comfy PoV character like you fans of Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge like to have. The Children's Bach is certainly in that domestic story genre. The characters are married, the events of the tale are within the marriage, the tone and tenor take little to no notice of anything outside the interests of the married partners. The others who appear in story are not interested in things outside Athena and Dexter's purview. It's a very closed world.

It doesn't exactly narrate itself to you, either. It's like song lyrics are, or some of the less-unbearable poetry is: Elliptical in the way it leaves you to go on the ride then build the tracks afterward. I really enjoy that in a read, though not in a LONG one, which makes this under-200-page story of domestic reality exactly the best length for the technique to be interesting and involving without overstaying its welcome.

What appeals to me the most about the read is the very unlikeability of Athena and Dexter. I know where I realized, like Rumaan Alam says in her Foreword, that I remember always where I was when I read, "She washed, she washed, she washed," though her moment was different from mine; but this is, like other Helen Garner books, the kind where the quotidian and the internal are polished well past the point of brummagem shininess into the glint of the knife that flenses you.

No, they aren't nice; they aren't pleasant; they aren't, by my standards anyway, good people. They're interesting, they're unbearably shallow and pretentious. Everyone in this story fails as a person in catalogable ways. This is proof if one needs it that the dismissive, condescending label "domestic fiction" is toothless in the face of Helen Garner's violent assault on domesticity, her ramming-into of the delimiting front door od The Family Home with her well-aimed ute/pickup truck.

But what a glorious car-crash it is.
… (more)
richardderus | 5 other reviews | Oct 9, 2023 |



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