Monday 18 August 2014

This House of Grief by Helen Garner

I seem to be drawn to stories of loss, death and grief this year.
Either that, or the publishing world & our authors are producing more books than usual, with these themes.

This House of Grief follows Garner's journey to understand the tragic real life story surrounding the death of three young boys in 2005.

On Father's Day, in a small country in Victoria, a car left the road at night and ended up in a dam. The father escaped, but all three of his boys drowned. He was returning the boys to their mother after an access visit.

Was it a tragic accident or a horrible act of revenge?

Garner attended the subsequent court hearings and appeals, right to the bitter end.

She worked hard to keep an open mind - to assess the information and the witnesses without prejudice. She grappled with self-doubt, disbelief & repulsion.
She also provided anecdotal stories that highlighted the nature of anger, lies, suicide, marriage break-ups and country town life.

I found this story fascinating, horrifying, compelling and so very sad on so many levels.

My initial response had been "oh no, I can't read about this."

But in the end, I went on this journey with Garner - the journey to understand human nature.

What makes us do the things we do? Why do we lie about them? What pushes us over the edge? How do we cope when we find ourselves over that edge? How do we live with the things we do, especially the bad things we do?

This is a tale of lies, family breakdown, changing loyalties and grief. Garner explores these very human themes from all angles - with compassion and courage.

This House of Grief will be published next week through Text Publishing.


  1. I just learnt yesterday I think that Helen Garner had a new book coming out, and here you are with a review already! My first thought was that I didn't know if I'd want to read a whole book about that trial, I remember it very well of course from the news- it is such a horrifying story. But Helen did such an extraordinary job with Joe Cinque's Consolation, that I'm sure she would make an engrossing read from this, in a way that I don't think I'd trust any other author to do.

    1. I wonder if our initial "oh no" reaction was in response to many of the emotive news stories, current affair programs and magazine posters that were around at the time.

      Garner, instead, has done an incredible job of being (mostly) objective and (mostly) calm throughout this book. She has avoided anything sentimental or sensational. She also avoided the blaming, naming and shaming tactics of many of the news stories at the time.

  2. I am also fond reading about such things to be more and more difficult. Yet I do think that sometimes it is important that we do so in order to really understand the nature of the world and of people.

    This one sounds really thoughtful.

    1. If this book had just been a description of a crime with all the gory details, I would have avoided it too.

      However, a genuine attempt to reveal something about human nature & behaviour will always draw me in.

  3. Helen Garner is one of my favourite writers of all time. Thanks for the review.


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