The Spare Room by Helen Garner
Each of our journey's in life are different, and I liked how Helen walked this segment of her journey. She was so compassionate with her friend, Nicola. She liked straightforward tasks of love and order that she could perform with ease (page 42). I loved how she shed tears while her granddaughter was performing at the school program (page 80). She was my kind of gal. I would recommend this book to my friends.
Rated of 5
by Janice Prindle, teacher and writer, Woodstock, VT (South Woodstock VT)
Mortal? Then read this
Nicola, a sixty-five-year old Australian bohemian who is in a terminal stage of cancer, comes to stay with her old friend Helen, a writer (the author?), while she undergoes an alternative treatment. Garner's stark style is a pastiche of vivid details-- sometimes poetry, sometimes farce--that seem random at first, but gradually flesh out a portrait of two women inhabiting the same strange landscape in very different states of pain. It's as though the reader is watching an impressionist, stroke by stroke, build up a masterpiece, which this is.
The novel bluntly presses the question: How much 'space' do we owe the demands of the dying? Even when the patient is beloved? Or beyond reason? Are we required at all costs to nurse hope?
Garner's answer here isn't simple, either in her lean plot or in its larger resonances. Any reader who has lived Helen's dilemma, as I have (and as most mortals, at some point) will appreciate her honesty in tackling one of life's ugly-let's-ignore-it, transforming realities. Part of the honesty is her refusal to be consistently funny or tragic. Her art is to work a gamut of rowdy emotions into a convincing wholeness, provoking thought about how we should care for others and ourselves. And I'll be thinking through this book for a long time.
Rated of 5
by Mary Beth (Hillsborough NC)
"The Spare Room" is a spare, heartbreaking, beautifully crafted novel. Helen is a woman in her 60s who lives alone when she offers a room to her long-time friend, Nicola, who is receiving alternative treatments for terminal cancer. What follows is a magnificent story that about life's big issues, including the limits of friendship, coming to terms with our mortality, and the responsibility we have to loved ones. This is one of the best works of fiction I've read in a long time.
Rated of 5
by Phoebe (Sacramento CA)
A compassionate yet accurate presentation on caregiving
Having recently been in care taking for a dear friend who underwent horrible chemotherapy followed by two months of intense depression, the experiences of Helen in caring for Nicola rang so true. Before taking it on who would think the 24 hour care of feeding, sheet changing, transporting, companionship while keeping ones feelings to self could be so exhausting in such a short period of time. And this with the conflicting feeling of what it does to ones own life and relationships. Yet you would not want to be any where else doing anything else.
It may be fiction but it rang so true to my experience.
For a story based on ultimate sadness, it is a tribute to friendship, what we will do for our friends who really are our family.
Highly recommend this short easy read.
Rated of 5
by Carole (Upper Marlboro MD)
A spare but not sparse read - The Spare Room
In the hands of a lesser writer the theme of this novel -- a woman who takes into her home an in-denial, dying friend -- could slip into the maudlin, mawkish, or morose. In the capable hands of Helen Garner, it never does. While emotions of fear, frustration, anger and hurt are laid brutally bare, the humor and wit sparkle. Throughout the book I was moved from empathy to anger to laughing out loud.
This is a fine book written by a first-rate author. On a personal note, I lost two long-time friends to cancer this past year. Although I was not the care giver to either, these experiences are, perhaps, another reason that this spare book spoke volumes to my heart.
Rated of 5
by Jeanne (Richmond Heights OH)
Facing cancer with hope and realism...
This novel is concise and competently explores the tenuous hope given by, as well as the inevitable pitfalls of, alternative cancer treatments. The interactions between the two main characters are presented realistically and directly. Some of the physical details of one character's suffering from terminal cancer might be a little too graphic for the squeamish reader, but the novel's sense of place (Melbourne, Australia) adds interest and variety. Definitely a worthwhile book.
Rated of 5
by Eileen (Danvers MA)
The Spare Room is short but very sweet
While I read this book in an afternoon it was a wonderful read. Helen Garner writes eloquently and, at times, humorously, about friendship, fear, self preservation, and dying. She is able to articulate what so many of us go through when someone we love is sick.
The story moves quickly and the characters are vibrant and three dimensional. I identified with this book on many levels, which to me is the mark of a well written story.
This book will resonate with anyone who loves their friends, but at times wonder what the heck they are thinking as they make decisions in their lives, and struggle mightily to support them anyway.
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