Kathy (Eaton OH)
The Spare Room
I found the story depressing. I admired Helen for being able to offer her friend a place to come and be while undergoing treatment, even as unorthodox as it was, and trying to be compassionate all the while growing more and more tired and frustrated. The book was not an enjoyable read to me.
Lynn (Cary NC)
The Spare Room by Helen Garner
Set in Melbourne, Australia, this short novel explores the relationship of two friends, Helen and Nikola. Nikola spends three weeks as Helen's guest while undergoing treatments for her terminal cancer. The plot moves along quickly and the reading is easy. The characters are not very well developed, however, so that the reader actually doesn't care too much about the outcome. What should have been a very moving tale is ultimately a let-down.
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.
Jeanette (Visalia CA)
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.
Joan (Evanston IL)
An Australian Exploding Doormat
The Spare Room by Helen Garner, an Australian writer who I hadnt read before, is a fast and intense read. I really didnt want to put it down. The story is completely focused on the relationship between the first person protagonist, Helen, and Nicola, an old friend who is suffering from stage four cancer.
Nicola, who lives outside Sydney, comes to stay with Helen, who lives near Melbourne, when she is undergoing an alternative therapy for cancer. This is an exploding doormat story: Helen is the dutiful friend who finds that more and more of her time and energy are used to accommodate Nicolas needs, physical and mental. Finally, when Nicolas niece comes to stay, she realizes that shes been put in position beyond her abilities and she explodes with anger.
I writhed with recognition at a situation that seemed so realistic to me who can measure how far a friendship should go? I particularly liked the setting of Australia, where what is everyday to the characters came across as exotic to an American reader. I would have liked a bit more backstory about how the relationship between the two friends developed, but that might have cut the intensity of the plot, which was tightly focused on the relationship between the two women. Although the story is primarily about friendship, the details of the progress of cancer and the desperation of the treatment are extremely intense for someone looking for an escapist novel