Vicki (Casa Grande AZ)
A small story, yet intense and captivating
The Spare Room by Helen Garner, is a hard read at times because of its brutally honest portrayal of the way a last-chance treatment for cancer affects the lives of the patient, Nicola, and her friend Helen, who has agreed to put Nicola up in her house during the weeks of the treatment.
Although their long-term friendship is strong, Nicola's tunnel-vision about the alternative (and questionable) treatment, and her inability to honestly see the way it affects her health and the lives of those around her, tests the women's relationship, and also Nicola's relationship with others.
I liked Garner's easy and intimate writing style, and the humor she injects into the mostly depressing story. One gets the feeling from the book's account of cancer symptoms and the body's reactions to certain treatments that the author must have either cared for a cancer patient herself, or witnessed the affects of the disease on someone close to her. Its details are what are hard to read at times, but they're also integral to the plot and to how the disease and prognosis affects both Nicola and Helen.
Although this wasn't one of the best books I've read recently, I'm glad I did. The Spare Room's plot is small and only covers a short period of time, but its emotional intensity and insight into different personalities lingers.
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.
Linda-- Indie Bookstore Manager (Walnut Creek CA)
Pros & Cons of
This is a spare yet powerful novel that packs an emotional punch. The friendship between the two main characters, as well as the questions of how much can a terminally ill friend rightly expect of the other, and in turn how long-suffering and compassionate can that other one be expected to be, make for a great read. On the downside I found several aspects of this novel frustrating. The relationship between the two characters was not well developed causing me to become impatient with their demands on each other. Also, Nicola has an unbelievable sense of entitlement due to her sickness. In reality people are much more aware of being a burden to their loved ones. This conflict within the novel would make it a great choice for bookclubs.
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.
Lynn (Nokomis FL)
An exceptional book that is hard to like.
Few books that I have read cause me as much ambivalence as this one did. On the positive side, it is very well written without excessive verbosity or hysteria. The characters are very believable, but not always likable. The message
I am not sure that there is one. This is the kind of book that will probably resonate uniquely for each reader. All of that probably makes this book at least a four star, if not five.
On the other hand, the circumstances and situations described are often heart rendering and painfully sad. Ms. Garner has created two very genuine women; people I wish I might have known before this experience. I suspect that Ms. Garner, herself, lived through a similar even. If she did not, she is a genius in her imagination and creation of the emotions that are presented.
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.
Joyce (El Segundo CA)
Almost got through it without crying
I read this book in a night, it's short and bittersweet. I'm not sure how I would have felt about this book if I hadn't had a sister die of cancer, it was more painful to read because I kept thinking of all she went through. I wish I could have cared for her like the author cares for her friend. Its not just a pretty story, its very truthful and shows all the emotions that caregivers go through. I recommend this book for a quick read and for its honesty and forthrightness.