Read advance reader review of The Spare Room by Helen Garner, page 2 of 3

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The Spare Room

A Novel

by Helen Garner

The Spare Room by Helen Garner X
The Spare Room by Helen Garner
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Feb 2009, 192 pages

    Feb 2010, 192 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Rigby
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Page 2 of 3
There are currently 19 member reviews
for The Spare Room
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  • 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.
  • Sadie (Portland OR)
    The Spare Room
    This was a compelling story. The author successfully conveys the complexities of witnessing a loved one's move toward death. Contrary to the subject matter, it is not depressing...rather the story is affirming. I liked it fine.
  • Janice (Unionville CT)
    the Spare Room
    An engaging,eloquent tale which explores the demands of friendship. The unsuspecting and at times, unwilling Helen agrees to care for her friend Nicola who is coping with the ravages of end-stage cancer. Nicola seems to have been a difficult person, self -centered and unrealistic even when in the best of health. Helen who is patient and forbearing learns a good deal about herself as well as about her friend during this ordeal.

    The author has a knack for presenting the grim realities of the sickroom. I would definitely read further work of this author.
  • 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.
  • Linda-- Indie Bookstore Manager (Concord 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.
  • Lynn (North Venice 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.
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