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The Spare Room

A Novel

by Helen Garner

The Spare Room
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Feb 2009, 192 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2010, 192 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Rigby

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Reviews

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There are currently 20 reader reviews for The Spare Room
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Carol (03/30/09)

Trying Times
The Spare Room focuses on Helen who decides to take on the role of caretaker for her friend Nicola who has terminal cancer but refuses to consider the possibility of death. My impression was Helen truly cared for Nicola but did not envision the care required due to Nicola's continuing pursuit of alternative treatments.

I was struck by Helen's continual whining and I was saddened and embarrassed by her response to Nicola's desire to seek life even when the treatment was so harsh. I did not feel the bond between the two women and I was struck by how lonely Nicola must have felt towards the end.

I did not find Helen's treatment of her friend and her condition enlightening. The story was a tragedy of a friendship during very adverse times.
Power Reviewer Lee (02/04/09)

The Spare Room
Helen Garner has written a sensitive novel about friendship and death. She cleverly knits them together and writes a profound and gratifying book.

Her setting is Australia, and Helen, who lives in Melbourne, is expecting an acquaintance Nicole, from Sydney, to come and visit for a few weeks. What ensues in these weeks is occasionally funny, but always thought provoking and enjoyable.
Hayley H. (02/01/09)

Wonderful
I knew this book was a novel when I purchased it but forgot very quickly once I began. I am currently caring for a cancer patient at home and have been finding this experience almost unbearable at times, just watching his slow and heartbreaking demise. However, I couldn't have spent the few hours it took me to read this book in better company than with Helen Garner's superb, insightful, empathetic and totally real The Spare Room. I wanted to phone her and thank her profusely. I feel sane again
Gina (01/22/09)

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.
Carole (01/09/09)

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.
Marion (01/09/09)

Could You Do This?
"The Spare Room" is told by Helen, whose friend, Nicola, suffering from late-stage cancer, asks to stay in her home for three weeks. Nicola has come to Helen's city to seek help through alternative medicine: deplorable and absurd practices which horrify Helen.
What a difficult situation in which to find oneself--and as you read this beautifully written book, you ask yourself how you personally would handle things. Could you be supportive and tolerant? Could you retain your love for a once-vibrant friend as she loses so much? This is a challenging book to read, but it is not without humor and irony, and love and honesty do triumph.
Janice (01/09/09)

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.
Kathy (01/09/09)

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.
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