Reading guide for The Spare Room by Helen Garner

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Spare Room

A Novel

by Helen Garner

The Spare Room by Helen Garner
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

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

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Karen Rigby

Buy This Book

About this Book

Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. Beyond the guest room in Helen’s home, are there other images the title The Spare Room brings to mind? How much room, energy, and patience does the narrator, Helen, have to spare?

  2. Discuss your own experiences with caregiving. What are its rewards, and its difficulties? Would you have allowed a friend like Nicola to stay with you until the very end?

  3. What is universal about the way humans handle their own mortality? At what point is Nicola able to accept that her illness is terminal? Is it better to know the outcome of our lives, with an opportunity for a long goodbye?

  4. How does Helen Garner balance humor with the raw reality faced by her characters?

  5. How would you describe the friendship between Helen and Nicola? Are they compatible in very many ways? Are they honest with each other? Which friend would you turn to in a similar situation?

  6. In chapter seven, Nicola fears that she has wasted her life, comparing herself to Helen, who is close to her family. Discuss the two kinds of lives illustrated by Nicola and Helen. What is the best measure of a life? What sorts of "families" do we create for ourselves through friendships?

  7. Though The Spare Room is a novel, Helen Garner is often asked why she and the narrator have the same name. She has said that she used her own name because she wanted to acknowledge the reality of certain deeply troubling emotions, particularly anger, that she has experienced while caring for dying people whom she loved. How did it affect your reading to see that the author and main character are both called Helen and are both writers?

  8. Discuss the notion of hospitality and culture. When is it acceptable to turn someone away? Which guests must be welcomed, no matter what?

  9. Nicola bitterly resists hospice or any other signal that she has run out of options. What accounts for the different approaches people have to their final days: those who accept death versus those who fight it?

  10. What will Bessie remember about this episode in her life? How does Nicola’s illness unfold as seen through the eyes of a child?

  11. Discuss the magician who performs beautiful feats in chapter ten. Why is it sometimes good to suspend rational thinking? Is it harmful to believe in magic?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Picador. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    My Name Is Leon
    by Kit De Waal
    Kit de Waal's striking debut, My Name is Leon, has inspired this big, long, complicated question: ...
  • Book Jacket: New People
    New People
    by Danzy Senna
    Danzy Senna has spent virtually her entire writing career exploring the complicated intersections of...
  • Book Jacket: Hunger
    Hunger
    by Roxane Gay
    In this penetrating and fearless memoir, author Roxane Gay discusses her battle with body acceptance...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Little Nothing by Marisa Silver

A stunning, provocative new novel from New York Times bestselling author Marisa Silver

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Young Jane Young
    by Gabrielle Zevin

    From the author of The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry comes a novel that will have everyone talking.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Resurrection of Joan Ashby

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas

Epic, propulsive, incredibly ambitious, and dazzlingly written--a story about sacrifice and motherhood.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

I's A D Before D

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.