Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Garner holds the west in her monkey grip

Helen Garner was born in Geelong in 1942, the eldest of six children. Forty years later I was born in that very town, the second eldest of six children. She is one of Australia's most well-respected writers, I'm not! But hey, she got a forty year head start so I might still have time :)

Last night I saw Ms Garner herself at a special event hosted by the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing, Ideas in a newly renovated wing of the State Library. Dear Corky and I swooned at the Florence Broadhurst wallpaper around the staircase. How I love FB. More on her designs another day, today is Garner's day.

As she answered Jennier Byrne's questions, glimmers of Garner's upbringing in the regional city of Geelong emerged. The audience could only laugh when she called herself a "loud-mouth broad", then drop our lips in appreciation as poetic threads rolled unwittingly from her tongue. An inquiring mind, and the evocative way in which she transfers her observations on to a page, seem to be her gifts.

Helen Garner's 2008 novel, The Spare Room is littered with references to Melbourne's inner west, so I couldn't help but mention how much I had enjoyed this after I stood in line for a signing. Unfortunately, I'd forgotten to bring my copy along so she signed her first novel Monkey Grip instead. In lovely old-school teacher writing, she wrote:
'To Ellise-
in Footscray
Helen Garner'

and as she handed the book to me said "I love that part of town". On ya, HG! I'm pretty sure she lives in the west herself, not that I dared ask.

I will leave you with this extract from The Spare Room:

"I wasn't used to taking the Broadmeadows train at mid-morning. It was empty and rather calming, forging along the river, past the Docklands stadium and out through North Melbourne. It racketed across the dry creek bed; it slid between the old warehouses and ran parallel with the steel buttressed brick wall that held Bellair Street back from the railway line. I never quite trusted that wall not to collapse on to the tracks; yet there it stood, fifteen feet high and bulging but still stable, accepting the morning sun on its pocked and rosy surfaces. Something softened in my chest and I took the first proper breath of the day. All right. Let this ludicrous treatment be what it is. Go home and put your house in order."


  1. Have you seen the florence broadhurst rugs!!

  2. Greetings Anonymous! Thanks for stopping by. Why did you tell me about those divine rugs?! Now I want one but they look very expensive and impossible to make myself. Nice to have something to admire though, thanks for the comment.




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