Helen Garner, This House of Grief

This House of Grief has all the trademark Helen Garner touches: harrowing scenes recorded without restraint or censorship; touching observations of characters’ weaknesses; wry moments of humour. And also customary with Garner’s work, her words, and the boys’ fate, will haunt us long after we’ve turned the last page.
— Guardian
RRP $32.99, Text Publishing

RRP $32.99, Text Publishing

I admit that when the advance copy of this book turned up, I wasn't entirely sure I could read it. I let it sit on the shelf for a bit. 

With three small children of my own, the possibility that in 2005 Robert Farquharson deliberately drove his three boys, Jai, Tyler and Bailey, into a dam and left them to die was just too horrific to contemplate. Was he a bitter divorcee? Was it deliberate? Was it revenge? Was the jury's 'guilty' conviction a mistake? My reaction to the news of the deaths was pretty much the same as Garners: 

I saw it on the TV news. Night. Low folage. Water, misty and black. Blurred lights, a chopper. Men in hi-vis and helmets. Something very bad here. Something frightful.
Oh Lord, let this be an accident.
— Helen Garner, This House of Grief, p.2.

The media at the time didn't seemed to think it was an accident and I switched off from that too. Didn't read the articles, couldn't watch the news or soundbites. I had a similar reaction a few years later when divorced dad Arthur Freeman threw his daughter Darcey off the Westgate Bridge in front of mortified onlookers. 

Some crimes are just too awful to let into your head.

I'm not alone. When I've mentioned to people that I'm reading Garner's book, people look a little shocked. They immediately express that there is no way they could contemplate reading it. The talk vaguely about the "Jo something or other" book, "you know, the one about the murder in Canberra" (Joe Cinque’s Consolation) and "the cancer book" (The Spare Room) and question why she is drawn to such dark stories people want to block out.

I loved the way House of Grief: The Story of a Murder Trial is writtenHelen Garner is a remarkable writer and what she distilled was the essence of the people in the courtroom and what their role is during a trial. It is a well-reasoned analysis of how a court works and how people respond to this institution. Peter Morrissey SC comes across a gregarious bloke who genuinely sees the best in all his clients. How could you do this job if you thought otherwise? A quick quiz of my legal eagle friends confirmed that Garner's portrayal of Morrissey was correct. Rapke, for the prosecution is calm, measured and pitches the right amount of information and appropriate tone to the jury at every turn.

Garners scrutinises how the barristers present cases. She captures the prevailing mood of the trial with banter outside the courts with family members, friends, journalists and other lawyers. She canvasses the mood of the general public in her daily interactions shopping for vegies and drinks with mates, and examines her own journey from a hope for innocence to the crushing conviction. All all times, an attitude of common-sense prevails that just comes, I guess, from being on this earth for over 60 years and feeling loss and heartbreak along with love and hope. 

This book works beautifully because ultimately it analyses and shares our communal 'grief'. As she concludes:

But no other word will do. Every stranger grieves for them. Every stranger’s heart is broken. The children’s fate is our legitimate concern. They are ours to mourn. They belong to all of us now.
— Helen Garner, This House of Grief


Book Club Notes

Review: The Guardian

Review: SMH

Audio: ABC Life Matters


I was sent a review copy of This House of Grief from Text Publishing. All opinions are my own.