True Stories: Selected Non-Fiction, by Helen Garner
This was my first foray into Helen Garner’s work, and it won’t be the last. I’m an English teacher, lover of Australian fiction, and feminist, so I’ve heard Helen Garner’s name mentioned in a great many circles in the past, but had somehow never read anything of hers. I’ve recently started listening to Chat 10 Looks 3, and Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales fangirl over Garner like I do over Gaiman, so I figured it was worth giving her a go. I’m glad I did.
True Stories is a collection of Garner’s non-fiction work, spanning 25 years. As a bonus, the audiobook version was narrated by her, so you’re getting her work in her voice. And it’s utterly captivating – I will be revisiting this in hardcopy, so I can savour the singular beauty of the way she uses words. That’s how sentences are supposed to work. Sigh.
Her piece about discussing sex and relationships with a class when she was teaching brought to mind the connections that I loved the most as a teacher – a discussion about STD’s in particular, and why not every parent necessarily has one, particularly came back to me, making me both laugh and weep. Her story about sisters made my eyes leak – “Now that we can sing together, surely none of us will ever die, surely.” The awkwardness of forced relationships, forged by proximity rather than familiarity. The complexity of feminism and disagreements over gender lines. I love this book, and it has, as is typical, led me down the rabbit-hole of NAORH – New Author Obsessive Reading Habits. I’m currently working my way through Cosmo Cosmolino, which I’ll no doubt review here soon. I’ve got Monkey Grip cued up after that.
I finished reading?/listening to? this a few weeks ago. What I’m discovering, as I write this review, is that whilst I remember absolutely loving it, I’m finding specific details hard to recall, and I’m discovering that this is a fairly common phenomenon for me when I consume a story via audiobook. It’s a format that works extremely well for me – an hour and a quarter each way commute, Monday to Friday, and my diminishing eye quality combined with long days working on a computer mean that listening to a book is a welcome relief. But I think that I’m also often distracted, not as attentive to the story as I am when I’m physically reading. As I’m sitting here thinking about other books I’ve listened to over recent months, I can remember really loving some of them, but not actually being able to remember specific details about them. Do you listen to audiobooks? Do you find the same thing happens, or is it just that I’m easily distracted by people watching on trains, and should not be trusted to do two things at once?
Anyway. Helen Garner. If you’ve not read her before, I highly recommend it – and this collection is as good a place as any to start. Thanks, Crabb and Sales. I’m glad for the recommendation, and I’m glad to have discovered such exquisite writing.