The Spare Room Paperback – 7 May 2009
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* The Spare Room is a perfect novel, imbued with all Garner's usual clear-eyed grace but with some other magnificent dimension that hides between the lines of her simple conversational voice. How is it that she can enter this heart-breaking territory - the dying friend who comes to stay - and make it not only bearable, but glorious, and funny? There is no answer except: Helen Garner is a great writer; The Spare Room is a great book. -- Peter Carey * Garner writes with the cool authority of personal experience, and apprehends Helen and Nicola's loving and warring worlds in such fine and sensuous detail that pain itself is rendered beautiful Sunday Telegraph * A compulsively readable, searing novel...the best book I have read for years. Beautifully written, The Spare Room is terse and pacy. Every taut sentence rings with painful purity and attack -- Stevie Davies Independent * Outstandingly vivid Sunday Times * Exceptional ... an unsettling and skilled work that raises important questions about the process of dying and what caring ewll for the dying requires ... So powerful is The Spare Room's communication of the the triumphs and failures involved in dying ... [that] ther reader painfully ricochets between the various positions ... somehow as we read we actually become these characters. Financial Times * A wise and affecting book. Daily Mail * Bleak and comic, written with unflinching candour. -- Erica Wagner The Times 20090502 * A tart exploration of friendship under trying circumstances, The Spare Room packs a lot into a volume as short as it is sentimental. There's humour to be found in Nicola's crackpot remedies, but it is of the desperate kind that doesn't obscure the sad truths found in the book. -- Colin Waters Sunday Herald 20090510 * This is no mere cancer memoir. Rather, in Garner's brilliant retelling, it is a complex examination of the limits of friendship and of the problems of remaining a single woman into middle age ... This is a superbly clever novel. Guardian 20090509 * In its bleak and highly comic storytelling, despite the subject matter, the novel's main concern is how people behave towards each other and the repercussions of that behaviour. -- Penny Perrick Sunday Times 20090503 * Beautifully written ... this is a novel admirably scraped clean of sentimentality. -- Anita Sethi Independent on Sunday 20090531 * Helen Garner's style is informal, but there is no denying the force of her storytelling ... This is a novel that will stay with you, perhaps against your wishes. -- Jo Caird Daily Telegraph 20090523 * This is a superbly clever novel, in which death looms large, while the narrative and the narrator exist in vital present: cancer is a fact of life, not an ending. Guardian 20090509 * Bleak and highly comic storytelling. -- Penny Perrick Sunday Times 20090503 * This novel is admirably scraped clean of sentimentality ... the most powerful curative is a good dose of laughter, which is abundant in the spare, lucid prose even as it hurtles along with the inexorability of death. -- Anita Sethi Independent on Sunday 20090531 * A wonderful economic story, full of surprising humour as well as incisive psychology. Sunday Times 20090628 * Garner's finely honed writing and the integrity of emotion make this a genuinely uplifting testament to the power of friendship. Good Book Guide 20090701 * Garner grasps that illness confers power, portraying the tyranny that sickness exercises on the healthy -- Lionel Shriver The Week
Swift, beautiful, and relentless, The Spare Room is a brutal novel in the best sense Alice SeboldSee all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
"The Spare Room" is a short and deceptively simple novel about a woman (Helen) whose friend (Nicola) comes to stay with her for 3 weeks. Nicola is in the final stages of terminal cancer and is pursuing alternative treatments in the hope of finding a cure. Helen welcomes her friend and intends to be supportive and nurturing, but conflict rears as she feels increasingly uncomfortable with the treatments that Nicola is enduring and the toll that they are taking on her. Nicola is clinging to hope and desperate to avoid self pity, so rejects nurturing. While this is fiction, it reads with all the truth and realism of non-fiction - this is increased by the many similarities between the narrator, Helen, and the real life author, Helen Garner.
The synopsis sounds like this will be a depressing book (and it is sad, but in the best way). However, it is beautifully written, simply and precisely. It doesn't talk down to the reader with lengthy explanations or back stories, but instead lets the history between the characters emerge naturally. You are able to feel sympathy and understanding for both of the main characters. It is a fine piece of writing and one of the best books that I have read this year.
It quickly appears that Nicola is not resigned to her fate, and intends to battle the cancer by any means at her disposal. She is willing to take on any treatment, no matter how painful, no matter how questionable, no matter what the cost to herself or those around her - so long as it gives her hope. Whilst she appears to make light of her own predicament, underneath the stoicism she is a deeply selfish woman who just assumes that her friends and family will drop everything to support her. The strain on Helen is immense, with constant taxiing, laundry, cooking, fussing. And Nicola gives little impression of even understanding the impact she has on those around her. At one point, she chastises Helen - with an ironical eyebrow - for not writing a theatrical review (Helen is a journalist) because people would say that Nicola was preventing Helen from working.
This raises real issues around death and palliative care. Nicola refuses palliative care because she refuses to accept a terminal diagnosis. That's her right - even if it might seem misguided. Nicola has a right to clutch at straws - even when everyone else can see the futility of it. But how far does Nicola have a right to impose on others in her pursuit of cure? At what point can her friends and family, who do love her, say enough's enough?
The portrayal of the two central characters is exquisite.Read more ›
I expected it to be full of woe and misery, and whilst it is emotional in places; Helen's character does actually go over all the thoughts you know you shouldn't have if you were in that situation. I can't imagine how I would feel if I was Helen, having my friend Nicola come to stay for three weeks whilst she receives treatment for her progressing cancer. The novel lives up to the quotations and blurb and explores a friendship that is about to be tested to its limits - will it flourish or will it flounder?
I liked Helen's character, it was good to see her arguing with her friend (even though she knew she shouldn't) about the treatment she was going for and whether or not it was worthwhile. It was refreshing to read about the struggles and that she desperately wanted her friend to move out because she couldn't take any more; rather than reading about how wonderful everything was. I found myself laughing at Helen's nature and how (or so it seemed) Nicola was completely oblivious, until you realise she isn't actually like this and some of it is a coping mechanism.
The length was great, had Garner gone for a lengthier novel it would have spoiled the writing and in my opinion made it a dreary read. A great novel and one I'm happy to recommend.
Now it has and I can understand why he felt so strongly. The subject matter is difficult, and I had to read just one chapter at a time, but I am so glad that I did read The Spare Room - it is quite extraordinary.
The story opens with Helen preparing her spare room for a friend's visit. She is thoughtful, practical and a little anxious - understandably so given that her friend is gravely ill. It felt completely natural to warm to Helen and to be drawn in by her narrative.
Nicola is coming to stay because she isn't fit enough to stay in her own inaccessible house and because she has put her faith in questionable alternative treatments for her cancer that are available at a nearby clinic.
She either cannot or will not acknowledge the seriousness of her illness and she completly fails to recognise the heavy burden that her declining health, the side effects of her treatments and her cavalier attitude are having on her friend.
The author portrays the full range of Helen's emotions - grief, anger, resentment, frustration and, eventually, despair as she begins to feel that she really cannot cope - quite wonderfully. Every emotion and every incident rings true and Helen Garner writes clearly and beautifully.
The Spare Room is a powerful and deeply emotional book. It was difficult and sometimes painful to read, but I am so glad that I did.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I found it quiet heavy reading especially if you have been ill yourself!Published 2 months ago by christine freiburghaus
I'm really sorry to say that I did not enjoy this book.......and this seems kind of wrong considering the subject matter. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Jewels
A difficult subject to write about, Garner manages to explore the subject of terminal illness with humour, subtlety, and compassion. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Math Bird
This is the story of two women in their sixties. Helen, the narrator, is thriving, with work, family, and a nice homelife. Read morePublished 12 months ago by Lynne Spreen
Such a brave and moving story, and also about the strength and importance of friendship, the story has stayed with me, there should be more writers tackling grief, as it's... Read morePublished 13 months ago by mel
Now yon Helen, lead chick in this novel is a bigger saint than Belgo Geordie. Now me, cancer or no cancer-I would have strangled Nicola with a tea cosy. Sigh! Read morePublished 14 months ago by "Belgo Geordie"
A lovely book, I really enjoyed it and will be looking for more by Helen Garner.Published 20 months ago by robyn
I had had this on my bookshelf for ages and finally read it - wanted a short book for a journey.
The story itself isn't surprising, but the behaviour of the characters... Read more