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Monday, 23 May 2016

Book review: Everywhere I Look, Helen Garner (2016)

I seem to remember this book being talked about on TV by Leigh Sales as a book replete with positive stories but I have to admit that, for me, this strange little miscellany resembled nothing more than a collection of bric-a-brac. All very entertaining, I'm quite sure, but it's not something that has a solid core that you can easily address in a critical appraisal like the one you are currently reading.

To be quite honest the pieces that appealed most to me were of an autobiographical nature. I've not seem diary entries being used in this way by a reputable non-fiction author before, so it was something that strikes me as being out-of-the-ordinary. But I loved reading about Garner's children and beloved grandchildren. She is, of course, the age of anyone's nanna, and is well qualified to be telling people what she thinks of little Tom or whomever she is charged with keeping an eye on at any one time. There is a deep humanity at work in these whisper-slight vignettes, small slivers of time and action that capture something of lived experience in a fresh and engaging way.

Elsewhere in the book we find some of the reportage for which Garner is probably now most famous. She has spent many, many hours seated in courtrooms taking notes and observing the proceedings in camera. Here you will find some new pieces - though short ones - to add to her well-known catalogue of writing on crime and the darker parts of the human soul.

I was sometimes terribly moved while reading this book. Often I would skip quickly, with a sigh, from the end of one piece to the beginning of the next, eager to discover what new gem Garner had chosen to display for my entertainment and instruction. The difficulties of other people's dogs, the problems with being of a certain age and female, or the wonder of small boys who say outrageous things without even meaning to. Life is a puzzle. But you'd have to say that despite the irregular construction of the whole the parts are very much worth the reading. And finishing up with a tour-de-force on the non-linguistic medium of ballet serves to highlight most forcibly the rare quality of Garner's art. 

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