Authors: Helen Garner
THE SPARE ROOM
‘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.’
‘Swift, beautiful and relentless.’ ALICE SEBOLD
‘No one writes these reports from the suburban front-line with quite the passion, the abrupt insights and kitchen table candour of Helen Garner.
The Spare Room
is a quietly devastating book, written with superbly refined ordinariness, on ageing, women’s friendship and how to look death in the eye.’
‘Sensitive, sad, funny and alive.’ DIANA ATHILL
‘My favourite discovery of the year, Helen Garner has a voice of great honesty and energy.’ ANNE ENRIGHT
‘Honest, unsparing and brave.’
New York Times
‘This is Garner at her best. A must read. The hard-won simplicity of the language is brilliant, not a word wasted…compellingly honest and utterly authentic. Once you start reading, you won’t be able to put it down.’ ALEX MILLER
The Spare Room
illuminates the big questions of what it means to be human, and makes me glad I am a reader.’
Australian Literary Review
‘Luminous, moving and profound: a novel that seems to transcend fiction.’
‘A combination of wit and lyricism that is immensely alluring…a burningly passionate account of the one experience we all will share—the journey out of life.’
‘The subject matter is compelling, and Garner’s writing so assured and compassionate that any reader will be enthralled and swept along…Few Australian writers would be bold enough to take this on as a subject for a novel, but we know Helen Garner relishes a challenge. It’s her triumph to pull it off.’
Australian Bookseller & Publisher
‘A vivid jewel of a book…Garner’s elegantly furious comedy unfolds at a tremendous pace and demands to be read at a sitting.’
The Spare Room
is a story of tough love and friendship and amazement at the bravado and resourcefulness of human beings in the face of death, written in a prose that has surgical precision. Read this novel. It is truer than non-fiction.’
‘Garner is a beautiful writer who winkles out difficult emotions from difficult hiding places.’
‘The reader will be wrenched by
The Spare Room
, and enlarged by it, and feel deeply privileged to be at this particular bedside.’
Dominion Post Weekend
‘A profound portrait of long-term female friendship… the writing exudes the raw authenticity of lived experience. Its readiness to confront painful realities, both emotional and physical, make this a wise and affecting book.’
‘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.’
‘A daring and dazzling novel…Garner writes with a diamond drill, depicting human relationships with such brutal clarity they seem to be rendered for the first time.’
Books by Helen Garner
Honour and Other People’s Children
The Children’s Bach
Postcards from Surfers
The First Stone
The Feel of Steel
Joe Cinque’s Consolation
The Last Days of Chez Nous
Helen Garner was born in Geelong in 1942. Her award-winning books include novels, stories, screenplays and works of non-fiction.
The Spare Room
is her first work of fiction in sixteen years.
TEXT PUBLISHING MELBOURNE AUSTRALIA
The paper used in this book is manufactured only from wood grown in sustainable regrowth forests.
The Text Publishing Company
22 William Street
Melbourne Victoria 3000
Copyright © Helen Garner 2008
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright above, no part of this publication shall be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.
First published 2008 by The Text Publishing Company
This edition published 2009
Typeset by J&M Typesetters
Printed and bound by Griffin Press
Design by Chong Weng-ho
National Library of Australia
Garner, Helen, 1942-
The spare room / Helen Garner.
ISBN: 9781921520280 (pbk.)
The Spare Room
is a work of fiction. Any similarity between the characters in this book and real people, living or dead, is coincidental.
‘It is a privilege to prepare the place where someone else will sleep.’
FIRST, in my spare room, I swivelled the bed on to a north-south axis. Isn’t that supposed to align the sleeper with the planet’s positive energy flow, or something? She would think so. I made it up nicely with a fresh fitted sheet, the pale pink one, since she had a famous feel for colour, and pink is flattering even to skin that has turned yellowish.
Would she like a flat pillow or a bulky one? Was she allergic to feathers, or even, as a vegetarian, opposed to their use? I would offer choice. I rounded up all the extra pillows in the house, slid each one into a crisply ironed slip, and plumped them in a row across the head of the bed.
I pulled up the wooden venetian and threw open the window. Air drifted in, smelling leafy, though you couldn’t see a leaf unless you forced open the flywire screen and leaned right out. She had been staying for months with her niece Iris, on the eighth floor of an art deco apartment block in Elizabeth Bay whose windows, I imagined, pointed due north over a canopy of massive Sydney figs, towards the blue field of the harbour.
The immediate view from my spare room, until I could get some geraniums happening in a window box, was of the old grey paling fence that separated my place from my daughter Eva’s. The sash window faced east, though, and the light bouncing off the weatherboard side of Eva’s house kept the room bright till well into the afternoon. Also, it was late October, which in Melbourne is supposed to be spring.
I was worrying about her feet. The floor of her room was bare timber, except for a worn kilim full of rips. What if she snagged one of her long, elegant toes in it? What if she fell? Slippers were among the things she didn’t bother with, along with suitcases, bras, deodorants, irons. I rolled up the dangerous kilim and threw it into the back shed. Then I drove over to a shop opposite Piedimonte’s supermarket, where my friend Peggy, who knows about these things, said they sold tribal rugs. Straight away I spotted a pretty one: blossoms of watery green and salmon twining on a mushroom ground. The bloke told me it was Iranian, vegetable dyed. I chose it because it was faded. She would hate me to buy anything specially; to make a fuss.
Would she want to look at herself ? It was months since I had last laid eyes on her: all I knew was from our emails. Every time the news sounded bad under her chirpy chatter, I would suggest flying up to Sydney. But she put me off. She was going out to dinner and couldn’t change the date, or there wouldn’t be a bed for me, or she didn’t want me to waste my money. She might take it the wrong way if her room lacked a mirror. Behind the bookshelf in my workroom I found one I’d bought in an Asian import shop at Barkly Square and never used: a tall, narrow, unframed rectangle of glass, its back still equipped top and bottom with strips of double-sided adhesive tape. I selected a discreet spot for it, just inside the door of her room, and pressed it firmly against the plaster.
On the bedside table I fanned out some chord charts to have a crack at on our ukuleles—‘Pretty Baby’, ‘Don’t Fence Me In’, ‘King of the Road’. I arranged the reading lamp on a gracious angle, and placed beside it a mug full of nameless greenery that I’d found near the back shed. Then I went along the corridor to my room at the front of the house and lay on the bed with my boots on. It was four o’clock in the afternoon.
What woke me, ten minutes later, was a horrible two-stage smash, so sickening, so total, that I thought someone had thrown a brick through the side window. I rushed out all trembly and ran along the hall. Nothing moved. The house was quiet. I must have dreamt it. But the edge of the old hall runner, halfway to the kitchen, was weirdly sparkling. I stepped over it and into the spare room. The mirror no longer existed. The wall was bare, and the Iranian rug was thick with the glitter of broken glass.