by Helen Garner
Helen Garner is a versatile wordsmith. Should she ever require a curriculum vitae (unlikely as that seems), her résumé would include: novelist, short fiction writer, journalist, critic, translator and screenwriter among her superabundance of literary skills.
Born in the port city of Geelong, Australia, in 1942, Garner (neè Ford) worked as a high-school teacher from 1966 until she was sacked for “giving an unscheduled sex education lesson to her 13-year-old students” in 1972. She published her first novel, Monkey Grip, in that same year, since when it has become an important, though fiercely disagreed upon, part of the Australian canon. She is now widely regarded as one of the foremost Antipodean writers of her time.
Stories: The Collected Short Fiction – released to coincide with Garner’s 75th birthday – is a selection of neoteric tales from a hugely accomplished storyteller. Her characters are finely portrayed and believable, because flawed, and the narrative is wholly absorbing, often intense, although never to the point of seeming contrived.
Her protagonists tend to be lonely or desperate people who have Freudian-type dreams and bouts of anxiety, but an undercurrent of humour is detectable in each piece. Her stories never lack wit. Garner reaches her zenith in La Chance Existe and Dark Little Tales, but there are no weak parts to this collection – it is simply that some stories are more brilliant than others.
I started reading this book as a Helen Garner greenhorn. Appetite now whetted, I am keen to explore her substantial back catalogue, starting with The Children’s Bach, which is held by many to be one of the greatest short novels ever written by an Australian.
A truly bonzer discovery!
Many thanks to Text Publishing for supplying an advance review copy of this title.