Helen Garner is a big name in the Australian literary world, but, to my shame, I’d never read any of her books until I was recently asked to read The Spare Room, her first work of fiction in 15 years. Book taste is a very subjective thing and the synopses of her books have never made me want to pick them up and engage with them. That’s alright. We all have different tastes---thank goodness. And she has fans aplenty without me.
I wouldn’t have picked up The Spare Room either, as it’s not my type of book: it’s about the friendship of two women in their sixties and the difficulties which ensue when one, who is seriously ill with cancer, comes to stay (in the spare room). However, I’m glad I did, even if it was just to see what a fine writer Helen Garner can be and how striking her observations of people and the way they interact can be. That’s pretty much as far as I went though. It was a very readable book and didn’t take long to finish, but apart from the expressions of grief and frustration for the stubbornness of a dying friend, and the strains such an imposition can create, it was not only a little too genteel and staid for my taste, but felt more like the stuff of a short story than 194 pages of novel.
Also finished Michael McGirr’s Bypass, The Story of a Road. I began reading this travelogue---recounting a journey down the Hume Highway on bike---several months ago and enjoyed the many anecdotes and bizarre snippets of information which make up each chapter and each leg of the journey, even though I’m generally not a fan of non-fiction. It would be an ideal coffee table book, if I had a coffee table, as there seemed to be nothing lost in picking it up and putting it down again between reading novels.
Whether you prefer fiction or non-fiction, what do you look for in a book?