Helen Garner drinks Absolut neat, thinks Lydia Bennett is “a piece of trash,” describes dogs as having “Amy Winehouse eye-makeup” and then puts them on the cover of a volume of her collected short non-fictions. For some readers, this will be enough reason to add Everywhere I Look to their Goodreads list. Others might prefer to hear this book of reflections, reviews and recollections is a wonderfully varied introduction to one of the best non-fiction writers creating today – a legend in her field represented wonderfully by this slim paperback.
Everywhere I Look collects short pieces from the last fifteen years of Garner’s career, ranging everywhere from reviews of Pride and Prejudice and Russell Crowe’s entire filmography to an essay the moment in which she realised she was no longer in tune with young culture and a report on a court trial for infanticide. As well as a world-renowned arts journalist, true-crime author and essayist, she’s also lauded as one of Australia’s greatest writers. Her nation shines in the book, and I got a sense in reading it of a culture I’d never really explored much before – my Anglophone bookshelves are mostly dominated by Irish, English and American writing.
This was my first experience of Garner, despite being immersed in 2015’s buzz for her This House of Grief. There are some chapters in this book that are surely included for the benefit of her dedicated fans – diary entries and essays on her influences – but thanks to her very consistent style of expression and the bite-sizedness of most of the work included, I welcomed these more personal sections quickly. Garner is a writer who will be instantly recognisable after only reading a few dozen of her pages: direct, relaxed, polished but succinct, brilliantly honest in its side-notes. In writing about interesting events of her past, she doesn’t shy away from adding contexts other artists would hold too private. Divorce is included as explanation for why she was living in such a place at such a time, but not something to dwell on. In fact she seems unable to dwell on bigger moments in her personal life: she frequently implies a feeling of life carrying her along, without asking for much of her input.
You get something of an everywoman sense from her while noticing these tics. Lots of the time she just seems to want to sit on a couch and read for hours on end. She’s also very funny. All of these elements would nearly serve to mask the impressive quality of her writing if they weren’t peppered with her knock-out moments of unique observation. Emotions are things that ache in your throat, flowers are brave and dogged, some people are vessels of nectar-esque truth in her writing. It’s these considered descriptions and conclusions that are the real joy and reward in Everywhere I Look, that elevate the book from pleasant, breezy comment writing to work that lingers in your memory.
Garner reads Pride and Prejudice
Garner spends a week watching Russell Crowe films
Everywhere I Look is published 29 September by Text Publishing
9781925355369 p/b £12.99
Post by Heather
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