Helen Garner is one of Australia’s most distinguished writers and greatest literary legends. A long and illustrious career as a writer of fiction, non-fiction, and essays has caught up with her and she is finally beginning to receive the recognition she deserves in the US and UK. With two simply stunning new hardbacks – Stories: Collected Short Fiction and True Stories: Complete Short Non-Fiction – published by Australian publishers Text next week, her reputation looks set to be cemented.
The subject of a recent Guardian article, Garner was described by Sian Cain as ‘unclassifiable.’ The range of her work, over both fiction and non-fiction, is stupendous – encompassing all walks of (seemingly) ordinary lives. Garner is perhaps also unique in her involvement within her own writing – she is never just an observer, she is always eminently present.
This inclusion of herself in her work forms the basis of Bernadette Brennan’s new critical biography A Writing Life: Helen Garner and Her Work also published by Text to coincide with the release of Stories and True Stories, which in turn celebrate Garner’s 75th year.
Her earliest works include the majority of her fictional output – four novels and two collections of short stories published between 1977-1992. A trio of true crime books: The First Stone (1995), Joe Cinque’s Consolation (2004) and This House of Grief (2014) are amongst her best-known works. An essay collection, Everywhere I Look (2016) seemed to confirm her international status, winning praise from The New Yorker, The Guardian, The Financial Times, Lithub, The Spectator, Metro and The Washington Post, amongst others.
Stories is a new edition of Helen Garner’s collected short fiction. These stories delve into the complexities of love and longing, of the pain, darkness and joy of life and are all told with her characteristic sharpness of observation, honesty and humour. Each one a perfect piece, together they showcase Garner’s mastery of the form.
In True Stories she visits the morgue, and goes cruising on a Russian ship. She sees women giving birth, and gets the sack for teaching her students about sex. She attends a school dance and a gun show. She writes about dreaming, about turning fifty, and the storm caused by her true crime book The First Stone. Her short story on the murder of the two-year-old Daniel Valerio – ‘Killing Daniel’ (1993) – wins her a Walkley Award. Garner looks at the world with a shrewd and sympathetic eye. True Stories is an extraordinary book, spanning fifty years of work.
These two beautifully packaged collected works are the perfect introduction to Garner’s writing for the uninitiated, and, for her ever-growing legion of admirers, the cherry on top of a (still hopefully unfinished) career of brilliant books.
Stories: Collected Short Fiction (9781925603095, h/b, £14.99) and True Stories: Complete Short Non-Fiction (9781925498875, h/b, £25) by Helen Garner are published by Text on 25 January along with A Writing Life by Bernadette Brennan, (9781925498035, p/b, £12.99)