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A Times Literary Supplement Book of the Year, 2014
Anyone can see the place where the children died. You take the Princes Highway past Geelong, and keep going west in the direction of Colac. Late in August 2006, soon after I had watched a magistrate commit Robert Farquharson to stand trial before a jury on three charges of murder, I headed out that way on a Sunday morning, across the great volcanic plain.
On the evening of 4 September 2005, Father’s Day, Robert Farquharson, a separated husband, was driving his three sons home to their mother, Cindy, when his car left the road and plunged into a dam. The boys, aged ten, seven and two, drowned. Was this an act of revenge or a tragic accident? The court case became Helen Garner’s obsession. She followed it on its protracted course until the final verdict.
In this utterly compelling book, Helen Garner tells the story of a man and his broken life. She presents the theatre of the courtroom with its actors and audience – all gathered to witness to the truth – players in the extraordinary and unpredictable drama of the quest for justice.
This House of Grief is a heartbreaking and unputdownable book by one of Australia’s most admired writers.
‘This House of Grief makes its complexity out of an honest vulnerability…Garner’s book is superbly alive to the narrative dynamics of the case; she tells a grim story of unhappy marriage, limited social opportunity, bitter divorce, and spousal grievance. Again, as in The First Stone, what consumes her are the difficult questions that seem to lie beyond the reach of formal narration: the deepest assumptions of class and gender and power; the problem of how well we ever understand someone else’s motives…Attracted and repelled, Garner circles around the unspeakable abysmal horror. Can any story “explain” why a man might murder his children? She doesn’t pretend to possess the explosive answer, and frequently confesses stupefaction, but her book walks us along an engrossing and plausible narrative fuse…Her narrative is lit by lightning.’
‘Helen Garner is an invaluable guide into harrowing territory and offers powerful and unforgettable insights. This House of Grief, in its restraint and control, bears comparison with In Cold Blood.’
‘This careful record of the mind and its workings, of the strange dance we take toward truth, makes the narrative compelling and the story fresh through all the trials and retrials…The whole book feels final, elegiac – perhaps because for all the horror, it is so elegantly and calmly written.’
‘In This House of Grief, Helen Garner describes with wonderful subtlety and honesty the trail of a man accused of drowning his three sons; she is fascinated by what we’re capable of and how fiercely we hide it from ourselves.’
‘As involving, heart-rending and unsettling a read as you could possibly find, a true-life account of three deaths and a trial that leaves you with a profound sense of unease as its drama unfolds, and disturbing questions about how we judge guilt and innocence…Tailor-made for those who have gorged recently on the popular true-crime podcast Serial.’
‘Compassionate and dispassionate in equal measure, Helen Garner takes us into the courtroom and shows a melting-pot of venality. She writes with a profound understanding of human vulnerability, and of the subtle workings of love, memory and remorse.’
‘This House of Grief is a magnificent book about the majesty of the law and the terrible matter of the human heart. It has at its centre a feeling of the engulfing powers of love and hate and the way any heart unlucky enough may kill the thing it loves and drown in an eternity of grief. If you read nothing else this year, read this story of the sorrow and pity of innocents drowned and the spectres and enigmas of guilt.’
‘The twists and turns of this true-crime story are, in Garner’s hands, more engrossing and dramatic than any thriller. Really, this is the kind of book you’ll devour in one go.’
‘A brilliant, poetic work of jurisprudence…Another beauty of Garner’s writing is her exceptional lyricism. Garner’s spare, clean style flowers into magnificent poetry.’
‘No one can invoke the theatre of the law the way Helen Garner does. It isn’t just her acute mind for human psychology or her shimmering gift for metaphor, the masterly economy and dramatic poise with which she shaped the material.’
‘This House of Grief has all the trademark Helen Garner touches: harrowing scenes recorded without restraint or censorship; touching observations of characters’ weaknesses; wry moments of humour. And also customary with Garner’s work, her words, and the boys’ fate, will haunt us long after we’ve turned the last page.’
‘This House of Grief will have your heart in your mouth.’
‘Tender and electrifying. This House of Grief is Helen Garner’s masterpiece.’
‘[Garner] doesn’t merely listen. She watches, imagines, second-guesses, empathises, agonises. Her voice—intimate yet sharp, wry yet urgent—inspires trust.’