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This House of Grief

This House of Grief: The Story of a Murder Trial

Helen Garner

  • awardWinner, Western Australian Premier’s Book Award, 2016
  • awardWinner, Western Australian Premier's Book Award for Non-Fiction, 2016
  • awardWinner, Ned Kelly Awards, Best True Crime, 2015
  • awardShortlisted, NSW Premier's Literary Awards, 2015
  • awardShortlisted, Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction, 2015
  • awardShortlisted, Colin Roderick Literary Award, 2015
  • awardShortlisted, Kibble Literary Award, 2015
  • awardShortlisted, Indie Book Awards, 2015
  • awardShortlisted, Australian Book Industry General Non-Fiction Award, 2015
  • awardShortlisted, Nielsen BookData Booksellers Choice Award, 2015
  • awardShortlisted, INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award, United States, 2015
  • awardShortlisted, Western Australian Premier's Book Award for Non-Fiction, 2016
  • awardLonglisted, Stella Prize, 2015
  • 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.

    Read an extract on the Text blog.


    ABC Book Club with Jennifer Byrne
    ABC Local with Richard Fidler   
    Age with Susan Wyndham 
    Barnes & Noble podcast   
    The Crime Lady: Helen Garner; You’re Wrong About; and More     
    Crime Reads     
    Harper’s Magazine     
    Justinian Law Journal
    Inside Story    
    LA Times    
    2014 Melbourne Writers Festival with Ramona Koval   
    NPR: This Australian writer might be the greatest novelist you've never heard of    
    Petoskey News-Review (Michigan)   
    Slate podcast (0:55:00)   

    Helen Garner
    About the Author

    Helen Garner writes novels, stories, screenplays and works of non-fiction. In 2006 she received the inaugural Melbourne Prize for Literature, and in 2016 she won the prestigious Windham–Campbell Prize for non-fiction. In 2019 she was honoured with the Australia Council Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature. And in 2023 she was awarded the...

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    4 January 2016
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    Praise for Helen Garner
    andThis House of Grief

    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.’

    ‘Garner captures the breathless suspense during the wait for the jury to return; the blow of the decision and sentencing; and her own unsettled response to the shattering experience of contemplating an unthinkable crime.’

    ‘A mesmeric blend of pathos and skepticism that, despite the known conclusion, will keep readers in suspense.’

    ‘Helen Garner, the Australian novelist, journalist, diarist and screenwriter who, at 80, occupies the galvanizing spot in her culture once held in America by the likes of Mary McCarthy, Joan Didion and Susan Sontag. Steeped in her messy personal experience of the counter-culture and the gender wars, Garner’s books win big prizes, kickstart controversies and say things other people rarely dare.’

    ‘If there’s one impulse that connects all her work — the true-crime books and those that earned her grief for airing uncomfortable truths — it is the recognition of the humanity of villains and victims alike.’

    ‘Helen Garner is a prodigiously gifted writer, one with many quivers in her bow. This House of Grief is the sort of book Joan Didion might have written if she’d had more of a heart.’

    ‘A rigorous, compassionate meditation on the unfathomable depths of human behaviour.’

    ‘Helen Garner humanely reveals the many ways such a heinous tragedy leaves scars, both personal as well as communal.’

    ‘Garner’s ability to describe people is so precise, beautifully drawn…The economy of language…It’s like that painter in their master phase…It’s so alive. Every sentence is its own emotional iceberg…An amazing piece of writing.’

    Other editions ofThis House of Grief
    • This House of Grief
      ISBN: 9781921961434
      20 August 2014
      Buy ebook