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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 for the purpose of bearing 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 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.’
‘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.’
‘This House of Grief is a magnificent book about the majesty of the law and the terrible matter of the human heart. It has 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.’
‘Clear-eyed and deeply moving…Garner’s skills as a novelist combine with her journalist incisiveness to give a vivid, compassionate and complex assessment of the crime and the societal issues surrounding it…This House of Grief is a book that preys on the mind—its themes are enormous, classical and highly contemporary. Some readers will find they have to put it down, now and again, because the story it tells is so tragically sad—but so compelling that they won’t put it down for long.’
‘A superbly balanced book about a terribly freighted subject: a violation of parental care of the kind that provokes outrage rather than thoughtfulness. It is also an elegant reiteration of many of the themes and concerns that Garner has, over four decades, made her own.’
‘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.’
‘Superbly done. Garner is one of the finest reporters in this country…Bad behaviour has always been her subject, from Monkey Grip all the way to This House of Grief. She doesn’t celebrate Farquarson’s fate as a triumph. In the crimes and misdemeanours we commit against one another, she has always found clues to being human.’
‘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.’
‘Garner sat through [all the trials]: sifting the evidence, observing the duelling lawyers, digging deep into the relationships which contributed to the catastrophe. She has turned a courtroom drama into something deeply human.’
‘Helen Garner’s This House of Grief is a gripping account of a murder trial in which few of the participants act and react in ways we might predict. It’s an examination not just of what happened, but also of what we prefer to believe and what we cannot face believing.’
‘Will have your heart in your mouth.’
‘A testament to it’s author’s extraordinary powers of observation…Garner’s account of a murder trial is full of characteristically shrewd encapsulations and telling details, framed by her deeply reflective and empathetic responses.’
‘Tender and electrifying. This House of Grief is Helen Garner’s masterpiece.’
‘The story is delivered with great compassion and a thorough understanding of the emotional complexity involved…It’s a testament to Garner’s skill as a writer that she has told, with such heart and symmetry, a story that is so compelling it will resonate with audiences around the world.’
‘It is as involving, heart-rending and unsettling a read as you could possibly find.‘
‘Helen Garner’s account of the trial is a non-literary variation of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. It is all the more shocking for her direct, no-nonsense, often horrified, approach.’
‘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.’
‘This House of Grief exposes the deeply complex rivers of emotion that run through us all. Garner has a talent for scrutinising those aspects of life that most of us would rather turn away from and illuminating those truths for all to understand.’
‘In its literary alchemy it crystallises fundamental questions that we need to keep asking about our legal system.’
‘Helen Garner’s riveting non-fiction gem is a darkly intriguing work.’
‘This is vintage Garner reportage, with brilliantly observed details and deft weaving of courtroom drama and small-town back story.’
‘[Garner] doesn’t merely listen. She watches, imagines, second-guesses, empathises, agonises. Her voice—intimate yet sharp, wry yet urgent—inspires trust.’
‘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.’