Helen Garner: The Diaries of 1995-1998 Portray a Writer in need of space and time | Canberra weather


lifestyle, books, How to end a story: diaries 1995-1998, helen garner, text editing, the foundation stone, melbourne writer, monkey take

Sex, art, gender and ambition. The problem of love. A room to yourself and how to preserve this room when you are married to a writer colleague, a domineering moreover. Volume three of Helen Garner’s Diaries covers familiar ground, though it’s a wilder and darker run than the two volumes that came before it. How to End a Story is a plunge into the abyss as the artist and woman desperately try to keep their marriage, sanity, and artistic vision alive. It is mostly set in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, where Garner lives with her husband, V. While V is writing her big novel in their apartment, she has to be away. All day, every day. The question of where, how and in what mental space the writer can write becomes a battleground. She rents various offices, but each is ultimately unsatisfactory. She longs for a warm and generous space to write and let ideas rise or fall. Or sometimes to work at home, so she can do her laundry, cook, call people, pack a gas and laugh. Anyway, at home, she wants to be able to do all the loud, busy things V finds disgusting when he’s working. The contrast between what each of them considers a good and rich life for a writer could not be more pronounced. She writes that she is “in the classic position of a woman artist who, in order to maintain a marriage, is obliged to carve out”. She is in therapy and V is against it as well. Their struggle, moral, artistic and emotional, is the central drama of How to end a story: “We are engaged in a fierce struggle to define ourselves, against each other. As compelling and appalling as the disintegration of their marriage is, the margins of the story are still adorned with typical Garneresque sketches and sprinkled with his sharp little verbs that give him such courage to write. Whenever she can, she breaks free from V’s awkward disapproval to socialize, play Scrabble with her neighbor and let off steam: “[V] was barely in the air when I had smoked a joint with the neighbors and rushed with two other friends to Sean’s Panorama. months of infidelity. Garner is synonymous with her hometown of Melbourne, and there’s something quirky and painful about seeing her struggling around Sydney, heartbroken and bewildered. The very act of keeping a diary is fundamental for Garner: “Writing about my life is the only thing that keeps it going.” Yet her diary is also scrutinized by V, who worries about how she records them. privacy. She offers to do the unthinkable and only mentions it in passing. Then he withdraws and says she should continue to write about their life as she sees fit. She also notes, “The only way for me to to continue to keep a journal … is to conceive it as a recording of the soul. As in the presence of God who is never fooled. “This volume is full of light and shade. Honesty and savagery ruthless alongside Garner’s appreciation of the “dearest freshness, deep down” (from a (Poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, which she transcribed in her journal). At the opening of the book, she still runs through the storm of the publication of The First Stone, her story of sexual harassment at prestigious Ormond College from the University of Melbourne. Twenty-five years after its publication, it is difficult to speak of the extraordinary stir the book has caused. A cartoon from the period showed a beleaguered-looking Garner picking up the phone from Salman Rushdie. Hello ? Salman? How’s life under the fatwa? But even when her work is dominating the headlines, V is dismissive, agreeing with an acquaintance that the cornerstone debate is a storm in a teacup. After the first stone, and in the shadow of V’s rigid routine and pontificating on great art, she struggles to challenge her own territory – “Maybe my good place to work is deep in a crack between fiction and anything else. Down a crack. ” Later, she wonders about her crossed genre, “between fiction and the story of what happened”. At one point V asks why anyone would be interested in reading his diaries. It turns out that a lot of us are. Seeing the title of this volume, I wondered if the author, now in her late sixties, was suggesting that she was done with the storytelling? Few Australian writers are as cherished as Helen Garner. Many of us have come of age by reading his work, and watching his territory fill up beautifully. So hopefully we’ll see a fourth volume of his journal around this time next year.




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