Sunday, February 15, 2009

28 - The Spare Room; Helen Garner

Helen Garner's novel, The Spare Room: A Novel, is a story about the bonds of friendship, specifically when one of those friends is dying of cancer.

The story begins with Helen, preparing a "spare room" in her home in Melbourne, Australia, in anticipation of her terminally ill friend Nicola's arrival from Sydney. While preparing the room, Helen wants everything just perfect. The first paragraph begins like this:
"First, in my spare room, I swiveled the bed onto a north-south axis. Isn't that suppose to align the sleeper with the planet's positive energy flow or something? She would think so. I made it up nicely with a fresh fitted sheet, the pale pink one, since she had a famous feel for color, and pink is flattering even to skin that has turned yellowish?"
Nicola is to begin alternative treatment for her bowel cancer after both chemotherapy and radiation have not been successful in shrinking her tumor. However the place she is being treated, The Theodore Institute's practices seem to be a bit flaky to say the least: organic coffee enemas and vitamin C infusion therapy to name a few. All the while Nicola's pain is increasing and although Helen tries to support her friend, in her mind it is clear this quack-therapy is not helping. Nicola swears the reason for the pain is because the treatment is working and that the toxins are leaving her body.

This story is a fascinating look at friendship when one friend is clearly at deaths door. The dying friend searching for that miracle cure at any cost, and the other friend believing that the final days should be spent enjoying time with family and friends and not on foolish treatments that are not helping.

I felt much of this story was more about Helen and the issues she was faced with regarding her own mortality, as she watched a dear friend slipping away.The Spare Room: A Novel, just 175 pages; is not perfect, but it was well done and is recommended.

RATING - 4/5 - COMPLETED - 2/15/09


  1. This one sounds super sad. I'd be crying for days!

  2. Diane, I just read that it was nominated for the commonwealth prize. Glad to see your review. Thanks much!


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