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Book review: Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner

It is easy to lose sight of Helen Garner’s way with words as she writes about everyday objects and happenings. In Everywhere I Look, she writes with such apparent ease that it almost feels like the reader could jot down their thoughts in just the same way.

However, it is the beauty of her writing that gives rise to this misconception. This clear in a phrase like the one she used to describe the way dancers from The Australian Ballet walk, like “physical aristocrats”.

Unfortunately, we cannot all write like Garner does.

In her short stories, perhaps better described as reflections, Garner writes affectionately and sometimes bemusedly about her grandchildren, her furniture and her life.

She also branches out to reflect on crimes that have attracted media attention in Australia, and it is fascinating to find out her reaction to the brutal murder of Jill Meagher – again, she distils the response of every woman who looked on in horror as the news unfolded, to the murder of three children when their father drove them into a lake.

And while she might respond in a way that is familiar to the former, she also brings her own astute and unpopular assessment to the latter. She does not believe that the father is a monster, but an everyman who has failed in learning to live and cope with emotional pressures.

Listening to Helen Garner read her own stories via audiobook, I couldn’t help but wish that I could discuss all of these things with her, finding out more about what she thought, which was sometimes surprising and always wise.

However, Garner does not present herself as an angel. She gets angry – I loved a passage where she tugs at a rude school girl’s ponytail – and humiliated by a few innocent words from her own grandchild about her haircut.

I also enjoyed her recount of Russell Crowe’s movies (the subjects of Garner’s attention are varied, to say the least), and it brought a new element to my viewing of The Gladiator that night. She sees in the publicly angry and rude actor much more than the casual eye might see, and it is illuminating. What about Meghan Markle, or Kim Kardashian, or so many other public figures?  I want to ask. I want to Garner’s take on them all.

It is heartening to read of the experience of an older woman in the community – a Melbourne community that I, and many of her readers, know so well. She is proud, honest and occasionally scathing.

I wrote previously about why I love Helen Garner, and Everywhere I Look only cements my opinion. As long as she is writing, I’ll be reading.

Everywhere I Look is available at Booktopia

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