Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
It may be a privilege to prepare the place where a guest will sleep, but what about when that privilege involves offering up a spare room to a dying friend? Helen has little idea of the consequences her singular act of generosity will set in motion when she invites her old friend Nicola to stay while she undergoes treatment for cancer. Still wonderfully bohemian at age 65, Nicola distrusts conventional medicine and is set on an alternative course of treatment that Helen immediately recognizes as a fraud. But Nicola is determined to find her own way on this journey, and Helen can only bite her tongue and watch helplessly.
Charting territory -- in friendship and in life -- that is both heartbreaking and bittersweet, Garner has fashioned a novel that's powerful, moving, sharply funny, and rich with lived experience. What are the limits of friendship? How much should one presume? Who will care for members of a generation who haven't planned for the inevitable? With clarity and grace, Garner tackles the thorny and delicate issues involved in helping a friend in need. Though we can't rightly call Garner a "new" writer, she is truly great; this little gem of a novel is proof positive.
(Spring 2009 Selection)
The Spare Room reads like an unsparing memoir in which flashes of dark humor and simple happiness (a magic show, a grandchild's flamenco dance, a shared joke) lighten the grim record of an overwhelmingly difficult chapter in a woman's life, a chapter whose meaning she still struggles to decipher years on, whose sharper entries still stab her conscience, but can't be erased by time.
The New York Times
Garner (Monkey Grip) employs her signature realism in this stunted novel about the infuriating and eye-opening experience of caring for a terminally ill loved one. Helen prepares a room in her Melbourne home for Nicola, an old friend who travels from Sydney to begin a course of alternative treatment for bowel cancer. The central conflict of the story centers around these treatments: Helen fears they may be doing more harm than good, while Nicola has undying faith in the unorthodox practices of the Theodore Institute (these revolve around vitamin C injections), leading Helen to question her ability to care for someone so deep in denial. Garner paints Nicola's unflinching optimism with a heavy hand, and her grand naïveté is unconvincing, a flaw that's hard to overlook in a novel about a cancer patient. As it wears on, the narrative becomes clouded by litanies of worsening symptoms and platitudes about death, and Helen's bickering about the treatment-while valid-become grating and tiresome. (Feb.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Nicola's stage-four cancer takes her from Sydney to Melbourne, Australia, for alternative therapies and a brief stay in friend Helen's spare room. Two women who have known each other for 15 years, spending three weeks together with the weight of one crushing disease: How do we calculate what's important in our lives? Garner (Cosmo Cosmolino) offers up her own equation as these two sexagenarians nearly come to blows when mortality is the bottom line. Nicola puts up with cupping (per Helen, "the more benevolent bullshit") and incapacitating vitamin C drips because she wants to believe they will save her. Helen, who thinks the Theodore Institute reeks of quackery, wonders if the torture of the treatments is worth the cost in terms of Nicola's dignity and time with family and friends. As Helen says, "Death will not be denied. To try is grandiose." Garner's neat prose suits these two crusty dames, who drag themselves through a situation where, ultimately, love is all that counts. Highly recommended for public libraries.
In a short, wise, oddly uplifting novel by Australian writer Garner, an old friend dying of cancer makes a memorable final visit. Garner (The First Stone, 1997, etc.) tackles big themes-truth, death, the limits of friendship-with ease. Nicola and Helen are "old bohemians" whose bond reaches back a decade and a half. Sydney-based, wealthy Nicola is quirky and imperious (she has no use for deodorant, suitcases or underwear), whereas Melbourne-based Helen is more grounded, with family living next door. When Nicola arrives, her cancer is already far advanced: She has had surgery and radiation and is at stage four, the final stage, but the point of her visit is to try another, expensive alternative therapy. Helen, a tireless host, soon finds herself angry, partly because death has arrived in her house, partly because Nicola refuses stronger painkillers, but mainly because her friend stubbornly insists the treatment can cure her. Helen vents some of her mounting rage on the institution treating Nicola, taking her money while aware that her case is terminal. But eventually she confronts Nicola for using the treatments to distract herself from preparing for the end. When an oncologist advises a spinal operation, to be performed locally, which would mean Nicola's stay would be extended, Helen snaps. She can tend her friend no longer. What ensues is described briefly but with enormous love, despite Nicola's unchanging expectations. Wit, simplicity and scorching honesty distinguish an understated triumph. Agent: Kim Witherspoon, David Forrer/Inkwell Management