I’ve just had one of those moments. You know the ones, where you close the final pages of a book and immediately have the urge to write fan letters to the author. Or, in my case, shout their name from the hilltops (or in my blog). It feels rather redundant in the case of Helen Garner, who hardly qualifies as undiscovered, but I can’t help myself. I’ve just finished True Stories, and the final story is such an indescribably beautiful piece of work that it made me cry.
It’s true, not all the pieces in the collection approach the level of the last piece. Some seem rather slight, and one extended piece devoted to a country landscape had me flicking inmpatiently over pages of description of paddocks. But it’s a collection both easy to read and entertaining, and Garner’s wry postscripts at the end are characteristically amusing. The pieces are arranged roughly chronologically to form a kind of incidental memoir, with Garner as naïve teacher growing into seasoned journalist and then accomplished writer. But between these there is literary criticism, comments on writing scripts for films, and many other interesting diversions.
The final piece that moved me so much is a description of the maternity ward of a hospital, and events taking place there over a couple of days. While it’s true that the setting is already rich in drama, it’s Garner’s understatement that lets the beauty shine through without seeming overdone. The obstetrician who has worked herself to exhaustion has a coldsore on her lip, daubed with cream. Like the best of Garner’s work, she creates a window we peer through to see a world just like our own.
When I grow up I want to write like Helen Garner. Enough said.