This House of Grief
is the story of a murder trial seen through the eyes of Helen Garner.
In 2005, Robert Farquharson, drove his car, with his three young boys
inside, across the road and into a dam just outside of Geelong in
Victoria, Australia. Although Farquharson managed to get out the car,
all three boys drowned, and the prosecution argued that the father
had driven into the dam on purpose, in order to get even with a wife
who had left him for another man. Farquharson maintained his
innocence through two trials and claimed that he had had a fit of
coughing and had blacked out. He was completely distraught that he
was unable to save the boys.
The book, though
well-written, is exceptionally depressing, and it soon becomes fairly
clear that there is no chance that the word 'accident' will be
considered in a case like this: someone has to pay for the loss of
three innocent children. Whether Farquharson is guilty: whether it was no accident, and whether the prosecution actually got it right are all things that only Farquharson can know for certain.
The game, which is the court, is chilling in
its theatrical displays and puzzling twists and turns of information
where winning becomes far more important than finding the truth, and
I feel that Garner handles all of this particularly well. She manages
to build up a picture of an inadequate and/or flawed justice system
where a guilty or not guilty verdict hangs on things as tenuous as
the emotional mood of the jury or the proficiency of the lawyer
(either prosecution or defence) in creating a reason for either of
those two verdicts.
Although I feel that Garner has done a remarkable
job in presenting the inadequacies of a legal system where lawyers
play to a disparate group of people – a group which may or may not
have the intellectual, moral and/or emotional capacity to decide
another person's innocence or guilt – there are a few places in the
book where the author herself takes sides (albeit subtly), revealing
that even she is not immune to the game being played.
I would not reread the
book, and I do not feel that it is one of Garner's best books. This
is partially because of the subject matter itself, but it is probably
more because of a realization that no one - not even someone giving a
neutral account of a trial - is exempt from the belief that 'someone
has to pay'.