The Spare Room by Helen Garner, Australia, 2008

This is a book about life and death, and about how the two are intricately intertwined. It is a book about friendship and love, frustration and anger and the complex connections between these emotions. The Spare Room is a book about the necessity of being able to let go.

The ‘I’ of the book, Helen, is in her mid-sixties and lives in Melbourne. A friend, Nicole, who is a stage-four cancer patient, moves in with Helen for three weeks while she is undergoing alternative cancer treatment. Initially, Helen is happy to be able to help her friend, but this emotion becomes jaded as she realizes that the treatment is bogus, that Nicole is refusing to accept the ineptness of the alternative therapies and her own mortality, and that the three-week stay is likely to be extended. Indefinitely. Moreover, Helen is torn between love for her friend and frustration at having to be complicit in Nicole’s construction of positive outcomes and happy endings.

Photo of Helen Garner from Text Publishing
Eventually the situation reaches a crisis point.

Through her two main characters, Helen Garner presents the important ideas of life, death and friendship. She lays out the facts and lets the reader make his/her own decisions. It is a beautifully written book, and one that I definitely recommend to others.