Review: How to End a Story by Helen Garner

The third and, possibly, final volume of beloved Australian author Helen Garner's diaries spans from 1995 to 1998. These are the years following the publication of Garner's controversial work The First Stone and her move to Sydney with her husband, fellow Australian author Murray Bail, known in her diary entries as V. The diary entries are undated and often short, and chronicle the author's day to day life and musings. And what a life that is. It is a difficult time for Garner, both personally and professionally. The backlash against The First Stone is huge and she no longer feels welcome in her beloved hometown of Melbourne, hence the move to Sydney. After years of being Bail's mistress, she is now his wife, but the marriage is neither equal, nor happy, at least from the perspective of Garner's diary entries. 

Although there is nothing new or unique about author's publishing their diaries--Anais Nin did so to great acclaim, with her diaries becoming more famous than any other work published in her lifetime--Garner's talent lies not so much in the daring to lay her thoughts and experiences bare, but in the way she she is able to turn even the smallest, most fragmented snippets of her life into something interesting. Much like her novels, the snippets are insights into a life lived--the thrill of dancing until late, and of meeting with and speaking to new people. The author's emotions flow onto the page as she notes her suspicions of her husband's affair with their friend X, and her frustration to the way Bail approaches his writing, obsessing day and night over the almost completed manuscript of his latest novel. (Which, for the record, is none other that Eucalyptus, Bail's best known novel to date.) In the diaries we see Bail as cold and a bully, and a marriage that is breaking down, though neither side will admit it. Whether that is the truth as what happened, or the truth as Garner saw it, is, of course, subjective, however what should be clear to the reader is that Garner is unhappy, whether she explicitly says that in her diary or not.

How to End a Story is an interesting insight into a tumultuous few years of the life of an author who has since divorced, returned to Melbourne and written several more bestsellers.



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