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The Spare Room

3.61 of 5 stars 3.61  ·  rating details  ·  2,523 ratings  ·  415 reviews
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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
Paperback, 208 pages
Published May 7th 2009 by Canongate Books Ltd (first published 2008)
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Helen is busy preparing the spare room for her friend Nicola who is coming to stay with her for next three weeks. Helen and Nicola have been friends for the past fifteen years. Nicola has terminal cancer and would like Helen to care for her whist she is undergoing treatment.
Helen arrives in plenty of time to pick Nicola up from the airport, but she wasn't expecting to see her friend look so sick, so sick that she could hardly walk. Of course Nicola insists it was just the flight that has taken i
Tattered Cover Book Store
Award winning writer Helen Garner returns to fiction after 15 years to write this short, intense and beautiful novel about friendship and dying. It seems intimately personal since the narrator is also named Helen, and the emotions are so raw and powerful. The premise--Helen agrees to let her friend stay with her for 3 weeks while she undergoes an alternative cancer therapy in Melbourne (where Helen lives). What she didn't know was just how very sick her friend is. Both women are in their 60s and ...more
Jim Coughenour
Jan 12, 2010 Jim Coughenour rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of Alice Munro et al.
Shelves: bleakfiction
This is the type of book I usually avoid, what I'd classify in my crusty bachelor mentality as a "woman's book," full of sisterly strength and taut spinsterly emotions. But when I came across it in the Guardian's list of "The decade's best unread books" I was curious enough to give it a try.

I was right. It was exactly what I'd suspected – and it was very well done. Garner tells her story in a flat voice, wry, understated and convincing. Solid characters and completely believable; it read like a
This review was originally posted at my blog

I have a hardcover edition of The Spare Room. I think it’s important to have the hardcover. Like Julian Barnes’ The Sense Of An Ending, The Spare Room is less than 200 pages. I would feel that the novel in paperback would diminish the story somehow; that it was a slight of a book – and it is not.

Helen hosts a friend, Nicola, for three weeks at her place. Nicola is in Melbourne for cancer treatment. Helen is her friend
I found this book to be very realistic in the way Garner handled the anger that comes along with death and grief.

The tale of two friends, one dying of cancer, the other her temporary refuge while she undergoes 'experimental' (read quack) treatment for cancer.

In Nicola, the free-spirited, grande dame with cancer, I found almost nothing sympathetic. Dramatically refusing to admit there 's anything seriously wrong, she creates huge vats of boiling anger in all of her friends and family.

The brutal h
While I personally find Helen Garner as a person as bad as nails on a blackboard, her writing is often engaging - reading her is a good exercise in the moral right any author has to be separate from her work, even non-fiction. She stretches my abilities in this department because everything in her books revolves around the Copernican universe of Helen, or seems to.

This is a hard but rewarding read if you've ever nursed anyone through a terminal illness, or perhaps even just had the shits with a
This is a pretty brash and unsentimental look at the nature of friendship under dire strain. Nicola has cancer and comes to stay with Helen while she undergoes alternative treatment, much to Helen's concern. Their differing views on treatment and pain management for Nicola drive Helen to the brink of love for her friend. I loved the honesty of this book. It was a little hard to read at times - the raw honesty of friendship, even in despair. A short book - read in a weekend, and I'm a slow reader ...more
Helen Crozier
A beautiful book. I saw Helen interviewed last night at Gleebooks - it was great to be in this packed room and see her in person. It's a quick but very emotional read. I'm going to read it again and will do a better review. I read it in one sitting.... the story was about death but was so alive....
The Spare Room is a shortish novel from 2008 by the Australian writer Helen Garner. It was published to critical acclaim. All the action takes place over the course of three weeks and describes the experience of a woman in Melbourne, Helen, as she finds herself looking after a friend from Sydney, Nicola, who is dying of bowel cancer.

It is an unusual novel as it is told exclusively from the inner perspective of Helen herself. The feelings and emotions experienced by Nicola are never described, an
So, I guess we all kind of know about The Spare Room because it was all "Omg Helen Garner! Let's try and make her angry and see what she does!" Personally, I think that's a shame, because it overshadowed what I reckon is a really honest and probably quite necessary look at cancer (make that any terminal illness) and death, and what they do to relationships.

As so many people have said before and will continue to, Helen Garner's writing is as breathtaking as it is sparse. It's like walking into a
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Helen prepares her spare room for her friend, Nicola. Nicola has advanced cancer and is coming to stay with Helen while she undergoes an unorthodox treatment.

I can’t say enough good things about this book. The relationship between Nicola, the gadabout, and Helen, the steady and loyal friend, is fascinating. The contrast between Bess, the young granddaughter and Nicola, dying friend, is fascinating. The author allows the story to tell itself, a simple story, yet full of complexity.

I felt every e
A woman with cancer, Nicola, comes to stay with her friend, Helen, for a few weeks. She attends alternative therapy sessions - Vitamin C, apricot pits, 'cupping' - to no avail. The description of pain and clearing up the bedsheets etc is acute and harrowing but clear eyed and without sentiment. It is billed as a novel, but the main character besides being called Helen is also a writer, and it reads like non fiction. Relief comes in the form of the child next door who cuts through the adults' tal ...more
The book was brutal. I used to LOVE brutal. But it seems like I don't any more. Life's been brutal enough recently and what I really, really need right now is a small, delightful book to change my mood or something.
But for this book, I could say that I felt pain while reading it. The anger, the grief, the cancer. You know it's too much even for the reader and I can't imagine what "not-so-imaginary" Helen has gone through. Because really, I believe it was more of a personal experience of the auth
Vestal McIntyre
This was probably one of the two or three best books I've read in the last year, and it definitely has the most memorable character. Nicola is glamorous, frustrating, loveable, unbearable--and utterly real. The prose is crystal-clear and informal, allowing the characters to shine through. A quiet masterpiece that left me completely awe-inspired.
I requested this book from the LTER program based on its glowing reviews. It wasn't until I had the book in my hand that I wondered if I really wanted to read about a woman caring for a terminally ill friend. It was almost as if I knew everything I needed to know without reading a word. There would be pain and suffering, anger and denial, eventual acceptance and the inevitable end. But I read the book in one sitting and was both drained and exhilarated at the end. I had underestimated the extent ...more
Even though this book made me furious, I admired the structure, the language and the compelling nature of it.

When I learned that Garner deliberately named the narrator after herself (and made her a writer) because she wanted to explore the anger that caring for her dying friend had provoked in her, I suddenly understood that I wasn't JUST angry because scamming the desperate terminally ill happens every day in real life, but because Helen's anger was seeping into me.

While I don't think I would h
Lisa Vegan
This probably deserves 4 or even 5 stars, given how much I enjoyed it, how I couldn’t put it down, even though I didn’t at all like one of the main characters, the woman who’s dying of cancer.

This story is about two friends in their sixties, who’ve known each other for about fifteen years. The narrator (Helen, same first name as the author) lives in Melbourne, Australia, by herself, next door to her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren, and her friend (Nicola) from Syndney, who is to get three
I've never before read a portrayal of women's friendship quite like this. Helen lovingly prepared to receive her longtime friend Nicola who is battling terminal cancer. As Nicola undergoes alternative therapies which leave her incoherent and exhausted, Helen feels Nicola is "telling everyone she's going to get better and meanwhile we're trawling along the bottom picking up all the anguish and rage she's thrown overboard". The dark sides of friendship are exposed. A little gem of a novel.
This is a pretty brash and unsentimental look at the nature of friendship under dire strain. Nicola has cancer and comes to stay with Helen while she undergoes alternative treatment, much to Helen's concern. Their differing views on treatment and pain management for Nicola drive Helen to the brink of love for her friend. I loved the honesty of this book. It was a little hard to read at times - the raw honesty of friendship, even in despair. A short book - read in a weekend
Kate Forsyth
I heard Helen speak in London and thought she was warm and funny and beautifully articulate, so I was very pleased to have her sign my copy of her first novel in sixteen years, The Spare Room. Published in 2008, the novel won a swathe of awards including the Barbara Jefferis Award. It reads more like a memoir, being told from the first person point of view of a writer named Helen living in Melbourne and being inspired by events that actually happened in Helen Garner’s life. However, no doubt man ...more
Enjoyed her frank discussion of the troubles and joys of caring for her friend with terminal cancer, as the friend sinks deeper into denial. There is a final resolution, but the book as a whole is rather difficult.
Helen McClory
I read this is if encased in a little yellow bubble, so intense it was that I could barely look up. Why yellow? Well, the cover of my book was yellow, I suppose, and I associate yellow with sickness, but also less negatively, with Australia. Well, with yellow-beached, yellow-sunned Sydney, where I lived for a while, if not Melbourne, where this book is set. It felt good at any rate to be reading Aussie fiction again after a long time away. Melbourne is subtly and beautifully rendered as the back ...more
Deborah Biancotti
A brutal, honest look at a friendship pushed to the limits by one woman's failure to accept her terminal illness or the effects of that illness on her family & friends. It's also the study of a narcissist, Nicola, equal parts selfish & fascinating, as observed by her angry friend, Helen.

Garner's prose is hard-edged, occasionally stark, & sometimes oddly melodramatic. She doesn't just sit in a chair, she 'dives' for a chair, she doesn't hand over a bottle of juice, she 'thrusts' it i
THE SPARE ROOM takes us to Australia where Helen is called upon to provide not only the spare room in her home to ailing friend Nicole, but finds that in addition she must also give up all the spare room in her life in order to fulfill her friends many physical and emotional needs.

The primary question explored by THE SPARE ROOM is “Can any friendship survive demands placed upon it when confronted with a life and death scenario” or will the cancer that is voraciously devouring Nicole’s body as s
Bonnie Brody
There is not a spare word in this brilliant book. Each word is rich in meaning and metaphor, contributing to the richness of both narrative and content.

The story is about Helen and Nicola. Nicola is dying of cancer and Helen has offered to take care of her for three weeks while Nicola tries some alternative treatments in Melbourne. Helen goes to the airport to pick Nicola up and is shocked at how ravaged and weak her friend is. She is, after all, in the throes of stage 4 cancer. There is no stag
A beautiful book, honest, sad, funny and totally compelling. The inevitability of death, the harrowing effects of cancer....The sad but true fact that the sheer exhaustion of caring for someone we love during a life threatening illness, changes our personality and our perspective. Helen prepared for her friend Nicola's stay during her illness with cancer, with such love and concern and good intentions but due to the sheer exhaustion of caring for her friend and the frustrations she encountered, ...more
A novel about your best friend, who has terminal cancer, who thinks that she will get better and who wants to spend the next three weeks staying in your spare room.

Nicola; the best friend is convince that the Theodore Clinic will cure her cancer, that their radical Vitamin C treatments, the 'cupping' procedures and the ozone saunas will work and the cancer will disappear. She is convinced that within three weeks and 2000 poorer, she will be cured and ready to go home. Helen, on the other hand, i
Jennifer (JC-S)
‘It is a privilege to prepare the place where someone else will sleep.’

Nicola, a friend in end-stage cancer pursuing alternative treatment, comes to stay with Helen. This is the broad canvas upon which themes including friendship, emotions, denial and preparation for death are layered.

Helen’s preparations for the visit of Nicola show a wonderful sense of caring, controlled preparation. Nicola herself is still in denial, and needs Helen to help her to accept as much as she needs Helen’s presence
received this book as a Goodreads giveaway. I have registered for many books and I finally won a book. Looking forward to reading and sending in my feedback.

A simple, easy book to read. Cancer always brings so many emtions from everyone connected to the ill family member. I watched my husband and his family deal with the death of their beloved sister 5 years ago. Hospitals, treatments, and doctors were a continuous dialogue between patient and family members. Many times while I was reading this
Christy S
Sometimes I judge a book by its size. Or at least, they attract me when they are oddly small. The Spare Room is squat and skinny, only 175 small pages long (with medium-sized print). Australian writer Garner was as sparing with her words as with her page count: she writes crisply, intentionally, and without flourish. This worked perfectly with her story of a woman who cares for a dear friend, visiting for a series of alternative cancer treatments and suffering the side affects in a spare room un ...more
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the spare room 2 43 Apr 05, 2013 09:02AM  
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Helen Garner was born in Geelong in 1942. She has published many works of fiction including Monkey Grip, Cosmo Cosmolino and The Children's Bach. Her fiction has won numerous awards. She is also one of Australia's most respected non-fiction writers, and received a Walkley Award for journalism in 1993.

Her most recent books are The First Stone, True Stories, My Hard Heart, The Feel of Stone and Joe
More about Helen Garner...
Joe Cinque's Consolation, A True Story of Death, Grief and the Law Monkey Grip This House of Grief The First Stone: Some Questions of Sex and Power The Children's Bach

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“Death will not be denied. To try is grandiose. It drives madness into the soul. It leaches out virtue. It injects poison into friendship, and makes a mockery of love.” 6 likes
“I had always thought that sorrow was the most exhausting of the emotions. Now I knew that it was anger.” 3 likes
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