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The Children's Bach

3.47  ·  Rating details ·  574 Ratings  ·  51 Reviews

Athena and Dexter lead an enclosed family life, innocent of fashion and bound towards a disturbed child. Their comfortable rut is disrupted by the arrival of Elizabeth, a tough nut from Dexter's past. With her three charming, chaotic hangers-on, she draws the couple out into a world whose casual egotism they had barely dreamed of. How can they get home again?

Paperback, 96 pages
Published July 1st 1986 by Penguin Books (first published July 1st 1984)
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Ben Winch
I don’t think this is a great book but it’s interesting, and it suggests a strange cottage industry of fiction-writing in Australia in the eighties which I’m glad was encouraged.

What’s good about it? The structure – free, gymnastic, skipping from surface to surface of each character like a stone over water. Also the world: Garner’s Melbourne (to me, like Soseki’s Tokyo) is more sensed than apprehended, and at its most vivid when Garner seems least to be describing it. And it’s short, only 90 pa
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Rebeccahowden
This is a brief whisper of a story about two families whose lives become intertwined after a chance reunion of two former housemates. Dexter and Elizabeth lived together as uni students many years ago. Now, Dexter lives a comfortable life with his wife Athena and two sons, one of whom is severely disabled. When Elizabeth, her feckless lover Philip and her teenage sister Vicki all become entangled in their lives, their various relationships are tested and unravelled with the same ultra-Bohemian f ...more
Michelle
Feb 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The Children's Bach is a contradiction of a novel - it's just 96 pages long, but feels like an epic; its simplicity conceals layers and layers of complexity hiding beneath.

There's no other way to say it - this novel is an Australian masterpiece. You can read my full review on my blog, Book to the Future.
Highlyeccentric
Dec 27, 2012 rated it it was ok
Well. This was very well written - a masterful execution of wordcraft.

It was also aggravatingly distant - Garner never gives you enough to really like or understand any of the characters, but just enough to make you curious. It's literary, self-consciously so, to the detriment of a sense of humanity.

And what's with desolate literary stories about desolate suburban life, anyway? Gah. I can't see that Athena's plot arc (which seemed to be the 'main' one?) had any redemption in it. She came back dr
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Astrid
Apr 11, 2012 rated it it was ok
Well. On the front of this book is the tag line 'The classic contemporary Australian novel'.

Right. The characters in this are all depressed suburbanites, dissatisfied with their existence or shocked by others' ways of life.
The characters were all a little bit whingey.

Having said that, Garner's descriptions put me right in there with the characters and the scenery grew around me as I read. But most of the time I just wanted to grab the characters by the shoulders and tell them to get over thems
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Penni Russon
Jul 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a fantastic companion read for The Spare Room - similar themes and preoccupations at a different stage of life - at times the crossovers took my breath away. Reading Helen Garner's body of work is like reading a life, and her brutal, tender honesty allows an intensely intimate glimpse into the interior experience of a person.
Susie Anderson
Apr 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Helen Garner does it again. the depth in this novella is incredible for its length. she knows people and life very well
Alex West
The book reads like Garner has spent a few years carrying around a notebook and making random observations of people and moments around her. She has then strung these together into a narrative and tried to give the observations post-hoc relevance. The result is a bunch of striking descriptions that do little to probe the complexities of the realities of domestic servitude, the book's apparent subject.

The women in this story are all treated like anthropological exhibits, to be catalogued and obse
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Lukasz Pruski
Jan 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
"and Athena will play Bach on the piano, in the empty house, and her left hand will keep up the steady rocking beat, and her right hand will run the arpeggios, will send them flying, will toss handfuls of notes high into the sparkling air!"

Novellas and short novels are my favorite literary forms so when I came across a literary critic's review in which he ranks Helen Garner's "The Children's Bach" (1984) among the "four perfect short novels in the English language" I just had to run to the libra
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Shane
Jul 25, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It may be unfair to compare this early novella with The Spare Room (2008), written more than two decades later. Yet that heart-wrenching short novel by Garner at the height of her powers was what sparked my interest in her earlier fiction. She has a reputation for shaping diaristic material, sometimes to stunning effect, as in her non-fiction masterpiece Joe Cinque’s Consolation (2004).

But honed style and fresh, realist detail aside, The Children’s Bach and The Spare Room could hardly be more di
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Adrian P
Jun 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
'Hang on,' said Philip. 'Excuse me, Athena. Listen. I like your song. Look, I'll give you a tip. Go home and write it again. Take out the cliches. Everybody knows "It always happens this way" or "I went in with my eyes wide open". Cut that stuff out. Just leave in the images. Know what I mean? You have to steer a line between cliche and the other thing. Make gaps. Don't chew on it. Don't explain everything. Leave holes. The music will do the rest.'
Pallida
Oct 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, own-copy
Oh hi, Helen! Where have you been all my life? I'm in the heady splendour of new love, early allegiance, back catalogue. I'm going to read everything you've ever written. X
Jim
Aug 08, 2016 rated it liked it
On the cover of my copy of The Spare Room is an endorsement from Peter Carey: “The perfect novel.” I don’t know if he’s read The Children’s Bach but if he has I wonder if he’d describe it as the perfect novella; the Australian critic Don Anderson certainly thought it was. Others too have expressed as much although perhaps not so succinctly. I read The Children’s Bach over two days, two days when I had a headache and my advice to anyone else with a similar headache—not quite a migraine but defini ...more
Angie
Sep 16, 2017 rated it it was ok
The writing was great, and there were many moments of truth scattered within, and the characters were almost well drawn... But the story just kind of ended without a satisfying resolution. Now I get that those who write litfic consider themselves above the reproach of us mere mortals, but really.... This was so vaguely written that I felt like I was watching a movie on a tiny tv twenty metres away whilst at the same time trying to do calculus - I was only getting incomplete glimpses of each scen ...more
Tina
Feb 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Helen Garner is brilliant. She explains her own style perfectly in this line from one of the main characters of the novel Philip, who is advising a young songwriter - ‘Take out the clichés … Just leave in the images … Make gaps … Don’t explain everything. Leave holes. The music will do the rest.’ This is a dense and beautiful rhapsody. Highly recommend.
Emma Balkin
Jan 16, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018-books
I had really looked forward to reading this book but was disappointed. Garner's writing is beautiful and her observations are insightful, but I disliked all the characters in the novel and the plot was not strong. A book by a local author, a book you meant to read in 2017 but didn't.
Katrina
Nov 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
all garner books are perfect
Sinéad Morgan
Sep 26, 2017 rated it liked it
Strange in many ways but with some fascinating characters. I particularly liked the sheer absurdity of Vicki.
Sandra
Jul 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Helen Garner has the ability to create very real and complex characters. The Children's Bach is an honest and thought provoking story where time should be taken to unravel the layers.
Tam
Aug 23, 2017 rated it did not like it
I won't say it's a bad book, but I will say I neither enjoyed it nor really understood it.
Armin Hennig
Aug 20, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Achtung Spoiler, man kann über dieses Buch nicht schreiben, ohne etwas von der durchaus (siehe Klappentext) vorhersehbaren Handlung zu verraten.
The Childrens Bach, als Bach für Kinder lautet der Originaltitel dieses seltsam distanziert geschriebenen Romans, der keine Sympathie und kein Mitleid mit seinem Personal zeigt und gerade deshalb so erschütternd wirkt, weil die Prozesse die zwischen den beteiligten Personen ablaufen so klar und illusionslos geschildert werden.
Das entsprechende Notenheft
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Tom O’Connell
Nov 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The Children’s Bach is the kind of book I wish I’d written. It’s taut, self-assured and barrels along without an inch of hand-holding. Although I admit to getting uncomfortably lost during the first ten or so pages, everything clicked once I settled into its rhythm.

In this book, the lives of four grownups and three children intersect in unexpected ways. One side represents morals, ideals, naivety, family, structure; the other: jadedness, hedonism, independence, freedom. Both have valuable lesson
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EliseCaldwell
Feb 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Garner draws the reader into the folds of modern Australian life in this short but beautiful novel. At the centre of the story is the Baker Street family — Dexter, Athena and their two children — a family that seems tightly bound to one another and almost idyllic in their love and easy companionship. The characters of Dexter and Athena walk the streets of Carlton with Dexter singing and Athena laughing and the picture of their lives together is one of happiness, warmth and comfort. Garner descri ...more
Kris McCracken
May 26, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’ll confess that I have long held reservations about Helen Garner that have nothing to do with her work as a novelist. I think that her commentary on the Ormand College affair [see The First Stone] both unconvincing and entirely wrongheaded. However, I will not be detoured into an extended exploration of the generational culture wars within the Australian feminist movement! To the book!

Like I said, I don’t like Garner, but I have been feeling guilty about not reading enough Australian fiction,
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Initially NO
Feb 28, 2014 rated it did not like it
A very upsetting book, if you have known a child/adult who has had learning difficulties, particularly from womb trauma. Difficulties like sensory dysphoria, that get the diagnosis of 'autism' are the focus of this book's hate-crime. The copy of this book that I read, had been taken off a Monash University library shelf and donated to an op-shop. There were reasons for its removal, this book is a horribly derogatory, insensitive and ugly account of people who 'hate crime' a child with learning d ...more
Lydia
May 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ah, Helen Garner.

How I love thee. Let me count the ways.

... but genuinely, I do love Helen Garner.

I love the way she constructs her characters, or, rather, how she doesn't. When I read any of her works, there are so many layers, yet so few details. The characters aren't quite fully-formed, like objects underwater, distorted and secretive.

And Garner will reveal their purpose, slowly, piece by piece, page by page, word by word.

In this particular book, she writes about a mundane, domestic chapter i
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Philippa
Jan 27, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2012
Have been wanting to read this for years and years, and finally found a copy in a secondhand store in Hobart while back home for Christmas :)

I wanted so much to love this book and while I liked it and found it very readable, I didn't love it. Perhaps this is what happens when you read a writer's latest work first, and then go back to their earlier work. The seeds of The Spare Room were definitely planted, but that 2008 novel is nothing short of an understated masterpiece. This one is well paced,
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Sonja
Sep 27, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-book
I looove the way the author writes and I was really liking Athena and Vicki in the beginning ... but then there was one section where the parents were talking rather harshly about their disabled child that felt cruel and out-of-character and kind of ruined the book for me! I don't know if maybe I just didn't get it but yeah. Also, there were times when I had to completely re-read passages because they just did. not. make. sense. Like at one point someone is hugging someone else then in the very ...more
Calzean
This novella is about a relatively normal couple (Athena and Dexter) who have two boys, one with a mental handicap. They are happy with their lot. The husband meets an old university girlfriend and she re-enters his life, bringing with her a younger sister and a part-time boyfriend who is a musician and a lady hunter. Athena has a fling with the musician.

Great use of language by a novelist of great ability. But I felt the book was a bit shallow with it’s plot lines. So what, I thought at then en
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Maja
Jun 10, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
this is what happens when the safety of routine becomes so banal, that you naively decide to integrate reckless disregard into your morale. we are all prone to carelessness at times, lured in by cataclysmic adventures and their possibilities. in retrospect, acting hastily on these possibilities usually ends in brooding over what could have or would have or wouldn't have happened if we did this or didn't do that. the dynamics of an opera are reflections of experience. we all need a crescendo. ~ku ...more
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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
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