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The Feel Of Steel

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"Although I have been married three times, I have never been a bride. What – me, in a big white dress? In a veil? The closest I ever got to the fantasy was back in the eighties, when I used to admire the white gypsophila crowns that Susan Renouf wore to parties: I drew a curious satisfaction from their ethereal, circular, brow-pressing beauty. Twenty years later all that's left is the frisson I get from the coronet shape that salad leaves briefly take when I tip them out of the whizzer on to a tea towel."

Cities, friends, lost loves, Antarctica, the joy of being a grandmother, weddings, fencing... Such is the array of subjects in Helen Garner's second non-fiction collection. Some pieces were published in The Age, some are previously unpublished, but woven together they present as an evocative memoir, and offer a wonderfully personal portrait of an always unconventional talent.

In word-perfect and often hilarious prose, Helen Garner reminds us of the human condition, in all its various guises.

223 pages, Paperback

First published November 10, 2007

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About the author

Helen Garner

44 books839 followers
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 Cinque's Consolation. In 2006 she won the Melbourne Prize for Literature. She lives in Melbourne.

Praise for Helen Garner's work

'Helen Garner is an extraordinarily good writer. There is not a paragraph, let alone a page, where she does not compel your attention.'

'She is outstanding in the accuracy of her observations, the intensity of passion...her radar-sure humour.'
Washington Post

'Garner has always had a mimic's ear for dialogue and an eye for unconscious symbolism, the clothes and gestures with which we give ourselves away.'
Peter Craven, Australian

'Helen Garner writes the best sentences in Australia.'
Ed Campion, Bulletin

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5 stars
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51 (17%)
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Displaying 1 - 22 of 22 reviews
Profile Image for Jennifer (JC-S).
2,871 reviews197 followers
June 28, 2012
‘Everything around me is seething with meaning, if I can only work out what it is.’

In this collection of 31 non-fiction writings, Helen Garner combines observation and musing about various aspects of life in a way invites readers to experience that which is mystical and powerful in occurrences which are sometimes mundane, and sometimes not. The appeal is broad: a casual reader will find pleasure and a more serious reader will find plenty to think about.

The ‘Feel of Steel’ poses a number of questions, including: what is the meaning of ‘home’ and how far do we have to travel in order to find it? How do different family members deal with the impact and consequences of Alzheimer’s disease? Or divorce? Or the birth of a grandchild? From a trip to Antarctica (‘Regions of Thick-Ribbed Ice’), through a visit to the Spa Resort on Koh Sumui in the Gulf of Thailand (‘A Spy in the House of Excrement’) to a bridal salon (‘Arrayed for the Bridal’) via the ego-denting experience of selecting new glasses (‘My Blue Glasses’) and musing on the perfect sandals (‘Golden Sandals’) these writings contain a series of reflections on life, personal anecdotes, and encompass a range of human emotions.

One of my favourites is ‘Woman in a Green Mantle’. I can identify completely with this thought:
‘Press the memory of a book, and it goes blurry.’ And with this statement:
‘I read much too fast. It’s an insane, desperate guzzling.’

While I enjoy Ms Garner’s writing, it’s her non-fiction books (‘The First Stone’ and ‘Joe Cinque’s Consolation’) that have stayed with me the longest. This collection of short pieces invites the reader to laugh sometimes, and to think about what is important and why.

Most of these pieces were originally published in other Australian publications: the Age; Best Australian Essays; the Bulletin; Good Weekend; Heat; House and Garden; and the Women’s Weekly.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Profile Image for notgettingenough .
1,026 reviews1,184 followers
May 16, 2021
There are two ways of looking at this:

(1) that Helen Garner just isn't good enough to do this sort of writing - she needs the big story to rely on, like the court case books she does, which I really think are her niche.

(2) that they need to be read in the right context and that's a Saturday paper or some such where each is a few pages amongst many. But if that's the case, why is it that I took months to read this, drip by drip and still didn't like it?

I'm going with (1).
184 reviews2 followers
August 12, 2020
Helen Garner is a national treasure! Her personal essays are absolute gems to savour and delight in. They sparkle and shine, and draw you in with warmth and humour and hope, even in darkness and despair. Time spent with her is time well spent.
Profile Image for Tracey.
964 reviews7 followers
August 14, 2017
I have to admit I really struggle to review Helen Garner's works. I find myself being quickly swept into the words on the page and I do not stop reading. I do not take notes, I just keep reading and soaking it all in.
In the Feel of Steel, Garner has given us an insight into some of the curly moments of her life, from the doubts one faces after a divorce, placing your mother in a nursing home and struggling to write words on the page. These insights are quite extraordinary with her honesty and vulnerabilities laid down. There is also some wonderful moments of observation that are really poignant and revealing.
I lost myself in the words, the scenes and the descriptions.
This is a wonderful book, just read it.
Profile Image for Maree Kimberley.
Author 5 books25 followers
April 21, 2015
I love Helen Garner's writing. She finds the brilliance in the smallest moments, brings the everyday to life and writes with such poignancy. Not a word is ever wasted. I found this little gem in a second hand bookshop so not sure if it is still in print, but if you get a chance to read it, do.
Profile Image for Wayne's.
1,095 reviews9 followers
February 12, 2019
A little repetitive and not engaging. I find myself simply not caring about much of these personal anecdotes. Starting to think she might have done better sticking with fiction.
Profile Image for Wendyjune.
196 reviews
October 19, 2019
I have read a few of Garner's books now and I can really hear her as a person struggling in this work. The point in life she discusses is a difficult point, one that is hidden from most people and I think she captures it beautifully via snippets of events and happenings. In this book Garner is taking stock of her life and finding places where she is still worthwhile. In that sense I think this is a powerful book, not only a reflection of Garner but of women in a wider sense. The perspective of a 57 year old woman is a rare thing in a book, but it shouldn't be.
The title refers to her reconnecting with a passion of youth, Fencing. We see her struggling with it and then celebrating that she now brings something else to the table, something she didn't have before. She is exhilarated and surprised by it.
Profile Image for Linda.
139 reviews
September 17, 2018
I can’t fault Helen Garner, she is who I turn to for reassurance that all is not lost, that everything will be alright. Garner writes with her heart on her sleeve, she is brutally honest and at times full of irony. These short stories delve into middle age and it’s associated frailties, but Garner also sees the funny side of life. Her stories about her aging parents are both poignant and touching, I can particularly relate to them.
Profile Image for Heather Browning.
916 reviews6 followers
August 3, 2013
Just gorgeous. Garner's collection of short stories are short biographical that are both poetic and honest. Her account of her Antarctic voyage firmed my resolve to one day visit myself, and I was glad to learn in another story that I'm not the only person who forgets the content of most of the novels I read!
Profile Image for Lynne.
361 reviews1 follower
February 4, 2015
This is a collection of short essays based on Garner's own life experiences and observations. Whether it's a hilarious colonic irrigation in a Thai health spa, thought provoking comments on her struggles with reading the Bible or the deeply poignant account of her mother's slide into Alzheimers and many more, she writes with her usual honesty, clarity and wit.
Profile Image for Bronny.
18 reviews2 followers
January 3, 2015
I find it a lot easier to write reviews when I have something critical to say, and I really enjoyed this book so I can't think of a lot to say about it. I love the way Helen Garner describes people and places and feelings. My favourite essay, by far, was Tower Diary. I would read entire book of just Helen Garner's diary (well I guess that's what Monkey Grip was, wasn't it).
Profile Image for Matt.
31 reviews
May 29, 2017
One of the many ways Garner is brilliant is in the weight that she manages to attach to seemingly incidental things (wine spilt on a favourite dress, someone locked in a toilet).
How lucky for the rest of us to have someone with such a sharp eye, so bold and skilled at describing what she sees and feels.
Profile Image for Philippa.
508 reviews
December 24, 2011
An old favourite found amongst my parents shelves on returning to Tassie for Christmas :) I never tire of Garner's writing.
322 reviews9 followers
January 14, 2022
This is not my favourite of Helen Garner's short essays & I wouldn't recommend this one to begin reading her books. It's basically a memoir in short vignettes, some had the wit & insight i expect from Garner but others dragged. There's a lot of reflection on ageing, perhaps I would like it a bit more if I were older & could relate to her experiences more. Still, she is a fantastic writer & worth a read if you're already a fan.
10 reviews
April 9, 2022
As always, I feel like reading Helen Garner is like walking around in someone else's head. A somewhat cramped space, often illuminated with bright white insight and chock full of the tiny details of the ordinary and magical world outside. Having just finished, I would happily pick it up and read the whole thing again.
Profile Image for Lizzy.
16 reviews
January 31, 2021
One of the most poignant biographies I have read. Captured everything I wanted monkey grip to capture.
Profile Image for Dee Rose.
535 reviews1 follower
August 19, 2016
Funny and witty observations about humans. Just what you would expect from the always switched on Helen Garner. :-)
Displaying 1 - 22 of 22 reviews

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