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Non-fiction book of the month: This House of Grief by Helen Garner. ANSWERS BACK FROM HELEN!

(67 Posts)
RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 21-Mar-16 16:19:17

Our next non-fiction book choice is written by one of Australia's most revered writers of both fiction and non-fiction, Helen Garner. Her first novel Monkey Grip won numerous awards in Australia and was made into a film. Her non-fiction book, The First Stone caused much controversy dealing with a 1992 sexual harassment scandal at Ormond College, one of the residential colleges of the University of Melbourne.

This House of Grief follows the real life trial of a recently jilted father who drove his children into a dam in a small town in Victoria on Father's Day in 2005. The three children drown but he escapes, unharmed. It takes a seven year investigation and trial to determine whether this is a tragic accident or an act of vengeful murder. Helen Garner's incredibly detailed account of the trial is compelling and deeply unsettling. Apply for a free copy and join the discussion on this thread.

Helen has also agreed to answer your questions about the book, so please do post up Qs here before 29th April and we'll send over a selection to Helen. We'll upload her answers on 6th May.

alialiath Mon 21-Mar-16 20:42:43

Sounds like a rather challenging read, and I''m sure it must have been challenging to write.
I'd like to ask Helen Garner how she managed to switch off from such a tragic story, after her daily writing stint was over?

voyager50 Sun 27-Mar-16 17:21:16

I have just read an article about this in a Sunday paper's magazine - such a tragedy {message edited to remove spoiler}... I would be really interesting to hear the story in full.

SorchaMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 30-Mar-16 10:52:27

The giveaway of This House of Grief has now closed and those who have been selected will be notified today. For those who haven't been lucky this time, do buy a copy of the book or the ebook. To coincide with its time as our non-fiction book of the month, Text Publishing have made This House of Grief £4.99 across all key e-retailers (Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, Google) from 21 March to 21 April 21.

We look forward to hearing your feedback.

saffronwblue Wed 30-Mar-16 11:45:57

Brave choice. Garner is a brilliant writer but this book is very difficult subject matter.

rachelkanga Sun 03-Apr-16 12:58:31

I have not read non-fiction before, and was delighted to get the opportunity with this book. I found it hard to put down, and sad to read knowing the subject matter was based on true facts. Well written.

FoxInABox Mon 04-Apr-16 15:43:21

I'm currently third of the way through this, and can see me finishing it quickly as I can't put it down. Having never really been into the true crime genre before, I'm surprised how much I am 'enjoying' this, although that does seem the wrong word. I am interested to see where it goes, being a case I was not familiar with beforehand. It is the chilling story of a man estranged from his wife, who drives into a dam on Father's Day, drowning his three boys whilst he escapes- and claims a coughing fit caused him to black out and veer over into the dam. Helen Garner writes in such a personable, touching way, giving the facts of the court case, making for a fast paced read.

FoxInABox Mon 04-Apr-16 15:49:04

I would like to ask Helen how her feelings towards Farquharson changed throughout the trial, and how she feels towards him now.

19sharon Tue 05-Apr-16 13:48:00

I am currently reading this book now, having been selected to review it by Mumsnet. I cannot pretend that the book is "enjoyable", although I do not believe the author set out to write an enjoyable book to begin with. I actually feel as though I am sat in court and amongst this trial whenever I pick it up. The book is written in such a way that the story is reported as it comes to light during the trial and from news reports so it seems "real life" so to speak. It is quite harrowing and disturbing, as it is based on a true story and you know that three little boys have lost their lives whatever the outcome of this trial. It gives a great insight into the legal system and its complexities. I have not read a true crime book before that has me gripped like this one, and I'm very glad that I'm not Australian or I would already know the outcome and whether the Father had blacked out, or deliberately set out to kill his little boys. At this stage I keep changing my opinion, I feel desperately sorry for him at times but then quickly swing to thinking he's guilty of murder - I'm waiting for more to come out during the trial so that as a reader I can make a more educated judgment.

19sharon Tue 05-Apr-16 13:50:36

I would like to ask Helen Garner how her feelings changed throughout the trial? I read that she had sat through the entire six week trial so did her judgments change throughout as mine are whilst I'm reading it?

JackandDiane Tue 05-Apr-16 13:56:18

oh i reaad this last year. I really enjoyed it. I love the way she has cocktails with everyone, like a grand dame of Australia

I wonder if I started a thread on it
Other ozzie books i liked was that one about the middle class hooker

JackandDiane Tue 05-Apr-16 14:01:54

this one is rather interesting too

FoxInABox Wed 06-Apr-16 14:45:49

Having finished the book, it is playing on my mind greatly- a book hangover. Can only agree with the ending that we all grieve the three boys, even though we did not know them. Heartbreaking but real insight into how court works, and so frightening to think that so much vital information is kept from a jury in the interests of fairness- when that same information has such a huge bearing. I wonder how this made Helen feel throughout the trial, being privy to those deliberations and compromises made between the lawyers and the judge, but knowing that the jury wouldn't find this information out?

StillNoFuckingEyeDeer Thu 07-Apr-16 12:30:47

I'm not usually much of a true crime reader and reading this book really made it clear to me why I prefer crime fiction. This story is heartbreaking.
It's a very well written book, capturing the drama of the court room so intensely that you almost feel as if you're there.
If this was a work of fiction, I would say that I enjoyed this book, but it feels wrong to say the same about a true crime that left me feeling so uncomfortable. It is definitely a powerful, moving, disconcerting and intelligent.

mrsmuddlepies Thu 07-Apr-16 15:32:52

I was a little wary of starting this book given the subject matter. However, from page one, it was completely absorbing and I am desperate to talk to other people that have read it, about the subject content. I have also recently started a best seller which has been very highly reviewed and yet which I am struggling to finish (rather dull). In contrast, The House of Grief is riveting and I finished it in just over a day.
It concerns a true criminal case in Australia which took 10 years to reach a dramatic conclusion. Through the eyes of the author, you witness the evidence presented to the jury as part of a trial involving a father and the deaths of his three small sons. It is an unsettling case and takes the reader on an intriguing journey as you try to distinguish between truth and falsehood. I defy anyone finishing the book not to immediately turn to the internet to investigate the images and interviews arising from the trial.
The author is clearly conflicted by the personalities of those involved and you feel her desire to be compassionate and yet as a journalist remain impartial and objective as the court case progresses.
The book enables ordinary people (the readers) to glimpse and understand the workings of the law and the criminal justice system. This sounds dull but it is anything but, because you are challenged to make sense of the evidence and decide where you stand on the crucial issues. The book questions whether you are prepared to believe the unbelievable. Many who read it will find that their conclusions are completely at odds with others who have read the book. This makes it ideal as a book club read because there is so much to debate and discuss.
I am not usually a fan of true life crime books but this is a fantastic read. Sadly, it is also a harrowing and upsetting story and the questions raised by the case stay with you long after the final page. I will be recommending it to my friends (and can’t wait to share views on the outcome of the trial). It is one of the most powerful books I have read in a long time.

colettesylvia Sun 10-Apr-16 22:41:51

I have just finished this brilliant book. I didn't expect to be so gripped by a work of non fiction in which the ending was fairly obvious from the start. But Helen Garner's sensitive and incisive observations about the behaviour of all concerned made this a wonderfully rich read and I couldn't put the book down. I look forward to reading more by her.

fifide Tue 12-Apr-16 14:55:54

I have just received my copy (thanks Mumsnet!) and have only read a little of it so far but I am gripped already. Having no prior knowledge of the events I have no preconceptions about whether the father deliberately or accidentally drove into the water. I am looking forward to the trial unfolding as I continue to read.

dottypotter Tue 12-Apr-16 15:16:14

I'm reading this at the moment and it makes you keep reading wondering whats going to happen.

ireadnovels Tue 12-Apr-16 15:54:06

Helen Garner is a great writer, her prose short but right to the point. This House of Grief, is a harrowing true crime story . With a broken marriage the father could have walked away, made a new life for himself. Why did he plunge his car into a dam ? His children drowned, but he swam away. Is he pure evil? Readers will decide. The court will decide.

crimeworm Tue 12-Apr-16 16:57:57

This is such a devastatingly tragic story. I've already read Helen's Joe Cinque's Consolation and found it heartbreaking, and I'm pretty sure this'll be worse. What I like about her writing is the personal element she brings to it, although I know she's been criticized for it. But to me, it adds to the honesty of the whole story and her reaction to it.

crimeworm Tue 12-Apr-16 17:01:39

Is that Under Her Skin? (Or something similar.) I enjoyed that too.

SciFiFan Tue 12-Apr-16 19:25:37

I'm another one who was a little unsure whether I would be able to cope with the harrowing deaths of the boys at the heart of this book but I have to say I have found it a compelling read. I only picked it up two days ago but I'm already well over half way through and am eager to get to the end.

Helen paints a vivid picture of the people involved in the trial and you find your views of the father changing along with hers from pity through to wavering disbelief. I wonder how I will feel about him by the end!

mrsmuddlepies Tue 12-Apr-16 19:54:21

Questions for Helen -
You are known as a feminist writer. Did your views as a feminist affect your attitude to the behaviour of Robert Farquharson?

You write movingly about your relationship with your grandsons. Did your close relationship with them make the crime difficult to investigate and write about?

Throughout the book you show enormous compassion towards those involved in this tragedy. Were there times when you simply felt overwhelmed with anger when listening to the evidence? Did you ever feel that it was all too upsetting and that you could not face another day in court?

What did you learn about the way families and relationships work when put under this kind of intolerable strain?

mrsmuddlepies Tue 12-Apr-16 20:03:31

Question for Helen.-

I believe you were a teacher at one time.How do your experiences in education affect your attitude to custodial sentences and reform? Did this case change your mind about punishment. Do you feel that the Australian system is fair or too harsh? Do you believe in capital punishment for crimes involving children?

lottietiger Tue 12-Apr-16 20:05:10

Thanks for sending me a copy smile
I haven't finished yet but I'm really enjoying it, it's the first time I have read a book told from this perspective. It took me back to when I did jury service and how everything that's said changes your mind a little.. Can't wait to get to the end when I will post again.

Question for Helen.. Where did the idea come from to play the book out like a court room drama?

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