writer, one of the best, though not sufficiently well known outside the country. Although she often writes about specific suburbs and places in Melbourne
, her themes are universally recognizable: the small things we do each day, the larger things such as moving house, perennial common things from taking drugs to having grandchildren, how we feel about failure and ageing
, and so on.
Born in Geelong (a coastal city to the south-west of Melbourne) in 1942, she came to prominence in 1977 with her first novel Monkey Grip, later made into a film starring Noni Hazelhurst. This slim volume is about love and pain and the proverbial whole damn thing in a kind of commune in a run-down inner Melbourne suburb in the 1970s. This is classic Helen Garner and can still be regarded as her best. I've read much of her subsequent writing (as have others I know who know of her) because they're by the woman who wrote Monkey Grip, and the later ones don't disappoint.
Her newest collection of short stories is The Feel of Steel, a reference to her rediscovery, now in her fifties, that her muscles still know how to do the fencing she practised as a youth. Although I call these short stories, and this is how they come across, they're not fiction: they're vignettes in her current life (after three finished marriages, and with new grandchildren), told in her minutely insightful way. It is also contains a tremendously evocative depiction of a visit to Antarctica.
Other fiction or short story books are The Children's Bach, Postcard from Surfers, Cosmo Cosmolino, and My Hard Heart. She has also written the screenplay for a film The Last Days of Chez Nous.
Her book The First Stone was non-fiction, an exploration of allegations of sexual harassment at Ormond College in the University of Melbourne. Far from accepting the automatic condemnation of the lecturer involved, she found these stories from young women highly questionable. Where Helen Garner had long been a feminist icon and standard-bearer in Australia, she was suddenly reviled for breaking ranks.
There's a good long interview with her at http://www.arts.uwo.ca/~andrewf/anzsc/anzsc10/garner10.htm