Over the course of her long career, Helen Garner has regularly been accused of writing too autobiographically for a novelist; of drawing too readily on her diaries; of lacking a narrative arc in her fiction. This paper turns this accusation on its head to suggest that the first person of Garner’s writing is an evolving experiment in imagining a position of material involvement in the world that is a political and feminist ideal rather than an imprint of reality. The fiction of her writing self is bound up with the idea of a life that might balance care work, social relations, paid work, and with the contemplative activity of the first person narrator.
Garner’s progression through the possibilities of writing as a diarist, to writing in the third person, to writing as the first person narrator she becomes in The Spare Room, is not, I will argue, an endeavor governed by the kinds of truth-telling associated with autobiography nearly as much as by the ideal in which these competing kinds of action might be reconciled. Her work can be considered in this vein alongside that of Hannah Arendt and Kathi Weeks,
Christina Lupton is professor at the University of Warwick and the University of Copenhagen. She is author of three monographs: Knowing Books (Penn, 2012), Reading and the Making of Time (Johns Hopkins, 2018), and Love and the Novel: Life After Reading (Profile, 2022) and numerous articles on the topics of reading, time use, and the materiality of books. She has also held major Leverhulme, Humboldt, and SHRC grants and is currently PI on the Carlsberg funded project, “Lockdown Reading.” The monograph based on this research is forthcoming from OUP in 2022.