We have a new bookshop. Let me be more specific. We now have a local bookshop. It’s quite small and wants to specialise in a subculture to which I do not belong, but it stocks a selection of generically normal books such that I can fulfill an obligation to be supportive. Buying Local.
I glance at, rather than browse through, and select Helen Garner’s Everywhere I Look.
Garner is often described as one of Australia’s greatest writers. I’ve never bothered to test that claim. I just didn’t enjoy the excerpts from Monkey Grip (the movie) or the topics broached in various TV interviews seen over the years.
I am only now dipping my toe into Garner’s stream of well-thought-through thoughts, not because there wasn’t much on offer at my local bookshop but because I keep reading about her wonderful writing. Authors writing about other authors seems to be a thing. Garner also does it in Everywhere I Look.
It’s an ideal pre-slumber read. The book is a comfortable size. Garner’s writing lives up to it’s reputation. Chapters are short enough. Each chapter is its own story, and there is variety. But in that variety there is risk; will I be confronted by those very things that have kept me away for so long?
Part Four is where I come undone. It’s first chapter is unpleasant. Then, three lines into the next, I see a name I recognise from the news. I must make a decision. Swiftly, I abandon this section and move on. Sure enough, Part Four was titled ‘On Darkness’.
One night, as I flick back through the chapters, tracing where I’ve been, there is no strong memory of anything except the little vignettes involving the children. This lack of memory is not purely biological on my part; it’s a feature of how this type of book keeps my type of reader at arm’s length. Each chapter is so different, leaving no opportunity to build that immersive and emotional experience into which memory will burrow and thrive.
When I think harder, I also remember the story of the school teacher and Garner’s positive reaction to lessons about grammer. I recall my opposite reaction, when grammer just wouldn’t make sense of itself … convoluted gibberish spread across a blackboard in white chalk. Perhaps other stories from the book will re-emerge over time.
As the pace towards the last page quickens, with multiple chapters read in one night, it dawns that these are essentially blog posts in another format. All but three of the chapters were previously published – in The Age, Big Issue, The Monthly, even Elle, amongst others – and I realise this makes my blogging feel …well, less bloggy.
There is no punchline to my encounter with Everywhere I Look. The last page has been read; book now closed. Full stop typed.