Anyone can see the place where the children died. You take the Princes Highway past Geelong, and keep going west in the direction of Colac. Late in August 2006, soon after I had watched a magistrate commit Robert Farquharson to stand trial before a jury on three charges of murder, I headed out that way on a Sunday morning, across the great volcanic plain.
On the evening of 4 September 2005, Father's Day, Robert Farquharson, a separated husband, was driving his three sons home to their mother, Cindy, when his car left the road and plunged into a dam. The boys, aged ten, seven and two, drowned. Was this an act of revenge or a tragic accident? The court case became Helen Garner's obsession. She followed it on its protracted course until the final verdict.
In this utterly compelling book, Helen Garner tells the story of a man and his broken life. She presents the theatre of the courtroom with its actors and audience, all gathered for the purpose of bearing witness to the truth, players in the extraordinary and unpredictable drama of the quest for justice.
This House of Grief is a heartbreaking and unputdownable book by one of Australia's most admired writers.
Read Caroline Baum's Review
This is the book Helen Garner almost didn’t write. At one point she abandoned documenting the case and trial of Robert Farquharson, accused of driving his three sons into a dam on the road near Winchelsea. Understandably, it all became too much. Fortunately Garner’s steely resolve returned. The result is vintage Garner reportage: flinty, unflinching prose that goes to the heart of the matter. Brilliantly observed telling details that expose character ( the way the accused’s sister holds his arm as they cross the street is one such gem), snatched moments of courtroom conversation with other journos and observers - the contemporary version of a Greek chorus - add layers of texture and psychological heft to this dreadful, disturbing tale .
With trademark refreshing honesty Garner admits that she finds some evidence confusing or boring but maintains her brisk alert attention for every nuance.
Uncharacteristically, she maintains more distance from the key players than she did in Joe Cinque’s Consolation, not getting as close to them as she did in that case, perhaps realising the cost was too high or perhaps because a natural connection failed to occur. The result is more attenuated and muted, less intense than Garner’s other court reporting, but it is still a haunting and harrowing read.
'Helen Garner is an invaluable guide into harrowing territory and offers powerful and unforgettable insights. This House of Grief, in its restraint and control, bears comparison with In Cold Blood.' * Kate Atkinson *
`Helen Garner's This House of Grief is a gripping account of a murder trial in which few of the participants act and react in ways we might predict. It's an examination not just of what happened, but also of what we prefer to believe and what we cannot face believing.' -- Julian Barnes
'This House of Grief has all the trademark Helen Garner touches: harrowing scenes recorded without restraint or censorship; touching observations of characters' weaknesses; wry moments of humour. And also customary with Garner's work, her words, and the boys' fate, will haunt us long after we've turned the last page.' * Guardian *
'The twists and turns of this true-crime story are, in Garner's hands, more engrossing and dramatic than any thriller. Really, this is the kind of book you'll devour in one go.' * Age *
'This House of Grief is a magnificent book about the majesty of the law and the terrible matter of the human heart. It has its centre a feeling of the engulfing powers of love and hate and the way any heart unlucky enough may kill the thing it loves and drown in an eternity of grief. If you read nothing else this year, read this story of the sorrow and pity of innocents drowned and the spectres and enigmas of guilt.' -- Peter Craven * Weekend Australian *
'Clear-eyed and deeply moving...Garner's skills as a novelist combine with her journalist incisiveness to give a vivid, compassionate and complex assessment of the crime and the societal issues surrounding it...This House of Grief is a book that preys on the mind-its themes are enormous, classical and highly contemporary. Some readers will find they have to put it down, now and again, because the story it tells is so tragically sad-but so compelling that they won't put it down for long.' * NZ Herald *
'A superbly balanced book about a terribly freighted subject: a violation of parental care of the kind that provokes outrage rather than thoughtfulness. It is also an elegant reiteration of many of the themes and concerns that Garner has, over four decades, made her own.' * Saturday Paper *
`It grabbed me by the throat in the same way that the podcast series Serial did. Ms. Garner brilliantly and compassionately recounts the harrowing, real-life trial of Robert Farquharson.' * Gillian Anderson, Wall Street Journal, Books of the Year 2015 *
'A brilliant, poetic work of jurisprudence...Another beauty of Garner's writing is her exceptional lyricism. Garner's spare, clean style flowers into magnificent poetry.' * Australian Book Review *
'Superbly done. Garner is one of the finest reporters in this country...Bad behaviour has always been her subject, from Monkey Grip all the way to This House of Grief. She doesn't celebrate Farquarson's fate as a triumph. In the crimes and misdemeanours we commit against one another, she has always found clues to being human.' -- David Marr * Monthly *
'No one can invoke the theatre of the law the way Helen Garner does. It isn't just her acute mind for human psychology or her shimmering gift for metaphor, the masterly economy and dramatic poise with which she shaped the material.' * Age/Sydney Morning Herald/Canberra Times *
'Garner sat through [all the trials]: sifting the evidence, observing the duelling lawyers, digging deep into the relationships which contributed to the catastrophe. She has turned a courtroom drama into something deeply human.' -- Jennifer Byrne * Australian Women's Weekly *
'This House of Grief will have your heart in your mouth.' -- Ramona Koval, Best Books of the Year * Weekend Australian *
'A testament to it's author's extraordinary powers of observation...Garner's account of a murder trial is full of characteristically shrewd encapsulations and telling details, framed by her deeply reflective and empathetic responses.' -- James Ley, Best Books of the Year * Weekend Australian *
'Tender and electrifying. This House of Grief is Helen Garner's masterpiece.' * Saturday Paper *
`It is as involving, heart-rending and unsettling a read as you could possibly find.' * Sunday Times *
'Helen Garner's account of the trial is a non-literary variation of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. It is all the more shocking for her direct, no-nonsense, often horrified, approach.' -- Eileen Battersby, Books of the Year * Irish Times *
'In This House of Grief, Helen Garner describes with wonderful subtlety and honesty the trail of a man accused of drowning his three sons; she is fascinated by what we're capable of and how fiercely we hide it from ourselves.' -- Helen Simpson, Books of the Year * Times Literary Supplement *
'This House of Grief exposes the deeply complex rivers of emotion that run through us all. Garner has a talent for scrutinising those aspects of life that most of us would rather turn away from and illuminating those truths for all to understand.' * Hoopla *
'In its literary alchemy it crystallises fundamental questions that we need to keep asking about our legal system.' * Conversation *
`Helen Garner's riveting non-fiction gem is a darkly intriguing work.' * New Daily's Top Ten Books of 2014 *
'This is vintage Garner reportage, with brilliantly observed details and deft weaving of courtroom drama and small-town back story.' * North and South *
`[Garner] doesn't merely listen. She watches, imagines, second-guesses, empathises, agonises. Her voice-intimate yet sharp, wry yet urgent-inspires trust.' * Atlantic *
`Compassionate and dispassionate in equal measure, Helen Garner takes us into the courtroom and shows a melting-pot of venality. She writes with a profound understanding of human vulnerability, and of the subtle workings of love, memory and remorse.' * Intelligent Life Magazine *
'The details of the story are fascinating, and Garner's crystal-clear writing serves the story well...The resulting book is both troubling and deeply satisfying.' * Bookslut *