Athena and Dexter live a happy but insular life, bound by routine and the care of their young sons. When Elizabeth, an old friend from Dexter’s university days, turns up with her much younger sister, Vicki, and her lover, Philip, she brings an enticing world to their doorstep. And Athena finds herself straining at the confines of her life.
Helen Garner portrays her characters with a clear eye for their dreams, their insecurities and their deep humanity in this intimate and engaging short novel, which was first published in 1984. The Children’s Bach is ‘a jewel’, in Ben Lerner’s description, ‘beautiful, lapidary, rare’.
Helen Garner is one of Australia’s finest authors. In 2006 she received the inaugural Melbourne Prize for Literature, and in 2016 she won the prestigious Windham–Campbell Prize for non-fiction. Her novels include Monkey Grip, The Children’s Bach, Cosmo Cosmolino and The Spare Room.
There was a piano in the kitchen and during the day Athena would shut herself in there under the portrait of Dexter’s father and pick away at Bartok’s Mikrokosmos or the easiest of Bach’s Small Preludes. Preludes to what? Even under her ignorant fingers those simple chords rang out like a shout of triumph, and she would run to stick her hot face out of the window.
‘Garner is a natural storyteller.’ James Wood, New Yorker
‘Her use of language is sublime.’ Scotsman
‘This is the power of Garner’s writing. She drills into experience and comes up with such clean, precise distillations of life, once you read them they enter into you. Successive generations of writers have felt the keen influence of her work and for this reason Garner has become part of us all.’ Australian
‘Garner wears her mastery lightly—the novel never draws undue attention to its own modernist tricks. Unfolding, as the title suggests, like a halting piece of music, its effects are subtle and unexpected.’ Harper’s
'What Garner offers in these novels is an alternative to the cloying metafiction of the late 20th century and the washed-out realism of the 21st. They are undeniably of their time – the 1970s commitment to the liberating possibilities of sex, drugs and communal living in Monkey Grip, the hangover nursed in the 1980s in The Children’s Bach – but they also belong to a literary epoch we think of as long gone, as they earnestly strive to resurrect a modernist art of estrangement.' London Review of Books