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.
Helen Garner’s first novel, Monkey Grip won the 1978 National Book Council Award, and was adapted for film in 1981. Since then she has published novels, short stories, essays, and feature journalism. In 1995 she published The First Stone, a controversial account of a Melbourne University sexual harassment case. Joe Cinque's Consolation (2004) was a non-fiction study of two murder trials in Canberra. In 2006 Helen Garner received the inaugural Melbourne Prize for Literature. Her most recent novel, The Spare Room (2008), won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction, the Queensland Premier’s Award for Fiction and the Barbara Jefferis Award, and has been translated into many languages. Helen Garner lives in Melbourne.
‘This House of Grief (Text) 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, Books of the Year, TLS
‘This House of Grief makes its complexity out of an honest vulnerability...Garner’s book is superbly alive to the narrative dynamics of the case; she tells a grim story of unhappy marriage, limited social opportunity, bitter divorce, and spousal grievance. Again, as in The First Stone, what consumes her are the difficult questions that seem to lie beyond the reach of formal narration: the deepest assumptions of class and gender and power; the problem of how well we ever understand someone else’s motives...Attracted and repelled, Garner circles around the unspeakable abysmal horror. Can any story “explain” why a man might murder his children? She doesn’t pretend to possess the explosive answer, and frequently confesses stupefaction, but her book walks us along an engrossing and plausible narrative fuse...Her narrative is lit by lightning.’ James Wood, New Yorker
‘Helen Garner’s account of the trial is a non-literary variation of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (1966).’ Eileen Battersby, Books of the Year, Irish Times
‘As involving, heart-rending and unsettling a read as you could possibly find, a true-life account of three deaths and a trial that leaves you with a profound sense of unease as its drama unfolds, and disturbing questions about how we judge guilt and innocence.’ The Times
‘This House of Grief is a magnificent book about the majesty of the law and the terrible matter of the human heart...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
‘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
However much Björnson may have written The Editor with a "purpose," his vivid dramatic sense kept him from becoming merely didactic. The little tragedy that takes place amongst this homely group of people makes quite a moving play, thanks to the skill with which the types are depicted—the bourgeois father and mother, with their mixture of timidity and self-interest; the manly, straightforward young politician, resolute to carry on the work that has sapped his brother's life; the warped, de-humanised nature of the journalist; the sturdy common-sense of the yeoman farmer; and the doctor, the "family friend," as a sort of mocking chorus. Besides its plea for a higher regard for truth, the play also attacks the precept, preached by worldly wisdom, that we ought to harden our natures to make ourselves invulnerable; a proposition which was hateful to one of Björnson's persistently impressionable and ingenuous nature. The fact remains, as Brandes grimly admits, that "nowadays we have only a very qualified sympathy with public characters who succumb to the persecution of the press." Brandes sees in the play, besides its obvious motive, an allegory. Halvdan Rejn, the weary and dying politician, is (he says) meant for Henrik Wergeland, a Norwegian poet-politician who had similar struggles, sank under the weight of similar at tacks, died after a long illness, and was far higher reputed after his death than during his life. In Harald Rejn, with his honest enthusiasm and misjudged political endeavours Brandes sees Björnson himself; while the yeoman brother, Haakon, seems to him to typify the Norwegian people.
In October 1997 a clever young law student at ANU made a bizarre plan to murder her devoted boyfriend after a dinner party at their house. Some of the dinner guests-most of them university students-had heard rumours of the plan. Nobody warned Joe Cinque. He died one Sunday, in his own bed, of a massive dose of rohypnol and heroin. His girlfriend and her best friend were charged with murder.
Helen Garner followed the trials in the ACT Supreme Court. Compassionate but unflinching, this is a book about how and why Joe Cinque died. It probes the gap between ethics and the law; examines the helplessness of the courts in the face of what we think of as 'evil'; and explores conscience, culpability, and the battered ideal of duty of care.
It is a masterwork from one of Australia's greatest writers.
Winner of the Ned Kelly Award for Best True Crime 2005
Winner of the ABIA Book of the Year 2004