Review: The Spare Room

The Spare Room by Helen Garner
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company, Incorporated
Pub. Date: February 2009
ISBN-13: 9780805088885

Here is the blurb from Barnes & Noble:

“A powerful, witty, and taut novel about a complex friendship between two women—one dying, the other called to care for her—from an internationally acclaimed and award-winning author
How much of ourselves must we give up to help a friend in need? Helen has little idea what lies ahead—and what strength she must muster—when she offers her spare room to an old friend, Nicola, who has arrived in the city for cancer treatment. Skeptical of the medical establishment, and placing all her faith in an alternative health center, Nicola is determined to find her own way to deal with her illness, regardless of the advice Helen offers.

In the weeks that follow, Nicola’s battle for survival will turn not only her own life upside down but also those of everyone around her. The Spare Room is a magical gem of a book—gripping, moving, and unexpectedly funny—that packs a huge punch, charting a friendship as it is tested by the threat of death.”

My Thoughts:

When I first received this book I thought that it might be a memoir. It reads like a memoir of sorts, but it is Garner’s fictional treatment of caring for her dying friend. That said, the story fell a little flat for me. As Garner sets-up the story, I anticipated a warm, welcoming reunion of two close friends. Yes, one of them is battling cancer and it would be a rather bittersweet reunion to say the least but if you haven’t seen the person for a long time, there would be some affection shared between the two, right? I didn’t feel the affection and warmth.

For one, Nicola is staying with Helen so she can be closer to the crack-pot treatment center that she has arranged to go to. Helen, who has more faith in western medicine has a hard time supporting her friend when she sees how these alternative treatments affect her. I do feel that Garner hit the nail on the head with this aspect of the book. I am all for alternative treatments, but the treatments that Nicola’s poor body endured just made me want to scream. Helen’s frustration was realistically written and closely matched my own level of frustration so I could totally relate to what Helen was feeling even though I have never been in her situation.

Overall, I feel that the relationship between Nicola and Helen could have been fleshed out a bit more. There weren’t a lot of fond memories being shared between the two and although Helen’s ability to provide the basics of food, water, and shelter is satisfying in its own right, I expected a bit more, well… love.

On a positive note, there is quite a bit to discuss here as far as alternative treatments and the medical profession as a whole. A book group would have a lot to talk about.

Thank you Picador USA for sending this book to me.

11 thoughts on “Review: The Spare Room”

  1. Not sure this one would be for me. I like more of an emotional impact to the story. Have you ever read Talk Before Sleep by Elizabeth Berg. That was really good.

  2. I love that draws you in. Sorry to hear that it didn’t work for you. I’m supportive of alternative treatments so I am interested in that element of the story. It sounds on the extreme side though.

  3. Nice review… Sorry it didn’t click for you. I hate when there is an opportunity for depth and it isn’t there. Have you ever read The Pieces of my Sister’s life? It is pretty good. 🙂 Thanks for the review.

  4. What a shame that this one didn’t click for you. I was thinking that it might have been an intentional device (that the characters didn’t connect, but maybe they regretted that, knew it was missing). Apparently not, though, huh?

    I love the cover! What an interesting perspective, along the floor of the bedroom.

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