Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Book review - The Spare Room

Continuing with my foreign writer kick, I read Australian Helen Garner's book The Spare Room. It is about a woman named Helen who cares for her friend who has developed cancer. The friend, Nicola, has been Helen's friend for fifteen years and is in the final stage of the cancer. In desperation she seeks out a quack doctor and spends three weeks staying with Helen while she receives the treatments.

The treatments don't help but with Helen's guidance, they find an oncologist who conducts a surgery that adds a few months to Nicola's life. The story is largely about Helen's frustrations in caring for her friend as the charlatan treatments and the cancer ravage Nicola.

Really, that's it. This won awards in Australia and was Garner's first work of fiction in sixteen years. I just wasn't that dazzled by it. The writing is nice but nothing about which to get excited. The story is stressful. It does make you wonder a bit about older folk who don't have family and don't want to be institutionalized. What happens to them when they can't care for themselves any longer?

Once again, I'm left wondering about my sense of humor. Two of the dustjacket blurbs call this book funny. What?!?! Death by cancer is hysterical! Having my friends clean up my urine and feces and vomit at all hours of the night is hilarious! As a matter of fact, I stopped going to comedy clubs and like to hang out in the intensive care wards of hospitals for laughs now. Come on....really? Go with heartwarming. Go with charming. But funny? Pass.

Not a whole lot to recommend but not a whole lot to not recommend either. It's a very quick read so no harm there. I can see women liking it more than men. Nothing else to add.

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