June 01, 2016
I read Everywhere I Look , knowing very little about Helen Garner’s work or indeed her as an author. It was not at all what I expected. I have since learnt that nonfiction has been a staple of her literary repertoire and this, as a collection of essays and extracts is part autobiographical, part stream of consciousness and part random thoughts is just that. I have never been the sort of person who would just pick up a piece of non-fiction to read for fun, unless I was required to read for professional or formal learning purposes. As I was expecting fiction and got non-fiction, I admit I was a little non-plussed, but that is just me and not a reflection of the overall quality of the work. All of the vignettes are beautifully written, and provide insight not just into the emotional depths of the writer ( in a generic as well as “specific to Helen” sense) but also provided unique insight into some every day and not so everyday aspects of life. In this sense, the title Everywhere I look is both apt, and telling. The reader is put on notice to take note of the little things in life, the individual moments that while fleeting, fragile and mundane are important and fundamental to the very fabric our beings.
While the writing is nonfiction, there is a natural storytelling rhythm to the book. But despite the fact that the structure as a whole is divided loosely into themes, I found it fragmented and difficult to sink oneself into. Rather than an immersive journey it is more a flitting, fleeting snapshot of one story before we are brushed off to another like leaves on a breeze. We are almost not allowed to deeply experience each facet, we can sense it and smell it, but not sink our teeth into it – look and by all means learn, but don’t touch. That is not to say that there is not depth or meaning in the elegant and intricate prose, for there is certainly that in spades, but the disjointed structure, and movement from insight to essay to review, made it difficult to really enjoy from go to woe. There were certainly lovely bits, and fans of Helen’s work will I’m sure get pleasure from it, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea. What do you think?
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