Jan/Feb 2002 Book Reviews

The Feel of Steel

Helen Garner
Picador, Macmillan (September 2001) 223 pages
ISBN: 0 330 36289 5

reviewed by Ann Skea

Anecdotes; Attitudes; Family relationships; Women authors, Australian 20th century; Political and social views

It's not often that I look at the classification list on a book's publication information page but I couldn't quite decide what to call this book. It is certainly all of the above.

Helen Garner's short "anecdotes" range from musing on the nature of home to observations made in a busy bridal shop. If that sounds rather bland, which it is not, you could try her description of a night out at the Western Bulldog's fundraising "Male Review," where the local football team strip off for charity. Or, if that's not to your taste, her reactions to the subtle beauty of Antarctica, in "Regions of Thick Ribbed Ice," may appeal, especially to any writer who has ever vowed to leave their camera at home and simply write.

Garner is interesting, too (even for non-believers) in her musings on the Bible. And her pieces about a family dealing with a mother afflicted with Alzheimer's disease will strike a chord with anyone whose parents are becoming frail.

A few pieces in this book struck me as prosaic and rather flat, but on the whole Garner's writing is fresh and lively and definitely Australian in vocabulary and tone. Anyone wanting a glimpse of Australian urban culture will find some of their curiosity satisfied here.

Altogether, this is a light book for light reading when you want to be amused and thoughtful but not greatly challenged.


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