This House of Grief by Helen Garner

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This House of Grief by Helen Garner

Category: True Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Liz Green
Reviewed by Liz Green
Summary: Well-written and engaging account of a murder trial in modern-day Australia.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 300 Date: February 2016
Publisher: Text Publishing Company
ISBN: 978-1925240689

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This is an account of a harrowing event in Australia's recent history: the drowning of three young boys when the car being driven by their father, Robert Farquharson, veered off the road and fell into a dam. The father escaped unhurt. The tragedy was appropriated by the national media and led to a drawn-out prosecution of the father for murder.

You will appreciate this book more if you are not aware of the outcome of the case before you start to read, so avoid any blurbs, internet reviews and news websites that may give you clues to the jury's verdict. The question is not so much 'Did Robert Farquharson do it?' as 'Did he do it deliberately?' or, put differently, 'Did he really have the coughing fit that he claimed rendered him unconscious?' Read the book without knowing the outcome of the trial and you can try and draw your own conclusions.

This detailed, impartial and well-written account is the product of Helen Garner's disciplined background as a journalist and novelist. She provides a clear narrative of events, remaining calm and open-minded throughout the court case. Yet she is by no means without feeling and her compassion is evident: at one point she is unable to sit through a repeat account of one particularly distressing episode.

The case, as presented to us, is by turn nail-biting, theatrical, intricate, traumatic, fascinating, tedious and repetitive. I was left with a feeling of how very hard indeed it must be to be on a jury, sitting still for hours on end, concentrating on every word, ensuring that justice is served. And how much harder for the jurors who are not called to deliver the verdict: in this case, of the 15 sworn-in jurors who sat through the entire trial, just 12 were selected to decide the verdict.

Helen Garner offers interesting snippets to break up the monotony of a long trial. One detail that particularly pleased me was her reference to the judge's diamond ear stud. It is her eye for such details that makes her such an engaging writer. Indeed, were it not for the terrible subject matter, this would be a most enjoyable read.

What wasn't covered in any detail -- and which would have been interesting to me -- was the human reaction of the local townsfolk. How did they react? What did they think? But because Helen Garner's subject is the murder trial itself, she quite rightly excludes hearsay or her own observations and thoughts about the local mood. In fact, other than occasional meetings with members of the extended family -- the boys' grandparents, for example -- she is careful to restrict her account to information that emerged in the courtroom. And by sticking to facts, she manages to sidestep any charge of voyeurism.

The verdict, when it came, was inevitably unsatisfactory. If Not Guilty, then who do you blame for the tragedy? If Guilty, well... does that bring the boys back? Readers will be hard-pressed to finish this book with anything other than a feeling of profound sadness. There is no happy ending for anybody -- but you should read the book nevertheless.

For more true crime, but in another era, don't miss The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale.

Buy This House of Grief by Helen Garner at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy This House of Grief by Helen Garner at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy This House of Grief by Helen Garner at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy This House of Grief by Helen Garner at Amazon.com.


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