The Startling Candor of Helen Garner

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Helen Garner lives in Melbourne, next door to her daughter, her son-in-law, three grandchildren, some chickens, and a blue-heeler-and-kelpie mix named Smokey. On the day we planned to meet, her living room was a “recovery ward,” she said; one grandchild had had all four of her wisdom teeth out, and another had fractured his wrist playing football. “We’re going to have to transfer our operations to my office in North Melbourne, I’m afraid,” she told me that morning. I’d proposed an interview at her home, because the places where she has lived, from share houses to apartments to shabby Victorians, have been the backdrops for much of her fiction—not to mention her diaries, which she began publishing in Australia a few years ago, to considerable fascination and fanfare. She’d said she had a rule against letting journalists into her home, but that she would make an exception. Now, change of plans.

Garner is eighty years old. She has been one of Australia’s best-loved and most mythologized writers since the late nineteen-seventies. In the past few years, for reasons that she doesn’t entirely understand, readers in the United States and the United Kingdom have cottoned to her work—she recently sold her backlist to publishers in both countries. This fall, in the U.S., Pantheon is publishing two of her books: “The Children’s Bach,” a slim, perfect novel from 1984, and “This House of Grief,” a work of nonfiction, from 2014, for which Garner was awarded the Windham-Campbell Prize, about the trial of a man accused of murdering his children.

Quite possibly, many American and British readers don’t have a set idea about what great Australian writing is. But, for a long time, if they did, it had to do with “space, light, huge tracts of land, the bush, red dirt, and so on,” Garner’s publisher, Michael Heyward, told me. Garner’s work isn’t like that—it’s intimate, domestic. Which is not to say that it is without violence or ambition or a sense of social context. Garner is the daughter of a wool merchant who’d left school at fifteen, and she came of age amid the anti-establishment spirit of the late sixties. Her writing is elegant but colloquial, characterized by an impulse to say and share things others might keep private. It’s often said that she draws her fiction from her diaries, but drawing is probably the wrong metaphor: it’s more like she photographs them, cropping and lighting the entries, positioning their subjects just so. Her novels give the impression of being in sharper focus than most fiction; they’re also less fictional. “The Spare Room,” for instance, from 2008, is an essentially accurate depiction of a period that Garner spent looking after a friend before her death. Garner has said that the book was “morally” a novel: there were some things she changed, but only just.

We agreed to begin with coffee. As we sat down, at a small corner table in the greenhouse-like annex of a large café near her office, Garner explained that she was reluctant to expose her family further, having written about them so much in her books. She wore overalls, a frost-blue cardigan, and hiking boots. In her ears were small, pretty earrings of turquoise and gold. Garner’s face has strong, fine bones that seem as though they were built specially for her eyes—to shield them, allow them to watch. Later, she told me, “I would like to think that my gaze is basically benevolent, but once your powers of observation are developed, benevolence isn’t the point anymore.” Garner talks fast and replies to questions with stories. I asked how she’d ended up at her current address. “See, when my third marriage crashed and burned in Sydney and I was really in a bad way, I knew I’d eventually go back to Melbourne, but I wasn’t ready to sort of pack up again and move,” she said. Then her daughter, Alice, who’d recently got married, called and told her, “We’re having a baby, you can come home now.”

The crash and burn of Garner’s third marriage, to the writer Murray Bail, provides the principal drama of the last book that she published, “How to End a Story: Diaries 1995-1998,” which came out in Australia in 2021. When the volume begins, Bail, called V in the book, is trying to finish a novel, and Garner has just published “The First Stone,” a work of nonfiction about a sexual-harassment case, which was an immediate best-seller. The reader quickly notices that V is spending a lot of time with a painter who lives nearby; almost three years and a hundred and fifty funny, harrowing pages later, Garner realizes that her husband is having an affair. It is, in many ways, a book about jealousy. Eight months before it was published, Bail released a memoir, called “He.” Written in the third person, it dispenses with Garner in a few sentences, including this one: “He assumed feminism had given her an independence and edge, enough to handle a separation, and by the time he saw this was far from the case it was too late.” (Bail declined to be interviewed for this story.)

I asked Garner what Bail thought of “How to End a Story.” He would have liked to “shoot it down in flames,” she said. “But he has strong beliefs in freedom of speech. He has a great sense of the dignity and prerogatives of the artist.” Stirring her coffee, she told me, “I think the diaries are my best writing. It’s partly because I’m writing without an audience in mind, and I’m not writing on anyone else’s say-so, and I’m not being paid for it. It’s just writing purely for pleasure, and for trying to understand what’s going on in my life.” She leaned forward and ran an index finger over the frayed corner of my notebook. Before I could politely shift it beyond her reach, she lifted her arm in gesticulation and knocked her coffee over. A waiter came to help. “I made a wild gesture and it went flying,” she told him.

We finished our coffee and walked the five minutes to Garner’s office, on the second story of what was once the Metropolitan Meat Market. It’s now an arts venue. The view from the office’s one window was silver rooftops and gray sky. Garner told me that she writes about relationships to “get a hold on them,” but that while editing “How to End a Story” she struggled with night thoughts about whether anyone else had ever been so weak and helpless. She got through it by simply approaching it as work, something she chipped away at. “What I’ve discovered is that if you keep going down and in, you get to this place where everybody else is,” she said, sitting near an elbow lamp, fidgeting with two thick rubber bands, pulling the circles toward each other until they were just touching, then moving them apart again. Later, she told me, “I thought I must be a terrible person if this is my story. It’s been an enormous relief for me to find that I’m not alone.”

Garner is unsure whether she’ll write any more books. When the lease for her office came up, she considered giving it up, but the thought gave her a fright, she said. A painter friend had told her that whenever her studio felt uninviting, she cleaned it top to bottom; Garner did the same. “And then I thought, Well, I’ll just write one sentence today, to keep my hand in,” she said. She went back the next day and wrote another. This became her routine. The sentences were about a friend of hers who’d had dementia and had recently died. One sentence: “The windows were deep-set, small, narrow and vertical, like slots in a castle wall, and in the frame of each one hung a dainty little curtain, its hem embroidered with a pattern of flowers.” Another: “It was wrong of her to have seen the rooms.”

Evening began to fall. I had flown into Melbourne from Sydney, and we would have a few days together. Garner suggested that, instead of going to her home, we could visit other houses: the one where her first novel was set, the one she lived in while writing it, the first house she owned. “Then, maybe, you can come to my house,” she said, “walk down the passageway, and piss off!”

We set off in Garner’s Toyota the next morning, to visit a house in Fitzroy North, a suburb of Melbourne, where most of Garner’s first book takes place. “In the old brown house on the corner, a mile from the middle of the city, we ate bacon for breakfast every morning of our lives,” the novel begins. “Monkey Grip” is set in late 1974; Garner began writing it in 1975. Each day, she would drop Alice off at school, go to the library, and sit down at a table, with her diaries open on one side of her and a notebook on the other. The novel’s narrator, Nora, is a young mother who lives in a Fitzroy share house frequented by a hippie-ish crowd in their twenties and thirties. She’s seeing a man called Martin but soon falls in love with Javo, who’s addicted to heroin. A few years ago, “Monkey Grip” was the only Australian book selected for a BBC list of a hundred “stories that shaped the world.”

“Monkey Grip” captured an Australianness that hadn’t been seen much in fiction: urban, ordinary, obsessed with summer and swimming. But what really distinguishes it is Nora’s voice: sensible and self-critical, yet helplessly in love; good on sex, matter-of-fact about drugs. The novel sold well immediately, and Garner became the first woman to win the Book of the Year prize from Australia’s National Book Council. The filmmaker Gillian Armstrong, who grew up in Melbourne and later directed a screenplay by Garner, told me that, when she visits family back home, she still has visions of the characters from “Monkey Grip.”

Like all of Garner’s writing, the book might be seen as a response to a kind of censorship of feeling. Garner grew up in the port city of Geelong, the oldest of six children. She was the highest-ranking student at her Anglican high school, then went to the University of Melbourne, where she partied and got a third-class degree. She moved home and worked as an English teacher, but, after her father read letters she’d received from male college friends, he tried to confiscate her contraception. She moved out and found a teaching job in London, where she fell in love with Bill Garner, whom she’d met in college. She wrote her parents to say that they were coming back together, travelling overland through Europe and Asia. She thought they’d wish her well on the big adventure, or ask about Bill; instead, they said that if she went through with it she shouldn’t bother contacting them or her siblings ever again. Bill and Helen were married in Melbourne. Garner’s mother and her sister Linda attended the ceremony, but her father refused.

Alice was born in 1969. By then, Garner was attending feminist consciousness-raising groups hosted in her friends’ living rooms, where they “sat around and blurted out all this stuff they’d never told anyone before,” she said. Soon, she and Bill were living apart, and, in 1972, Garner began teaching at Fitzroy High School. The students mostly came from working-class, immigrant families. One day, Garner was set to teach thirteen-year-olds a lesson on ancient Greece when they noticed something in their textbooks. “In all but a few of the copies a monstrous cock has been added in heavy biro,” Garner wrote later, in an essay about the experience, “with a colossal stream of sperm hitting the bullseye, the cunt of a woman on the facing page who is modestly demonstrating the folds of the Ionian chiton.” The students couldn’t settle down. Garner told them, “Look, the reason why people do these drawings, and why we laugh at them, is that sex is more interesting than just about anything else, and because most kids at school don’t know nearly as much about it as they need to. Do you want to talk about it?”

She invited them to write down questions and promised to answer them frankly. (One such question gives the essay its title: “Why does the women have all the pain, Miss?”) This progressed into a freewheeling back-and-forth, toward the end of which a student asked, earnestly curious, “Miss—have you ever had a suck?” “For a single beat,” Garner writes, “I see the situation from a distance: a kid has just asked her teacher if she sucks cocks.” She tells him yes. For Garner, the experience was a wholesome corrective to the lack of sex education in Australia at the time; she published her essay about it, under a pseudonym, in a magazine called The Digger, shortly afterward. The magazine was fined seven hundred and fifty dollars, for obscenity, and Garner, easily identified, was fired. When she wrote “Monkey Grip,” a few years later, she was living off a form of Australian welfare then called the Supporting Mothers’ Benefit.

Around midday, we turned onto Falconer Street and pulled up to the old brown house of “Monkey Grip.” It’s a stern purple now; multiple waves of gentrification have passed through Fitzroy since Garner lived there. She put a hat on and handed me one that she’d packed for me. The house had a small front garden divided by immaculate hedges and white pebbles in sharp lines. We walked round the side, where the snout of a small terrier poked under a back gate, sniffing. Garner said that the current owners were two judges, one of whom she had taught, in a workshop, at the Judicial College of Victoria, on the writing of judgments. She was worried about running into him, she said. There were several other people whom Garner mentioned not wanting to see during the course of the day, including another judge and an estranged friend. As we walked between houses in Fitzroy, she kept her voice almost to a whisper. At one point, she snatched a piece of mail from a postbox to check whether she recognized the owner’s name.

We headed to the Fitzroy Baths, a beloved old public swimming pool where a number of scenes in “Monkey Grip” take place. It was a hot, bright afternoon. A young woman swooped her head around, recognizing Garner. In large letters on a wall at the pool’s deep end are the words “DANGER DEEP WATER” and “ACQUA PROFONDA,” a well-intentioned if misspelled warning for the many Italian immigrants who arrived in the area after the Second World War. Early on in “Monkey Grip,” Nora spots the warning just before she decides to go on a trip with Martin and Javo together. “So, afterwards, it is possible to see the beginning of things,” Garner writes, “the point at which you had already plunged in, while at the time you thought you were only testing the water with your toe.”

Garner first published extracts from her diaries in The Monthly, an Australian magazine. Then her publisher suggested a book. She’d burned most of her diaries from before the late seventies, she told me, because they were “either revealing or embarrassing or jejune, which is a word I’ve never used in my life until this moment.” Reading later entries, she was surprised not to find them embarrassing. And she got interested in what she called the “contemporaneous evidence.” If a diary is honest, she said, when you read it, you find out that you are a criminal too.

“Yellow Notebook: Diaries Volume One, 1978–1986,” begins just after “Monkey Grip” was published. Garner moved to France to write her next book, and met an agronomist, Jean-Jacques Portail. He moved to Australia with her; they were married in 1980. Back home, Garner worked on the screenplay for a film adaptation of her first novel. Alice was cast in the role of Nora’s daughter; she was nominated for the Australian equivalent of an Oscar, and had a successful acting career before deciding to get a Ph.D. and become a historian. In the diaries, Garner is sometimes harsh about her own parenting, but Alice told me that her childhood was a happy one. “She’s pretty hard on herself, and always has been,” Alice said, of her mother. But Alice had good relationships with a lot of different adults, learning music from one, sewing from another. “I feel like I was well looked after, and that she was around a lot,” she said. “But I think she sometimes looks back and sees something different, and thinks that she was neglectful. And I don’t actually think she was.”

Garner then wrote other screenplays, including “Two Friends,” about a pair of young friends, which became Jane Campion’s first feature, in 1986. “We thought she was very sexy and beautiful and boyish, with her short hair and her beautiful skin and all that,” Campion told me, describing the moment when she and the producer Jan Chapman first met the writer. “She told us that she put oil on her skin all over her body after her baths and Jan and I were flabbergasted, and, like, ‘God, we’ve got to remember to do that.’ ” Later, Campion spent time with Garner at her house. The marriage with Portail was falling apart; he’d fallen in love with Garner’s sister Catherine, who is Garner’s junior by nineteen years. (Catherine said that she moved out after Portail confessed his feelings for her, and only reconnected with him years later; they are still together.) “It was a strange atmosphere,” Campion told me, “and I felt for her because she was really uncomfortable. But she was super generous, super kind. She really wanted to share with me how important details are to her. The truth of small domestic details—the cup on a windowsill.”

The collapse of the marriage inspired another screenplay, “The Last Days of Chez Nous,” later directed by Gillian Armstrong. Garner wanted a likable actor to play the husband, Armstrong told me; in her view, it was not a story about a man who’d ruined a marriage on his own. (Bruno Ganz got the part.) “I mean, she’s very honest about her own bad behavior,” Armstrong said.

Garner’s early work earned her a reputation as a feminist; she has described all her books as “the story of fighting with my father, and of course, by extension, fighting all others who represent the father-figure to me, like big institutions, powerful men, expert knowledge and theory and all those sorts of things.” Then, in 1992, two students at the University of Melbourne went to the police to accuse the master of Ormond College, Alan Gregory, of groping them at a party. (Gregory denied the claims and was ultimately cleared of sexual-assault charges in court.) Garner read about the case and found herself sympathizing, at least initially, with Gregory. “He touched her breast and she went to the cops?” Garner recalls asking friends. She wrote Gregory a letter, telling him that it was “heartbreaking, for a feminist of nearly fifty like me, to see our ideals of so many years distorted into this ghastly punitiveness.”

That letter is included the book that Garner went on to write about the case, “The First Stone: Some Questions About Sex and Power.” It was published in Australia in 1995 and in the U.S. two years later. Gregory photocopied Garner’s letter and showed it to people; the young women who made the accusations against him read the letter and refused to talk to her. As Janet Malcolm, one of Garner’s heroes, wrote in a review of the book, for this magazine, Garner “did what a journalist must never do—she showed her hand too early.” But Garner told me that the young women’s refusal hardened her determination to write the book. Later, they tried to stop it from being published, threatening to take Garner to court and applying, unsuccessfully, for access to her notes, transcripts, drafts, and diaries. (The book’s first run was pulped ahead of publication after a journalist pointed out a moment where readers might be able to identify the complainants, who, along with Gregory, are given pseudonyms in the book.) “The First Stone” divided critics and was lambasted by academics. It also sold as briskly as “Monkey Grip” had. But, when I asked Lisa Lucas, the publisher at Pantheon who bought Garner’s back catalogue, about the book, she said she hadn’t read it: it wasn’t part of the submission, she said, and Pantheon didn’t buy it.

Garner agreed to pay a visit with me to Ormond College, where she hadn’t been since she wrote the book, thirty years earlier. The campus is dominated by turreted neo-Gothic buildings surrounded by pathways lined with flowers and small trees. We arrived to find a locked security gate; Garner began to turn around, but a student happened to be leaving just at that moment and let us in. “This place gives me the creeps,” Garner said, as we entered. We kept coming to dead ends and turning back. “See, I always think I’ll get stuck,” she said.

I asked Garner whether she might have reached different conclusions if the accusers had spoken to her. “Quite possibly,” she said. “I might not have even written the book.” In the past few years, she told me, she has thought about how she hasn’t really had a job since 1972. “And I really had no experience of the way that women get treated in institutions. I have no experience of an institutional working life.” As we walked around the campus, she described the vitriolic reactions the book generated, which surprised her. “You really can’t imagine the shit I got for that book,” she said. “It was very, very bad.”

It wasn’t just Garner who got shit for the book: when it was first published, Alice told me, strangers used to approach her to argue about her mother’s opinions. These days, she said, women come up to her saying how much they love her mother’s work. “Sometimes it’s annoying,” she added, laughing. Garner’s sister Linda, a retired nurse and hospital chaplain, told me that her sister came up in a reading group of hers recently, and one of the women said, “I think what Helen doesn’t realize is that we’re not all as brave as she is.” (I asked Linda if she’d read the diaries; she said she stopped after the first volume. “What’s hard about the diaries,” she said, “is that I feel it would be possible to drown in Helen’s memories. It’s taken me a long time to give authority to my own memories of growing up.”)

We didn’t stay at Ormond long—we were in and out in about ten minutes. It was enough. “I can’t tell you how sick I felt being there,” Garner said as we climbed back into her car.

Later that day, Garner told me that she has looked back on the period after she was fired from Fitzroy High, and was desperate for a job, and has wondered, “partly as a fantasy, partly as a joke,” why she didn’t become a cop. She admires the “unshockability” of good police officers, she said. Although her writing exhibits a high degree of control, the Helen Garner we meet in her nonfiction is not unruffled; she tends to expose herself as fully as possible to the most difficult emotions in a story. In 1999, Garner began following the case of two women, Anu Singh and Madhavi Rao, who were accused of murdering a man named Joe Cinque, Singh’s boyfriend, after Singh injected him with a lethal dose of heroin. Singh’s defense was one of “diminished responsibility,” on account of mental illness; she was convicted of manslaughter, rather than murder, and eventually served just four years of a ten-year sentence. Rao was acquitted of all charges. Having seen Cinque’s mother, Maria, at court, Garner spent time with her, trying to comprehend her overwhelming grief, then wrote a book, “Joe Cinque’s Consolation,” that is largely about the inadequacy of the justice system. Cinque’s death “billowed like a dark curtain on every breeze that blew,” Garner wrote in her journal at the time, according to her biographer, Bernadette Brennan. “It seeped into everything I did.”

In Australia, most trials are open to the public. I suggested to Garner that we go to one together. She wrote me an e-mail that night: “I checked the Supreme Court lists for tomorrow, and there’s a part-heard trial of a guy called Hudson Martin who’s accused of having killed a grandfather with a baseball bat in a Christmas Day brawl. Woman judge.” The next day, after having sandwiches near the courthouse, we made our way through security, past the court library—where, Garner said, she used to “feast on judgments”—and into the courtroom, decorated with cornices molded into seashells and flowers. We took our seats. “Before the lunch break,” the prosecutor began, “you told us that you heard a massive bang.” We were off.

The accused sat at the back, his hands clasped on the table before him. He had short hair and wore a tidy suit. His barrister maintained that he’d swung the bat in self-defense. The prosecutor called one of his friends to the stand and asked several questions about a young woman named Chloe; he and the others had been drinking at her house before the alleged crime. “I don’t know what you want me to say,” the friend kept repeating. Garner quietly took my notebook and pen. “He’s the most hopeless, helpless witness I’ve EVER SEEN,” she wrote.

When court adjourned, we rushed to Queensmith, a small, hip bar nearby. Garner wanted to know more about Chloe; I wanted to know whether the friend was protecting Martin out of love or fear. (Martin was found not guilty.) Garner seemed pleased by my interest. In “This House of Grief,” Garner also attends a trial with a companion—a friend’s daughter, Louise, then sixteen and on a gap year. A man named Robert Farquharson had been charged with drowning his three sons, ages ten, seven, and two, by driving his sedan into a dam; the presence of Louise alternately highlights and relieves the mournfulness of the book. (Farquharson was convicted.) Garner is candid about her emotions, analyzing them with a degree of remove which allows her to illustrate, with an unsparing empathy, how irrational we all can be, and how little we understand of our own behavior, let alone that of those around us.

Early on our second day together, Garner told me a scandalous story about a writer she knew well. It was somewhat shocking, and would be, I quickly realized, almost impossible to confirm. My notebook and recording device were on the table; this was clearly on the record. But, as she spoke, I wondered whether she was telling it on purpose.

Two days later, Garner suggested that we drive out to her sister Linda’s small house in the Victorian countryside, Primrose Gully, roughly two hours away. This would make going to Garner’s own house out of the question—she had hinted the previous afternoon that it might be possible after all, because none of her family would be there—but I had one more day, and decided not to mention it. Before we left, Garner brought up what she came to call the Terrible Story.

“Listen, I don’t want you to put anything about that in the article,” she said. I told her that I was unlikely to—I wasn’t sure it was relevant—but that I couldn’t agree not to. We then climbed into her car for what now risked being a tense two-hour drive. Worse, it was a public holiday, and we were soon stuck in standstill traffic as others fled the city. “Look,” Garner said, “we can go past my house, and go to the toilet. You can see my toilet,” she added, laughing.

The grass outside the house was soft with clover and miniature white daisies, her small front yard covered with the large leaves of violet plants not yet in bloom. The kitchen was slightly messy, and on her dining table was a copy of The New York Review of Books, open to a review of Jacqueline Rose’s “On Violence and on Violence Against Women,” with bits underlined in pen. (“Boys and men are taught that masculinity means an absurd omnipotence, mastery, comfort, and prowess. They fail—how could they not?—to live up to that ideal.”) Also on the table were pale-yellow daffodils, dark-yellow nasturtiums, and the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. The giant book’s cover creaked as I opened it, and inside was a note: it had been given to Garner by housemates on Falconer Street, in 1974, the year before she started “Monkey Grip.”

Garner took me out to the back yard, walked up to the chicken coop, and sweetly greeted the chickens. She let them out and gave them water and some weeds. We had lunch, then got into the car and drove until we reached wide-open plains, fields of bright-yellow rapeseed. We talked about Australian roadkill, of which, unusually, there had been none so far. “The wallabies are the saddest, because they always look like they are holding a little handbag,” Garner said.

Primrose Gully is three small buildings on a steep piece of land: one with a living room and kitchen, one for the outhouse, and one where people sleep. It once belonged to a friend of Garner’s. She later bought it, then sold it to Portail, who finally sold it to Linda. Really, it seemed to belong to the birds—an eagle tipped its wing over the gully below us, upsetting magpies everywhere; wrens darted through bushes and into a birdbath. In the second volume of her diaries, Garner refers to the home again and again. “At Primrose Gully, a night of the most perfect stillness, hardly a sound, colossal wheeling fields of stars, and very late a small bright moon, lying on its back,” she writes.

Garner knew at an early age that she didn’t want her mother’s life of domestic work. It wasn’t, though, that she minded the work itself. She liked the process of establishing order, the promise of a result. When she was first married to Bill, she remembered, she would sweep their staircase every Saturday morning. “It was a vigorous job, and it had to be done, and I wanted to do it,” she said. “And it was the sort of thing it would never have occurred to him to do.”

Instead, she turned the marshalling of domestic details into art. This is most visible in “The Children’s Bach,” which Garner wrote in the early eighties, and which has probably done the most to kindle interest in her writing in the U.S. It centers on the home of a married couple, Athena and Dexter, who are visited by an old friend of Dexter’s named Elizabeth, and her lover, Philip. Soon, Athena begins to spend time away from Dexter and with Philip instead. Garner based the characters on people she knew, but imagined the scenario—the people she turned into couples in the book had never met in real life.

The book is written in the close third person, and perspectives change between characters almost without signal, so that you are not quite sure, at first, who is kissing whom in the kitchen, and who is watching; for brief moments, you inhabit one interior life after another. “It’s brutally and elegantly efficient,” the writer Ben Lerner told me. He heard about Garner from another writer, Jenny Offill, then fell in love with “The Children’s Bach.” Writers were “passing it back and forth” among each other, he said. The novel, in his view, is about “the ways art influences us or connects us or pushes us however slightly towards transgression in our daily lives.” Eventually, he wrote an introduction to a new edition of the book. What he and Garner share, he said, is the idea “that fiction is not only about illuminating other minds, or giving you access to other people’s experience, but also about running up against the unknowability of the self and other.”

Sitting on the small deck at Primrose Gully, Garner watched the birds for a while, then started to speak. “I remember I had just moved from the apartment in Elizabeth Bay after Murray and I split up, and I was lying in this bed with the window open, which I was never allowed to do when we were together, and I thought, Oh, I’ve died and gone to Heaven,” she said. (Bail disputed this description.) I thought of a moment on the last pages of “How to End a Story,” from that same period. She is in that new apartment, and has “moved a cane chair into the bedroom so I can survey my view,” she writes. “I sit there in the early evenings and contemplate it.” Then she adds, “One day I’ll be light-hearted again. I swear I will. I will work my way there.” ♦


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