Each weekday between now and the announcement of the 2015 Stella Prize shortlist on March 12, we’ll be turning the Stella spotlight on a different longlisted author and their book. Today is day four, and our featured book is…

This House of Grief by Helen Garner (Text)


What the Stella Prize judges said:

It’s been ten years since Robert Farquharson’s car veered off a road in country Victoria after dark and careered into a dam, where his three sons, trapped inside, were drowned. Helen Garner’s unique brand of reportage is again evident in her account of the drowning and its aftermath, which largely took place in courtrooms, and which culminated in Farquharson’s conviction and imprisonment for the murder of his children.

In her exploration of the corrosively drawn-out process that followed in the courts, in the media, and in the community, Garner situates herself as a courtroom observer and reporter who does not claim dispassionate impartiality, but maintains a thoughtful, engaged, open-minded commentary that invites readers’ responses. With her trademark stylistic precision and lucidity, she shows how her own and everyone else’s immediate human reactions to such a story – horror, sympathy, empathy, instinct – are balanced against the relentlessly formal logic and causality that shape the due process of the law.

The blurb:

On the evening of 4 September 2005, Father’s Day, Robert Farquharson, a separated husband, was driving his three sons home to their mother, Cindy, when his car left the road and plunged into a dam. The boys, aged ten, seven and two, drowned. Was this an act of revenge or a tragic accident? The court case became Helen Garner’s obsession. She followed it on its protracted course until the final verdict.

In this utterly compelling book, Helen Garner tells the story of a man and his broken life. She presents the theatre of the courtroom with its actors and audience, all gathered for the purpose of bearing witness to the truth, players in the extraordinary and unpredictable drama of the quest for justice.

This House of Grief is a heartbreaking and unputdownable book by one of Australia’s most admired writers.

About the author:


Helen Garner was born in 1942 in Geelong, and was educated there and at Melbourne University. Her first novel, Monkey Grip, won the 1978 National Book Council Award, and was adapted for film in 1981. Since then she has published novels, short stories, essays, and feature journalism including The First Stone, Joe Cinque’s Consolation and The Spare Room which won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction, the Queensland Premier’s Award for Fiction and the Barbara Jefferis Award, and has been translated into many languages. Helen Garner lives in Melbourne.

What the critics said:

This House of Grief is a magnificent book about the majesty of the law and the terrible matter of the human heart… If you read nothing else this year, read this story of the sorrow and pity of innocents drowned and the spectres and enigmas of guilt.’ – Peter Craven, The Australian

‘[Garner] has perfected a kind of negative capability in which she acts a focal point for the book’s themes, which are channelled through her reactions but resonate far beyond them.’ – James Ley, Sydney Review of Books

‘[U}tterly compelling, [and] arresting in a way that takes it far beyond the guilty, charged voyeurism of most true crime reading.’ – Guy Rundle, Crikey

Further reading:

Find out more about...
Book of the dayHelen GarnerThis House of Grief