Helen Garner is one of Australia’s preeminent writers. Over the course of more than a dozen books, she has moved from ﬁction to nonﬁction and back again, expertly blending the two forms into narratives that are intelligent, lucid, and often disturbing. Among the many themes that unite Garner’s work are the fracturing of intimate relationships, the consequences of cruelty and violence, and what she describes as the “excruciating realms of human behavior, where reason ﬁghts to gain a purchase, and everybody feels entitled to an opinion.” Her most recent book, This House of Grief (2014), examines a murder case in which a father was accused of deliberately drowning his three young sons by driving his car into a dam. Garner punctuates sober courtroom sketches with moments of radical authorial exposure: she is as interested in her own irrational and prejudicial responses as she is in the particulars of the alleged crime. But Garner’s ruthless dissection of motivation—both her own and that of her subjects—does not exclude compassion. Ultimately, Garner ﬁnds truth in questions rather than in answers, in complexity rather than in simplicity, and in her own fervent belief that “there is something wild in humans.”
To be awarded a Windham-Campbell Prize for nonfiction validates in the most marvellously generous way the formal struggles that I’ve been engaged in over the past twenty years. It gives me the heart to keep going.