Review: Postcards from Surfers by Helen Garner (AWW Challenge #10)

postcardsfromsurfersTim came home with a book for me the other day: the Penguin edition of Helen Garner’s Postcards from Surfers. I know of Garner of course, but hadn’t actually got around to reading it. Bless my feller, that’s a lack now made up.

Postcards from Surfers is a collection of 11 short stories, first published in 1985. I read the collection in two days and feel I must certainly return to them, read again, savour the elegance of the prose and the almost tangible atmosphere each story evokes. They are less narrative structures than paintings made of words, exploring relationships, love, loss, delusion, and self realisation. There’s humour and pathos, and often at the end of a story, the sense of holding one’s breath. Some feel end on the brink of some new story, it seems.

The story from which the collection gets its title, Postcard from Surfers, reminds me in a lot of ways of childhood holidays of mine in its atmosphere, though the rest of it is far from my own life.  The prose style is gorgeous, lyrical, with a rhythm that was so irresistable that I interupted Tim’s own book so I could read the first page aloud to him. The posting of the postcards at the end is an intriguing little twist and really is what makes the story work.

The Dark, The LIght is one of my favourites, with its jumble of images and a sort of surreal collective description of someone from your life choosing to leave it (perhaps a sibling leaving through marriage; perhaps a friend just withdrawing slowly from a friendship).

I don’t want to review story-by-story, though, so I will say again – Garner’s prose is poetry and word-painting, there are stories here but there are bigger things too – atmospheres and truths (or at least some people’s truths) and perspectives that get into your head and leave you holding your breath, thinking about the implications, where your own life may fall on a Venn diagram with the scenes you’re now witnessing.

But for all their complexity and non-linear bites-of-life storytelling, each piece is so easy to read. The words slip into you so simply, and then hang around, coating your synapses. In a good way.

So, yeah. Helen Garner. I think I really like her.

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, iPhone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.