20 books of summer, 20 books of summer (2022), Australia, Author, Book review, Helen Garner, memoir, Non-fiction, Publisher, Setting, Text

‘One Day I’ll Remember This: Diaries Volume II, 1987-1995’ by Helen Garner

Non-fiction – hardcover; Text Publishing; 320 pages; 2020.

I think I might burn all these diaries. What if I died and people got hold of them and read them? Their endless self obsession, anecdotes, self-excuses, rationalisations. Meanness about others.

One Day I’ll Remember This is the second volume in Helen Garner’s diaries, of which there are currently three. (I have reviewed her first volume, Yellow Notebook, here.)

This one covers the period 1987 to 1995 and begins with the news that Garner, now in her mid-40s, is splitting her time between Melbourne, where she lives, a rural retreat called Primrose Gully, and Sydney, where her lover, the writer dubbed “V”, resides. She later marries him — her third marriage —  but it’s not all smooth sailing.

In her richly detailed prose, she pours out her heart and shares her innermost thoughts about life and love and friendship and the creative urge — and everything in between.

A writer’s life

And, because she is a writer, we find out what she’s reading —  John McGahern, Janet Malcolm, Slyvia Plath, Patrick White, old copies of the TLS, Sally Morgan’s My Place, among others — and get a ringside seat as she works on her own screenplay The Last Days of Chez Nous and, a little later, her novel Cosmo Cosmolino (which I haven’t read).

Towards the end of this volume, she’s penning The First Stone, a non-fiction book (about a sexual harassment case) that turned out to be especially divisive — even before it was published.

A friend called: ‘Listen, the shit’s really going to hit the fan with this book. The street word is you’re running the line that women get raped were asking for it.’

Self-aware but fearless

Not that Garner is too worried about what anyone thinks of her. Throughout this volume, it’s clear she’s her own harshest critic.

I will probably never write anything large, lasting, solid or influential. Is this a proper life I am leading?

She’s plagued by self-doubt, not only in her work but in her life as well, both as a mother and as a wife.

I say, ‘I’m no good at marriage. I think I’d be awful to be married to.’

She spends a lot of time beating herself up about things — she has a falling out with a close friend, frets about her adult daughter leaving home and no longer needing her, wonders what it would be like to confront her lover’s wife to tell her about the affair — but she’s also good humoured and drops many witty one-liners.

My front tooth is dead. I have to have a root canal. But I swam eight laps of the Fitzroy Baths.

Gorgeous writing

Her powers of observation are extraordinary, and the way she paints scenes in just a few words is dazzling — particularly when you know she’s not writing for an audience; these were personal diaries never intended to be published.

Late summer morning. Swam. Pool very beautiful. Sun giving out long, oblique rays of pink and gold.

Similarly, in just a line or two, she is able to transport us to a different time and place —  the “miracle” of receiving a fax message, the tragedy of the Tiananmen Square massacre, the joy of the Berlin Wall coming down — and yet these diaries don’t feel dated.

That’s because the writing, at all times, is alive and wonderous, full of daring thoughts and brimming with heartfelt emotion and honesty. Thank goodness she never did get around to burning them.

This is my 11th book for #20booksofsummer 2022 edition. I rushed out and bought it as soon as it was released at the tail end of 2020, where it remained in my TBR for longer than I planned. In fact, it was lying in my TBR for so long, the publisher had enough time to publish a third volume  — which has been sitting in my TBR for more than six months now!

9 thoughts on “‘One Day I’ll Remember This: Diaries Volume II, 1987-1995’ by Helen Garner”

  1. Lovely post Kimbofo. I bought the third one around the time I posted on this, fully intending to read it promptly while this was still fresh? But time has passed and it’s still waiting. I’ve so enjoyed these diaries for the reasons you give in your headings here.

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    1. I’m looking forward to reading volume 3 soon. Her diaries are so enjoyable to read. I like how immersive they are and how the entries vary from just a line in some to entire pages in others.

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  2. I love Garner’s writing, but I’m unsure about reading her diaries. Mostly because she puts so much of herself into her fiction anyway, and I prefer the continuous sentences and paragraphs there over the point form of diary writing. I’d like to read CC next, though it’s not one I own.

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    1. She doesn’t do point form. Her diary entries are exquisite. There are entire stories in many of her entries. The bits I have quoted here are just simple sentences I liked or thought illustrated a point; their brevity isn’t indicative of the entire volume.

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    1. I like that these are easy to read in bite-size chunks as I don’t seem to have much bandwidth at the moment so I can read a few entries before bed or while waiting for my dinner to cook etc. and I don’t feel like I have missed the thread of the story, which might be the case if I was reading a complex novel.

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    1. LOL. Yes, it’s a good way to discover new writers from other lands. Garner was our best kept secret for a long time but a few years back she won a MacArthur Fellowship (the story of how she found out she’d won is hilarious – see this piece in the Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/mar/02/helen-garner-learns-of-207000-literary-prize-win-after-checking-junk-email)

      She writes fiction and non-fiction. I prefer her non-fiction (mainly true crime) and have reviewed a handful here: https://readingmattersblog.com/category/author/helen-garner/

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