How to End a Story: Diaries 1995-1998

Helen Garner

How to End a Story: Diaries 1995-1998
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How to End a Story: Diaries 1995-1998

Helen Garner

Helen Garner’s third volume of diaries is an account of a woman fighting to hold on to a marriage that is disintegrating around her.

Living with a great writer who is consumed by his work, and trying to find a place for her own spirit to thrive, she rails against the confines while desperate to find the truth in their relationship-and the truth of her own self.

This is a harrowing story, a portrait of the messy, painful, dark side of love lost, of betrayal and sadness and the sheer force of a woman’s anger. But it is also a story of resilience and strength, strewn with sharp insight, moments of joy and hope, the immutable ties of motherhood and the regenerative power of a room of one’s own.


One can only imagine the enormous bravery it must take to publish a diary. Sharing your most private thoughts with the world is not for the faint of heart. But, faint of heart is not a term I would ever think to apply to Helen Garner. As a long-term reader of hers, it has always felt to me as though she is unafraid to be vulnerable, to examine her own thoughts and actions (and those of others) with a near forensic approach.

How to End a Story, the third instalment of Garner’s diaries, spans the years 1995 to 1998. Still grappling with the aftershocks of the controversy that swirled around the publication of The First Stone, one is drawn quickly into a deeply personal period of emotional growth, intensive therapy, writer’s block, a search for a place of one’s own and the simultaneously suffocating and explosive disintegration of her 10-year marriage.

Here is a woman valiantly trying to establish her right to take up space in the world, all while being subjected to inexcusable gaslighting by the person one would expect to be her greatest supporter. The tenacious ferocity with which Garner fought for her marriage, and assert her right to be heard and respected as an equal within it, is nothing short of breathtaking. Shining through all of this is the network of friends and family Garner draws strength from and her gratitude for their support and comfort. This network, coupled with her own indefatigable spirit, causes the reader to cheer her on and cry with her, all the way through to the blue couch.

How to End a Story is a devastating yet enlightening look into the private thoughts and feelings of an incredible woman. It is a privilege to read, and I for one, feel stronger and better for having done so.

Tye Cattanach is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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