Yellow Notebook: Diaries Volume I, 1978–1987 by Helen Garner
When Helen Garner’s debut novel Monkey Grip was published in 1977, a couple of larrikins made some beer money by publishing a pamphlet, ‘Who’s Who in Monkey Grip’ and there might be a temptation for someone to do the same for Yellow Notebook. Spanning almost ten years, this is a book of fragments from Helen’s life. It’s a special privilege to be let in on what was going on in her mind, her life.
In Yellow Notebook, we hear the development of the voice that Garner’s many admirers relish; the forthright bursts, a mixture of certainty, wisdom, and occasionally massive doubt. At a reading, she glances up and sees a young woman transfixed, ‘I felt I could not read well, enough, had not written well enough, to justify her undefended openness.’ We get glimpses of the roller coaster of her emotional life and watch her beloved daughter grow up, ‘I love her more than anyone else in the world’. There’s a yearning for spontaneity, the wish to meet a man to whom she can say, ‘Do you want to drive to Darwin with me?’ and he’d say ‘Yes’ and they would just go. When a man at a party tells her she should write about the proletariat, Helen snaps back, ‘What bullshit. Why?’
The entries, too, are peppered with the process of writing; the struggles as she veers from being ‘a middle-level craftswoman’ to a feeling of triumph, ‘As I approach the end of the novel I can feel it pulling itself into shape …’ When I first started reading this collection I was unsure about reading disjointed fragments, but as I followed the arc of Helen’s thoughts, I enjoyed it more and more. I hope you do too.