This House of Grief by Helen Garner

this house of griefThis House of Grief: The Story of a Murder Trial by Helen Garner

Text Publishing, April 2015

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.


This House of Grief follows the trial of Rob Farquharson, accused of murdering his three sons by driving them over a cliff into a dam in 2005. After a very brief introduction, we follow Garner observing Farquharson’s trials, which cover over five years. It’s the story of her opinion of him and the trial, but he is still a mystery by the end of the book. She talks a lot about the reactions of the jurors and the journalists with whom she sits, and it’s an interesting position. She doesn’t cover the court system regularly, but she has written a couple previous true crime books.

This is an appealing book because it distills the appeal of court-watching or crime-fiction-reading: Farquharson is still unknowable even through the years of trials and appeals. And figuring out how people cope with something so horrible happening to them is another draw.

Garner never interviews Farquharson’s ex-wife Cindy Gambino, but she does grow close to her parents. Garner is also quite honest about the toll of observing the trials for such a horrible crime: facing that horror is draining, and her comments about her own thoughts as well as the reactions of her fellow journalists and her young companion Louise for the first trial stand in for the variety of reactions people have to such a trials.

This is a brief book that was quite a quick read for me, and it one that has stayed with me, which is not so common. It’s not a book about the downfalls of the legal process or trials, though that happens in part (the trial proceedings are very detailed and technical in parts) It’s not a book that gets inside the mind of a killer, though there is some of that. It’s not a book that is sensationalistic about a horrific murder: it’s compelling because it’s a horrible crime and it’s hard to contemplate how Farquharson could have done it.  I’ll definitely be reading more Helen Garner.

Thanks to Kim at Reading Matters for recommending this author.


6 thoughts on “This House of Grief by Helen Garner

  1. I’ve heard some good things about this one, Rebecca. It certainly sounds like the sort of book that would stay with one, too. I may just have to put this one on my TBR…

    • If you’re in the mood for a trial-centered piece, this is very, very good, Margot. Hope to catch up with your blog now that it’s past April 15!

  2. Thanks for the link. And so glad you enjoyed this (if “enjoyed” is the right word) — she’s written some intriguing narrative non-fiction during her career. If you liked this see if you can seek out Joe Cinque’s Consolation, which is another Australian murder trial.

    • You’re very welcome. I listened to a podcast with Garner where she talked a bit about Joe Cinque’s family, and it sounded like a great book as well. I will seek it out.

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