If divorce cracks open the door just a bit to know what has gone on inside the private world of a marriage –grist to the mill for stickybeaks and gossips, then crime, or the way it is dealt with by society, kicks the door in flat, leaving the participants entirely exposed to the public’s scrutiny and condemnation.
This story contains both a divorce and a crime – murder – as it covers the trials of Robert Farquharson after the drowning of his three sons when their car plunged into a dam in country Victoria on Father’s Day, 2005.
Helen Garner is very good at writing, and has a highly recognisable name in Australian literature. For whatever motive, a decision was made by her to follow the trials, attending the court in person for their long duration in order to write this book. The True Crime genre is a popular one, and one of its features is that it sheds a light on otherwise ordinary people, involved in the everyday struggle to lead their normal lives. The trouble, to my mind, is that it furthers the legally-sanctioned invasion of the privacy of the accused and anyone associated with them, who themselves may be suffering enormously in every way, and from which they have no recourse. To her credit, Garner does give voice at one point to what a horrific experience the process of the legal system can be to families caught up in it, and is generally restrained in her opinions.
On reading This House of Grief, my feeling was that although there was nothing wrong in Garner writing it, there was little purpose served in publishing it. Garner’s account, mercifully in my opinion, does not bring any more of importance to light after the media saturation of the two highly publicised trials, and I think that if anyone really feels they missed out, then the Sentencing Remarks of the Judges concerned, available freely on the internet, are succinct and thorough enough.