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Yellow Notebook: Diaries Volume I 1978–1986

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Helen Garner has kept a diary for almost all her life. But until now, those exercise books filled with her thoughts, observations, frustrations and joys have been locked away, out of bounds, in a laundry cupboard. Finally, Garner has opened her diaries and invited readers into the world behind her novels and works of non-fiction. Recorded with frankness, humour and Helen Garner has kept a diary for almost all her life. But until now, those exercise books filled with her thoughts, observations, frustrations and joys have been locked away, out of bounds, in a laundry cupboard. Finally, Garner has opened her diaries and invited readers into the world behind her novels and works of non-fiction. Recorded with frankness, humour and steel-sharp wit, these accounts of her everyday life provide an intimate insight into the work of one of Australia’s greatest living writers. Yellow Notebook, Diaries Volume One, in this elegant hardback edition, spans about a decade beginning in the late 1970s just after the publication of her first novel, Monkey Grip. It will delight Garner fans and those new to her work alike. Helen Garner writes novels, stories, screenplays and works of non-fiction. In 2006 she received the inaugural Melbourne Prize for Literature, and in 2016 she won the prestigious Windham–Campbell Prize for non-fiction and the Western Australian Premier’s Book Award. In 2019 she was honoured with the Australia Council Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature. Her books include Monkey Grip, The Children’s Bach, The First Stone, Joe Cinque's Consolation, The Spare Room, This House of Grief, Everywhere I Look, True Stories and Yellow Notebook. ‘Garner is scrupulous, painstaking, and detailed, with sharp eyes and ears. She is everywhere at once, watching and listening, a recording angel at life’s secular apocalypses…her unillusioned eye makes her clarity compulsive.’ James Wood, New Yorker ‘On the page, Garner is uncommonly fierce, though this usually has the effect on me of making her seem all the more likable. I relish her fractious, contrarian streak – she wears it as a chef would a bloody apron – even as I worry about what it would be like to have to face it down.’ Guardian ‘[Garner’s] writing expresses a hard-won grace. It brings you closer to the world, and shows you how to love it.’ Monthly


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Helen Garner has kept a diary for almost all her life. But until now, those exercise books filled with her thoughts, observations, frustrations and joys have been locked away, out of bounds, in a laundry cupboard. Finally, Garner has opened her diaries and invited readers into the world behind her novels and works of non-fiction. Recorded with frankness, humour and Helen Garner has kept a diary for almost all her life. But until now, those exercise books filled with her thoughts, observations, frustrations and joys have been locked away, out of bounds, in a laundry cupboard. Finally, Garner has opened her diaries and invited readers into the world behind her novels and works of non-fiction. Recorded with frankness, humour and steel-sharp wit, these accounts of her everyday life provide an intimate insight into the work of one of Australia’s greatest living writers. Yellow Notebook, Diaries Volume One, in this elegant hardback edition, spans about a decade beginning in the late 1970s just after the publication of her first novel, Monkey Grip. It will delight Garner fans and those new to her work alike. Helen Garner writes novels, stories, screenplays and works of non-fiction. In 2006 she received the inaugural Melbourne Prize for Literature, and in 2016 she won the prestigious Windham–Campbell Prize for non-fiction and the Western Australian Premier’s Book Award. In 2019 she was honoured with the Australia Council Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature. Her books include Monkey Grip, The Children’s Bach, The First Stone, Joe Cinque's Consolation, The Spare Room, This House of Grief, Everywhere I Look, True Stories and Yellow Notebook. ‘Garner is scrupulous, painstaking, and detailed, with sharp eyes and ears. She is everywhere at once, watching and listening, a recording angel at life’s secular apocalypses…her unillusioned eye makes her clarity compulsive.’ James Wood, New Yorker ‘On the page, Garner is uncommonly fierce, though this usually has the effect on me of making her seem all the more likable. I relish her fractious, contrarian streak – she wears it as a chef would a bloody apron – even as I worry about what it would be like to have to face it down.’ Guardian ‘[Garner’s] writing expresses a hard-won grace. It brings you closer to the world, and shows you how to love it.’ Monthly

30 review for Yellow Notebook: Diaries Volume I 1978–1986

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jaclyn Crupi

    Helen Garner for breakfast, lunch and dinner. These diaries offer unparallelled access and intimate insight to the mind of this great writer and I ate it all up. Garner has featured in my dreams while I read this and she is very much in my head which has been a joy. Talk about aqua profonda!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Suzanne

    I have not read this book yet. I will read it over my summer holiday; well that is the plan. The following are some lines by Helen as I listened to her speak at the City Recital Hall at a Sydney Writer's Festival event I attended a short while back. This woman is becoming my writing guru. It can't get better than this. As with every piece of writing that’s got any value, there’s a sort of line there’s a thread of muscle that runs through it and this is something that if you teach writing, or if I have not read this book yet. I will read it over my summer holiday; well that is the plan. The following are some lines by Helen as I listened to her speak at the City Recital Hall at a Sydney Writer's Festival event I attended a short while back. This woman is becoming my writing guru. It can't get better than this. As with every piece of writing that’s got any value, there’s a sort of line there’s a thread of muscle that runs through it and this is something that if you teach writing, or if you edit other people’s work and your own of course. But that’s another matter. That’s what you’re doing. What an editor is doing. Is taking off everything that’s obscuring that muscle, that line that runs through a piece of writing. And that’s why people talk about over writing, I mean people who over write, they don’t trust their sense of muscle in their own writing. They think ooh I’ve got to put in some frilly bits here, and I’ll have to put in a few limbs and veins and things like that, but later you strip that off and if it’s any good there’s that muscle running through it. So, so basically I suppose I was taking out everything that didn’t look or feel like muscle. Um, but of course that image breaks down when you talk about fragments cause the book consists of fragments. I’m going to get lost in the kind anatomical imagery here if I push that any further!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Tamsien West (Babbling Books)

    Interesting insight into the life and mind of a great writer. The way she turns phrases and makes precise observations was fascinating. There were so many brilliant quotes, particularly about the struggle of a writer or artist of any kind of feel that their work is valuable.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kimbofo

    This is an extraordinarily powerful and compelling collection of Garner's own carefully curated personal diary entries spanning an entire decade. It's totally immersive and a joy to read. Without a doubt, it will be on my "favourite books of the year" list for 2019. To read my full review, please visit my blog.

  5. 5 out of 5

    James

    the way helen garner writes makes me feel so clatteringly, vividly alive

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kolumbina

    A hard book to review. Definitely a well written book, a very sincere and open insights in many various aspects of Helen Garner's life. I read most of HG's books, really liked her non fiction, especially Joe Cinque's Consolation, This House of Grief and The First Stone. Diaries are always a very personal kind of writing, especially this book which is written in fragments, some of them fairly short and some of them longer, Helen Garner's life, thoughts, experiences, emotions and also events in A hard book to review. Definitely a well written book, a very sincere and open insights in many various aspects of Helen Garner's life. I read most of HG's books, really liked her non fiction, especially Joe Cinque's Consolation, This House of Grief and The First Stone. Diaries are always a very personal kind of writing, especially this book which is written in fragments, some of them fairly short and some of them longer, Helen Garner's life, thoughts, experiences, emotions and also events in society. Some of these fragments were very interesting, could relate them to my own life and thoughts, I found them very interesting. Unfortunately there were parts which I found boring and "not my cup of tea". Must be hard to write so openly about your own emotions, successes but also failures.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kathy Fogarty

    I am entirely biased as I love all things Helen Garner. I can't imagine why someone would want to adopt a critical stance and thereby miss out on the experience of fully immersing themselves in her exquisite observations of life and people. This book is made up of her diary entries from 1978 - 1987 and comprises her observations of self, others, interactions, memory, nature, romantic love, mother-daughter love, murder, the law, music, the pain of criticism, grief, dogs, other writers, I am entirely biased as I love all things Helen Garner. I can't imagine why someone would want to adopt a critical stance and thereby miss out on the experience of fully immersing themselves in her exquisite observations of life and people. This book is made up of her diary entries from 1978 - 1987 and comprises her observations of self, others, interactions, memory, nature, romantic love, mother-daughter love, murder, the law, music, the pain of criticism, grief, dogs, other writers, friendships, spirituality and more. I'm left with my usual sad-empty feeling when there is no more Garner to read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Veronica

    Yellow Notebook confirms Helen Garner as this country's most astute chronicler of life, in all its messy mundanity and pain and glory. I dog-eared every other page until my copy resembled a PhD student's thesis subject.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Gaby Meares

    I felt like a voyeur as I read Garner’s diaries. How brave she is to expose herself to us, her readers. She hasn’t censored her entries, even her climbing of Uluru remains. (Here’s a link to an interview with HG explaining her choice not to censor. https://www.smh.com.au/culture/books/...) My copy is thick with book darts marking the passages that I wish to quote; too many! She is kind and mean; gossipy and snippy and needy, but also generous and loving. She is spiteful. She is funny. She is I felt like a voyeur as I read Garner’s diaries. How brave she is to expose herself to us, her readers. She hasn’t censored her entries, even her climbing of Uluru remains. (Here’s a link to an interview with HG explaining her choice not to censor. https://www.smh.com.au/culture/books/...) My copy is thick with book darts marking the passages that I wish to quote; too many! She is kind and mean; gossipy and snippy and needy, but also generous and loving. She is spiteful. She is funny. She is honest. She constantly struggles with feelings of failure and mediocrity. This is a book to savour and return to again and again. It is delicious. Here are my favourite quotes: *How we fight, tooth and nail, against real insight. Against letting go of what makes us suffer. *Why I like the English language: because it contains words like cup. Fat, short and stumpy, and rather optimistic. *…we don’t want to fight. So we do what women do: we fade away. *I couldn’t help agonising over it, thinking of the smallness of my scope, the ordinariness of it, its bourgeois nature. What critics will say. What my friends will think and not say. How I will appear before the world. Oh shut up. *M [Garner’s daughter] has her school friend over for the night. Together they enter an element quite separate from ordinary life - male and female characters, invested accents, vast fantasies, paroxysms of malicious laughter. There’s something terrifying about them. *Young male photographer: ‘Come on. big smile. Love those big smiles.’ ‘Please don’t tell me to smile.’ ‘You look starched.’ ‘I am starched. I am a starched person.’ *The only passionate love that can co-exist with civilised daily working life is the love we have for our children. The other sort either loses its madness and becomes something else, or blows everything sky-high. *It is perhaps always hard to find a person who will play out a drama with you right to the end, and not stroll off the stage before the killing starts. *Maybe a marriage can get up again and walk, after a terrible beating. *He’ll be like the Russians: he’ll retreat and retreat and retreat until I freeze to death. *I need to find out why I so often get myself into situations where people have to symbolically murder me.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Text Publishing

    The following book reviews have been shared by Text Publishing – publisher of Yellow Notebook ‘[Garner’s] writing expresses a hard-won grace. It brings you closer to the world, and shows you how to love it.’ Monthly ‘[Garner] experiences the consequences of her writing so acutely, and that is what makes her so extraordinary—you can read the suffering in every word’ Annabel Crabb 'There is so much wisdom in this book that we can be grateful that Garner has decided to share it around.’ Michael McGirr, The following book reviews have been shared by Text Publishing – publisher of Yellow Notebook ‘[Garner’s] writing expresses a hard-won grace. It brings you closer to the world, and shows you how to love it.’ Monthly ‘[Garner] experiences the consequences of her writing so acutely, and that is what makes her so extraordinary—you can read the suffering in every word’ Annabel Crabb 'There is so much wisdom in this book that we can be grateful that Garner has decided to share it around.’ Michael McGirr, Age ‘Garner is unparalleled in her honesty and perceptiveness…Experience the things she read, the things she did, they ways she felt, and so much more in this immersive thoughtscape. A delight.’ Booktopia ‘As intriguing as it is deeply humbling.' Adelaide Review ‘For fans of Garner’s keen eye, ear for dialogue and shining snapshot moments, this is a must.’ Canberra Times

  11. 5 out of 5

    Tracey

    To be honest you can not review or critic a diary as it is not structured and it is a collection of thoughts, observations and recollections. You can only reflect on the insight that is afforded to the reader by the author allowing you to be part of their intimate world. For I am sure many write a journal and many do not believe anyone will ever read their words until after they have left the mortal shell. Helen Garner is one of Australia's great writers and she allows us to read her To be honest you can not review or critic a diary as it is not structured and it is a collection of thoughts, observations and recollections. You can only reflect on the insight that is afforded to the reader by the author allowing you to be part of their intimate world. For I am sure many write a journal and many do not believe anyone will ever read their words until after they have left the mortal shell. Helen Garner is one of Australia's great writers and she allows us to read her observations, her fears and her loves. These are not long entries, some are a couple of words, there are no dates just an acknowledgment of the passing of a year. You get a glimpse of Garner's personal life as she writes about relationships be they friends, family or lovers. There is insight into Garner's writing process and the doubts she has as a writer, mother, wife and friend. Being able to read what Helen Garner actually thought or how she recalled an event at the time is what I enjoyed the most. As that is her version of history, she lived those moments and put them on the page as she recalled them. There is no censoring, even climbing Ayers Rock is left in, as it should be. Helen Garner explains it best as to why she left the entry in in this aricle in the SMH. https://www.smh.com.au/culture/books/... I enjoyed the opportunity to read these entries and I recalled some of the incidents mentioned. Especially some of the crimes that occurred and the impact they had on me and those around. Some moments had me laughing and others applauding her honesty.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    Lovely little snippets of a wonderfully complex, fun, scary and loving life.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Anne Fenn

    Loved every line of these books.

  14. 5 out of 5

    elisabeth

    4.5 stars

  15. 5 out of 5

    Zora

    Oh I just gobbled this up! What an absolute treat. Helen Garner was my first proper favourite writer, then I went off her for a while, but I have never shaken her and never will. These dairies are vintage Garner, from my favourite period - just after Monkey Grip and covering The Children’s Bach and Postcards from Surfers, or 1978-1987. Those wonderful books and stories were dismissed by some as jazzed up diaries - or what we may now call in more exalted tones autofiction - and to those critics Oh I just gobbled this up! What an absolute treat. Helen Garner was my first proper favourite writer, then I went off her for a while, but I have never shaken her and never will. These dairies are vintage Garner, from my favourite period - just after Monkey Grip and covering The Children’s Bach and Postcards from Surfers, or 1978-1987. Those wonderful books and stories were dismissed by some as jazzed up diaries - or what we may now call in more exalted tones autofiction - and to those critics these diaries probably prove the point. But approached from the other direction, the diaries are as artful, observant and full of life as the fiction. The policing of borders between fiction and non- fiction is so tedious and Helen Garner helped break it down. She writes about the agonies and occasional ecstasies of writing, the joy of parenting her teenage daughter, the quotidian beauty of everyday life, the quandaries of love, the highlights and lowlights of the arts/ literary scene, Melbourne (of course), Sydney (fleetingly, but rather lovingly), various other national and international locales, friends from all over, lodgers (the law student HG fans will recognise from Last Days of Chez Nous), lovers/husbands (there’s the French husband, ‘V’ is Murray Bail but who is ‘L’?), housework, her dreams... yes, I even enjoyed reading about her dreams (most of the time). This opening volume of what will be an ongoing series (hooray!) is superbly edited and a lovely object to behold and hold.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Elsie

    4.5. It’s magic to read around the books I’ve loved. I’ve written down so many snippets of her musings from this collection. Whip smart and snide and kind and reflexive.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Amy Polyreader

    I would love to live inside the mind of Helen Garner. I just love the way her brain ticks, how she crafts sentences so casually and draws to attention such enormous moments of truth. There’s a lot of honesty in this. It’s journal entries, so we can’t expect it to be judgement free, and if you were to expect that it would be a rather bland journal. I love the brutality and softness these pages can express all at once.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Danielle {halfdesertedstreets}

    4.5 stars. I need more, please.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sybil Nolan

    Best book I read over summer. It's self-conscious but in a good sense. Aphoristic without being precious. And no doubt particularly valuable to those of us who were in our twenties or early thirties in this era, when life somehow seemed less structured and less hemmed in by the difficulties and divisions of contemporary Australia (as Garner helps us understand, that was in many ways just a comfortable illusion!). As Garner acknowledged in an excellent interview on Radio National, the figure of Best book I read over summer. It's self-conscious but in a good sense. Aphoristic without being precious. And no doubt particularly valuable to those of us who were in our twenties or early thirties in this era, when life somehow seemed less structured and less hemmed in by the difficulties and divisions of contemporary Australia (as Garner helps us understand, that was in many ways just a comfortable illusion!). As Garner acknowledged in an excellent interview on Radio National, the figure of the child in this journal is a huge part of its charm, a little girl growing up with a lot of perception and capacity to enjoy life with her mum.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Gee

    Every time I read Helen Garner, I want to write like Helen Garner. I did not think I was going to find the diary snippet format so readable, but it was addictive. The book came with me wherever I went. I read a bit in the morning, a bit on my tea break, a bit before I went to bed. Like always, Garner surprises me, comforts me, puts me to shame. Her observations are erudite and revelatory, often within the space of a sentence or two. She is so good at noticing, at seeing. It was a joy to spend Every time I read Helen Garner, I want to write like Helen Garner. I did not think I was going to find the diary snippet format so readable, but it was addictive. The book came with me wherever I went. I read a bit in the morning, a bit on my tea break, a bit before I went to bed. Like always, Garner surprises me, comforts me, puts me to shame. Her observations are erudite and revelatory, often within the space of a sentence or two. She is so good at noticing, at seeing. It was a joy to spend time with her and the people she spent time with, feeling them move around and exist.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Rosemary Atwell

    Poignant, raw, deeply thought-provoking and occasionally joyous, these beautiful entries reaffirm Garner as an indomitable, unflinchingly honest, vulnerable human who also happens to be Australia’s greatest writer. Layer upon layer of wonderful prose, diverse quotations that demonstrate the breadth of her reading, tiny snapshots of acute observation and the myriad of detail that makes savouring her work such a joy - ‘Yellow Notebook’ offers essential insight for both writers and readers on Poignant, raw, deeply thought-provoking and occasionally joyous, these beautiful entries reaffirm Garner as an indomitable, unflinchingly honest, vulnerable human who also happens to be Australia’s greatest writer. Layer upon layer of wonderful prose, diverse quotations that demonstrate the breadth of her reading, tiny snapshots of acute observation and the myriad of detail that makes savouring her work such a joy - ‘Yellow Notebook’ offers essential insight for both writers and readers on literary crafting and approach.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cel Jel

    This was fascinating, reliving a decade of our life with the observation of another. Her insights into events from a different perspective to mine. The events she may have been overseas for, that I would have expected some comment about when others were mentioned. I have read few of her books, but not having read this I may read more at some stage. Her writing was really interesting.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Rania T

    Small snippets from the life of Gardner. It surely was a trip down memory lane when she would recall certain events that are now history. It's a good thing that she didn't destroy her diaries, as she sometimes talks about wanting to do so in some of her entries.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Melinda Kovac

    My pathetic attempts at diaries are stupid in comparison to this. What a writer! Even when she is filled with self doubt she is amazing. Her observations, her honesty, the rawness of her... I loved every moment. Thank you for sharing this with the world!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rosie Hunt

    As with Garner’s fiction, this is full of lines I want to savour and remember. A collection of snippets of thought, the strongest and most interesting themes for me were her self-doubt and her search for an identity outside of marriage. I want more!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sue Langston

    Great observational writing.

  27. 5 out of 5

    cassielaura

    A rare insight into the contempt an author has for self and works of art. Terribly funny too.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Jones

    4/5 - I love other peoples’ diaries and I love Helen Garner so what’s not to love about this?!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Zach

    Full of wit and insight and maybe too much of both sometimes.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Gus Pattinson

    Love love love this book. Fantastic. A challenging read but rewarding.

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