“The central fact of the matter would not let us rest. It tore at our hearts that inside the plunging car, while their father fled, three little boys had fought with their restraints, breathed filthy water, choked, thrashed and died.”
This House of Grief is the fourth non-fiction book by award-winning Australian author and journalist, Helen Garner. Few Australians would be unaware of the polarising court cases that convicted Robert Farquharson of the murder of his three young sons. As an interested observer with an open mind, Garner attended the trial, the appeal and the retrial. Her impartial account is so well told that at times the reader feels present in the courtroom.
Garner’s portrayal of the main players in this trial attest to her literary skill: the prosecutor “…a lean, contained-looking man, with a clipped grey beard and a mouth that cut across his face on a severe slant, like that of someone who spent his days listening to bullshit”, the defence counsel “…came barging in, with his black gown hanging off one shoulder and his wig pushed back from a shiny forehead. He was big, fair and bluff, Irish-style, with the bulk and presence of a footballer…”
The judge “a silver-haired man in his sixties with an open, good-humoured face. He wore a scarlet robe, but no wig…he was reassuring to look at, not lofty or threatening; behind his high bench he would lean forward on his elbows and address the court with genial warmth” and the appeal judges “…in scarlet robes with huge white fur cuffs. Their wigs were not the grey, dead-rat ones of the lower court, but foaming and globular, as pale as raw cauliflower, with a texture reminiscent of brain tissue. Their voices rang crisply, and their questions were challenging, pointed, and at times impatient. They gave no quarter. The quality of their listening was ferocious…”
As well as describing much of the testimony, she describes the reaction of the jury, judge, counsel, witnesses, the accused, family and other observers, to the evidence, and also, often, to the manner in which it was presented. She relates comments and opinions of her erstwhile companions in the courtroom, of journalists, acquaintances in the legal profession and family of the victim. And she shares her own reaction to it all. Yet, even in this sad tale, there are moments of humour. A brilliant read.