What to Read in 2021

In my quest to explore all things Women’s Fiction, I tested out Women’s Friendship Fiction this month.

March’s Pick:

March’s read, The Spare Room by Helen Garner, was a recommendation from a fellow Women’s Fiction author. Thank you Neroli for your suggestion!

As a reminder, my reading plan for 2021 is to sample a book from Women’s Fiction sub-genres and see if they match the overall expectations for Women’s Fiction. You can read more about the plan here.

Back to March’s book, The Spare Room.

Book Description from Kobo.com:

A powerful, witty, and taut novel about a complex friendship between two women—one dying, the other called to care for her—from an internationally acclaimed and award-winning author

How much of ourselves must we give up to help a friend in need? Helen has little idea what lies ahead—and what strength she must muster—when she offers her spare room to an old friend, Nicola, who has arrived in the city for cancer treatment. Skeptical of the medical establishment, and placing all her faith in an alternative health center, Nicola is determined to find her own way to deal with her illness, regardless of the advice Helen offers.

In the weeks that follow, Nicola’s battle for survival will turn not only her own life upside down but also those of everyone around her. The Spare Room is a magical gem of a book—gripping, moving, and unexpectedly funny—that packs a huge punch, charting a friendship as it is tested by the threat of death.

My take:

This was an interesting book to read right after February’s book, The Coldest Winter Ever: A Novel. Last month, I reported I couldn’t finish The Coldest Winter Ever because the book was a “gritty realistic tale” and “I was struck by the feeling that I knew how this was going to end and I didn’t need to spend any more time reading a book with a sad ending that features characters I didn’t like.”

Imagine my surprise when I realized that The Spare Room was exactly the same thing. It follows Helen in her journey to care for her friend Nicola, who is in denial about her cancer diagnosis. It’s clear from the onset of the book that Nicola’s life will soon end.

So why did I finish The Spare Room and enjoy it while last month’s book was a DNF?

It came down to the characters.

Helen, the main character in The Spare Room, is flawed and reacts negatively to some of Nicola’s behaviors. But underneath Helen’s surface is a caring and loving character who wants to help her friend. That came across loud and clear in the opening chapter of the book. Helen goes to great lengths to make sure her spare room is comfortable and welcoming to her friend. She cleans it and find a mirror for it and gets a new rug that she doesn’t really need, but she wants in order to make her friend feel welcome. She is putting her friend ahead of herself and her family in order to help her friend during her illness.

This made me like Helen from the onset. Even when I wondered why she would neglect her granddaughter or say what she did to her friend, Helen already established  herself as an empathetic character I was interested in seeing grow and change.

As far as this genre of Women’s Fiction, both the literary and friendship sub-categories offer an interesting change of pace. The prose in the book flows as it describes the views from the spare room and the painstaking efforts Helen goes to to insure her friend’s comfort. The fact that Helen questions what makes her a good enough friend to Nicola makes me think I should spend some additional time reading in the Friendship sub-category. But I’ll leave that for now, because I’ll be tackling another Women’s Fiction sub-genre in April!

Until next time…

Photo by Lacie Slezak on Unsplash