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When Helen offers her spare room to her old friend Nicola, she has little idea of what lies ahead. Nicola has cancer and, sceptical of the medical establishment, is in the city for a course of alternative treatment. She is determined to deal with her illness in her own way, regardless of the advice that Helen can offer.
In the weeks that follow, Nicola’s fight against cancer will turn not only her own life upside down but the lives of everyone around her. Told with humour and honesty, this unforgettable novel charts a friendship as it is tested in the face of death.
Garner (Monkey Grip) employs her signature realism in this stunted novel about the infuriating and eye-opening experience of caring for a terminally ill loved one. Helen prepares a room in her Melbourne home for Nicola, an old friend who travels from Sydney to begin a course of alternative treatment for bowel cancer. The central conflict of the story centers around these treatments: Helen fears they may be doing more harm than good, while Nicola has undying faith in the unorthodox practices of the Theodore Institute (these revolve around vitamin C injections), leading Helen to question her ability to care for someone so deep in denial. Garner paints Nicola's unflinching optimism with a heavy hand, and her grand na vet is unconvincing, a flaw that's hard to overlook in a novel about a cancer patient. As it wears on, the narrative becomes clouded by litanies of worsening symptoms and platitudes about death, and Helen's bickering about the treatment while valid become grating and tiresome.