It is a testament to Helen Garner’s evocative prose, tightly written plots and rich characterisations that I started reading her latest novel ‘The Spare Room’ in the morning while pedalling on the gym bike and finished it in the same day on the tram on my way to Readings bookshop to hear her speak about her writing career.

My NOT is not a reflection of the novel, which I think is a brilliant portrait of a power struggle and growing bad faith between two longstanding friends – one credulous and frightened of death from cancer, the other angry and sceptical of the quack treatment her terminally ill friend insists on undertaking. Rather, the NOT is a reflection of my disappointment that the hour session mostly comprised readings by Garner – two short stories from ‘The Feel of Steel’ and three excerpts from ‘The Spare Room’ – which I’d literally just read. Only briefly did she speak of her writing: the difficulty she has in remembering which parts of a novel are real and which parts are invented after she completes a book; how sometimes readers see significance or relationships within books or between her works that she had not intended; her ability to wound people by what she’s written and the moral problems she encounters when she blurs fact and fiction.