Evidence versus character study – the human element.
This House of Grief
The Story of a Murder Trial
On the evening of 4 September 2005, Robert Farquharson, a separated husband, was driving his three sons home to their mother when his car plunged into a dam. The boys, aged ten, seven, and two, drowned. Was this an act of deliberate revenge or a tragic accident? The court case became Helen Garner’s obsession. She was in the courtroom every day of Farquharson’s trial and subsequent retrial, along with countless journalists and the families of both the accused and his former wife.
In this utterly compelling book, Helen Garner tells the story of a man and his broken life. At its core is a search for truth that takes author and reader through complex psychological terrain. Garner exposes, with great compassion, that truth and justice are as complex as human frailty and morality.
Part of a nonfiction tradition that began with Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and continues in the works of Janet Malcolm, Erroll Morris, and others.
Helen Garner, born in 1942, is the author of numerous books of fiction and nonfiction. Her most recent novel The Spare Room was published to critical acclaim in 2010.
This is an intelligent, unbiased and compelling account of the courtroom trial and proceedings against a father charged with murdering his three sons; the subject matter is heartbreaking, confronting and disturbing. Garner’s account is very readable; without jargon and huge amounts of legalese that allows this courtroom drama to be very accessible and at the same time, mesmerising – who doesn’t want to know what actually happened, why it happened and how? I think are all interested in how other people’s live their lives and cases regarding the death of children, which while particularly harrowing are somehow still appealing in a ghoulish way; the deaths of these children seem to affect us all, we respond emotively to this narrative and the reader is invested in the outcome of the trial and its effects on those involved.
Garner supplies intimate portraits of the families; their grief, their backgrounds, support networks and how they appear and respond to questioning in court. Garner interviews some of those concerned. Garner sits through the entire trial and retrial listening to the facts presented, the legal arguments and adds her own interpretation of the events and tries to discover the truth. Garner handles the subject matter and the court procedure with sensitivity and humanity. At no point did I perceive any preconceptions or prejudice in the sharing and retelling of this story – Garner simply has a desire to understand what happened and why. A desire that is left unsated. If you sat in the courtroom during the trials or just read this book you will have an opinion, a reaction to this tragedy but have no explicit definitive understanding of the events of that night that lead to the death of 3 young boys. Garner quotes Janet Malcom (in Malcom’s magisterial work The Journalist and the Murderer) – a quote which precisely sums up this court room experience “Jurors sit there presumably weighing evidence but in actuality they are studying character.” I am so pleased Australia no longer has a death penalty. I am pleased I have not had to sit on a jury, what a huge responsibility.
Read and be affected by this intriguing narrative.