2018 - Shortlisted
This elegant critical biography of one of Australia’s great writers is loosely structured around the houses in which she lived and worked. There is always a possibility in a critical biography that the work rather than the life becomes the focus. Bernadette Brennan is fortunate that so much of Helen Garner’s life can be found in her writing: her life and work ‘whisper, worry, laugh and sing to each other’.
A Writing Life guides us through the magical process where life is turned into art. Brennan’s own writing is rich and deeply thoughtful, not only about Garner’s life but also about the nature and role of biography. She plays with the ‘me’ of Garner’s writing, recognising that the writer controls her own representation; her ‘me’ is also one of her fictions, since she presents her life selectively, through her ‘own imaginative, cultural and political filters’. Brennan has clearly gained much from the personal relationship she has forged with her subject but is nevertheless able to keep a critical distance. She has produced an exemplary study of a writer at work.