Book Review: The First Stone by Helen Garner

Please note that this book is based around discussions and themes of sexual assault. Please reach out for support if you should ever need. I have placed Australian specific contacts at the bottom of this post.

A friend recommended this book to me after we saw a man reading another of Garner’s books in a cafe (Joe Cinque’s Consolation – review to come!). She had read it some time ago and I could have sworn I had read it during my university years, when my thinking around feminism and where I sat in society was still forming and growing. There can be a lot of conviction in our opinions and beliefs as young people, but before I had experienced some of my own experiences in the workplace and general life I simply didn’t have the depth and ability to articulate myself that I have today. In years to come, with further reading, discussion and lived experience I am sure I will have gained greater nuance again. That’s a good thing! My views weren’t any less worthy as a younger person. They have just developed since then. Part of me wishes I’d written a review all the way back then, so that I could compare to myself now.

So anyway, fast forward to me sitting down and picking this book up for a second time, with vague swirlings in my head of approval, of alliance. Instead I was angry as anything when I started reading. Come on Helen, I kept thinking! Come on! I just wanted her to realise that by blaming the girls in this story before she had heard from them seemed odd. I understand that a journalist is a human being, and as a human they have gut reactions to things. But I just couldn’t get my head around her line of thinking.

To fill you in briefly, the book is focused on two young women who report that they had been sexually assaulted at a party by a man who is the head of their college. Garner is a skilled story teller and she puts incredible time into interviewing, searching, researching. She has a very digestible writing style and she offers unique insights into Australian legal and police workings that are really interesting. At times, however, it felt like this book was written closer to Garner’s personal diary than as a piece of developed critical analysis. It is likely very purposeful, her exploring and gaining an understanding about how she feels about the two girls’ and claims this book revolves around. Reading it in today’s environment though, it jars.

The book was first published in 1997, so I understand that we have gained a lot of traction in this space since then. I kept waiting for the “aha!” moment but it never came. I am so curious to see what others thought about this, particularly those who read it a while ago, and even more so those who have reread in in more recent years.

Always remember that you are never alone, and you deserve to be believed.

Published by immskar

In an effort to make the connections across our world stronger I am writing and sharing information about individuals and groups who bound their families, communities and societies together in a way that inspires us.

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