‘Death will not be denied,’ declares Helen, the narrator of The Spare Room. ‘To try is grandiose. It drives madness into the soul. It leaches out virtue. It injects poison into friendship, and makes a mockery of love.’ She is driven to this observation by her experience of caring for her friend Nicola, who is in the fourth, terminal stage of bowel cancer. Facing up to death is the subject of Helen Garner’s new novel, her first for sixteen years.