Wednesday 11 March 2020

My Attempt At Explaining How Impressed I Was With Joe Cinque's Consolation by Helen Garner

Title: Joe Cinque's Consolation: A True Story of Death, Grief and the Law 
Author: Helen Garner
Publication Date: 1st January, 2004
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In October 1997, a clever young law student at ANU made a bizarre plan to murder her devoted boyfriend after a dinner party at their house. Some of the dinner guests - most of them university students - had heard rumours of the plan. Nobody warned Joe Cinque. He died one Sunday, in his own bed, of a massive dose of Rohypnol and heroin. His girlfriend and her best friend were charged with murder.

Helen Garner followed the trials in the ACT Supreme Court. Compassionate but unflinching, this is a book about how and why Joe Cinque died. It probes the gap between ethics and the law; examines the helplessness of the courts in the face of what we think of as "evil"; and explores conscience, culpability, and the battered ideal of duty of care.


I thought it would’ve been easier to review and rate a Helen Garner novel considering I’ve already read some of her works. I was wrong.

I’m struggling to really put into words, and have been for say the past year now, how I really felt or thought about Joe Cinque’s Consolation. That’s not to say this was a bad read, far from it actually. It is just difficult, at least for me, to review/rate a book that is a blend of facts and personal recounts because I never want to tread on someone else’s personal perspective in a negative manner.

In saying that, Garner has presented a bizarre and horrifying case in her own way, opening not only the case itself but also her writing to invitation for thought, judgement and debate. Garner's strong point is her ability to weave personal anecdotes, relatable to the everyday reader, into the crime narrative. It allows people to better understand the case. It does require patience though, as Garner's writing pace is slow and methodic. It feels as though every sentence that Garner writes has been thought over for many hours, each point intentional. I really like that from Garner, the fact that, as she is mulling over her own thoughts and decisions, she is also bringing us along on that journey. Carefully, peeling back the covers to reveal to us an image we would not have seen beyond just what is being reported about the trial, the victim and the perpetrator. However, there is no forcefulness. She is just nudging us, not in a direction that she deems correct per se, but more so so that we start thinking. At least, for me, I was thinking, and thinking hard. I was thinking about the context of the crime, the participants to and of the crime and the consequences of it all.

It is easy to categorise things as black and white - the law does that. Yet, Garner makes us see the various shades between the black and white. She does this by not just recounting the facts of the case, but by drawing on family and friends personal stories and experiences with Anu and Joe. She conducts research on their background, their personalities and overall paints a story for us to better understand them as people - not just perpetrator and victim. What I really liked about Joe Cinque's Consolation is that in her journey to find out who Joe and Anu was, Garner discovers and builds a bond with those involved - especially Joe's family. She doesn't let that become a bias in her narrative, but rather, Garner explores the idea that in any crime it is not just the perpetrator and victim involved. It is not only the victim that is affected and the perpetrator held responsible for their actions. There are people who suffer pain and loss as a consequence, whilst other are indirectly blamed and held accountable despite not committing the crime.

In short, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Joe Cinque's Consolation. Whether it's because, as any other person, I am drawn towards stories of crime - the more bizarre and terrifying, the more fascinated we (or maybe just I) am. Or the fact that Garner covered the case in a thorough and engrossing manner, Joe Cinque's Consolation remains a memorable and thought-provoking read.

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