Garner sat through many years of the murders’ various trials, with her knitting and a friend’s teenage daughter as her most frequent companions.
While the acclaimed Melbourne novelist and true crime writer does not uncover anything new in this sad tale of loss and destruction in one small family, she manages to enlighten the reader on almost every page.
For Garner’s fans, it is important to know this is not Joe Cinque’s Consolation – If you are unfamiliar with the Farquharson case, you are not going to learn about the intricacies of the horrific deaths of Jai (10), Tyler (7) and Bailey (2) Farquharson.
Of course there is detail, but it is not the focus of Garner’s study.
Instead, Garner peels back the rough skin of the very sad, ill-matched marriage between Farquharson and Cindy Gambino, their divorce, and the muddled life of a simple, depressed man who exacted revenge in the worst possible way on his ex wife.
Garner begins This House of Grief talking about the night she saw the news of a car being found in a dam outside of Geelong, where she grew up.
Her interest was piqued when the boys were discovered inside the vehicle. She followed Robert Farquharson from his initial court appearance in Geelong to his failed appeal in the High Court, over the course of many years.
Garner did not become close to the Farquharson or Gambino families, although she did speak to Gambino’s parents on many occasions, but watched with an almost genuine innocence from the sidelines.
While other journalists picked sides, Garner battled with the reality of a father taking the lives of his three sons and the effects of divorce on couples.
The trial, which focused on whether Farquharson had indeed had a coughing fit that rendered him unconscious causing him to drive into a dam, or whether he in fact dramatically but intentionally drove his sons to their death, was laboriously complex in parts.
She carefully watched Farquharson and picked through the information about the man. He clearly loved his children, she surmised, but he was also angry at Gambino for leaving him for a stronger partner – and taking the “good” car.
She breathtakingly describes the heart break of Gambino, as well as almost ethereally glossing over what must have been a terrifying death for the three boys, particularly the older brothers, Jai and Tyler.
Garner’s gift for understanding the harsh realities of human nature is troubled by this case, and as a reader it will hopefully make one grateful they were not placed in anyone involved in this grim story’s lives.
How Garner makes this a page-turner is through her own anguished tone. Her own inner rhythm. It is a must-read.