Moya Costello, Love and Rhetoric: A Writing Life in Sydney Review of Books, 11 August 2017
"Reading a book is like coming home"...To read Bernadette Brennan's A Writing Life: Helen Garner and Her Work is to have the most-welcome, viscerally renewed sensation of recognising the country I live in as the making of me. Reading Brennan's book is like coming home...Brennan has made me see - and part of her work in writing this study is the disentanglement of the real and unknowable Garner from Garner as author...
Felicity Plunkett, The Australian 29 April 2017
Brennan’s style is understated and unfussy, beautifully pitched, balancing rich complexity with narrative energy. The work entwines an oblique portrait with consideration of portraiture itself, examines the purpose and nature of the ‘‘I” that crosses Garner’s fictive and nonfictional work, and explores Garner’s body of work as an entity...
The intimacy and trust of Garner’s and Brennan’s conversation is implicit throughout the work, but perhaps softens some of the sharper edges of the discussion. The Writing Life made me keen to see more of Brennan’s own intelligent and insightful “I”. This book offers an illuminating discussion of Garner’s boundary-crossing work. Its own magic lies in bringing elements of memoir and criticism into an absorbing conversation that begins with a rich contextualisation of Garner’s work, and extends into the literary and ethical questions with which Brennan has long been concerned.
Owen Richardson, The SMH and the Age, 28 April 2017
Brennan has turned up fascinating material from the letters and interviews...
Although it is a commonplace that Garner puts the reportorial process into her books, New Journalism style, it is good to have Brennan drawing attention to the amount of intellectual work she puts into her non-fiction: she points out that although the voice Garner constructs for the later true-crime books is a seemingly naive one, "by the time she writes [in Joe Cinque's Consolation] that she 'had never thought of these things before', she had studied dozens of legal textbooks and judgments".
It is a useful corrective to those who persist in thinking that Garner's approach to journalism is to barge around reacting and then go home to take dictation from her feelings. It is a myth that dies hard, and appears to be sustained, in part at least, by condescension from those who want to promote their own intellectual bona fides at Garner's expense.