This passage is from The Children's Bach by Helen Garner

How fresh and pretty he looked, sitting at her piano in his clean white shirt with the sleeves rolled up and the top button fastened! She said, ‘You look gorgeous!’

He laughed and looked down. ‘What was that you were listening to?’

‘Haydn. It’s in C major. Isn’t that supposed to be the optimistic key? I could never understand why I always felt so cheerful after I’d heard that concerto, till I thought what key it was in.’ She blushed: what an idiotic generalisation. Surely musicians were beyond such crassness. Nerves cause chatter. Least said soonest mended.

‘Let’s go somewhere?’ he said.


‘Just out. Look at things.’

‘Wait till I get my bag.’

She stood in the middle of the bedroom and looked at the rows of books. She read novels fast, lying for hours on her side holding the book open on the other pillow; they blurred into one another and were gone. Great passions are ridiculous, she thought, although it is terribly cathartic to have felt. She imagined that Philip had indulged in sexual perversions with strangers. Every man she met was inferior to Dexter, but only, perhaps, because she had chosen that this should be the case.


  1. Does "they" in the sentence "they blurred into one another and were gone" refer to "she and her books" and the sentence mean she became immersed in reading?

  2. does "they" refer to "books" and the whole sentence mean "because she quickly read the novels and these books very soon were forgotten"


Does "although it is terribly cathartic to have felt" in the sentence "passions are ridiculous, she thought, although it is terribly cathartic to have felt" mean "although it is too soothing to have great passion"?

  • The implication is that she reads too quickly to savour and recall the specific wording in each book and that because they're all of a similar nature (presumably low-grade romance pot-boilers), the books themselves begin to blur together in her memory.
    – Valorum
    May 28, 2021 at 16:10
  • Thank you for your comment, so Is my second understanding correct? and because she read these books too quickly she soon forgot them? and is my understanding about "although it is terribly cathartic to have felt" correct? May 28, 2021 at 16:26
  • I refrained from answering because the second part is a lot more complex and relates to the relationships we see earlier in the book, although it does also gives us the likely matter of the books (e.g. overblown and badly-written bodice-rippers)
    – Valorum
    May 28, 2021 at 16:27
  • I mean: Does "they blurred into one another and were gone" mean "because she read these books too quickly after a while she forgot them"? May 28, 2021 at 16:54
  • Yes, and also their subject matter is semi-identical. She doesn't read them slowly
    – Valorum
    May 28, 2021 at 17:22

1 Answer 1


"They" refers to the novels. She is reading them quickly -- so quickly that she doesn't notice the details that distinguish them from each other, so they all blur together in her memory, insofar as she remembers them at all.

"cathartic" is not "soothing" but purgative. It refers to Aristotle's theory of literature by which a work of literature produces strong emotions and lets you release them, to your psychological benefit -- although, in this case, she is thinking of the real-life passions she felt for men, not the novels she read, because she didn't read them deeply enough for catharsis.

  • Lots of thanks, so cann't we say cathartic actions like relievig tension are soothing? for example after you cry you feel calm? and about the first part, do you mean: if she remembers the books at all she remmember all of them with the same story? as if she had read just one book? May 29, 2021 at 6:58
  • The calm feeling is not the catharsis. The catharsis is the purging that led to it.
    – Mary
    May 29, 2021 at 15:13

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