JF: I find it interesting you say wild behavior or irrational behavior, but you don’t say things like evil. Do you believe in evil?
HG: Yes, but I think think people have recourse to the word evil much too quickly when they’re talking about terrible behavior. I’ve given this a lot of thought, because when I wrote that book This House of Grief about the man who killed his three children, I was surprised to find how many people would ask me what I was working on. I would say I’m writing about Robert Farquharson, and they would look shocked and disapproving and say, Why? Why are you writing about him? I’d say, Well, there are obvious reasons why you’d want to write about a murderer, and people would get angry with me. They’d say, What sort of bloke was he? How does he strike you? I would start to describe his life and his formation as a person, and at a certain point the person’s face would harden and say, You’re making excuses, with this accusing gesture. I got used to that. It happened to me very often; it was a very frequent thing.
I realized that people protect themselves against thinking about stories like that by saying,This man is evil, therefore I don’t want to think about him, and nothing that he’s done is connected in me in any way. There is no darkness in me that could possibly connect with the darkness in him. People would say to me, Was he mentally ill, or was he just pure evil? There were these simple concepts you could slot into place to make it possible to contemplate such a person. And so I got less and less interested in the term evil as a way of talking about human behavior. Because it’s really a way of blotting it out. Stopping yourself from having to think about it.
From “Helen Garner on Court, Burning Diaries and Violence of Love”, in an interview with John Freeman in LitHub.