Joe Cinque’s Consolation – Helen Garner

“The prosecution has a very strong case against me. I could be looking at 20 years….what a mess I have made out of a potentially perfect life. How much I wish this didn’t happen so my life could be normal now – married to joe, couple of kids, luxury, the works. I had the perfect life. Attractive, money, law career, everything. Now I have nothing because of my utter, utter stupidity…I could have had the most wonderful man in the world…now everyone else is better than me when I had it all…”

For those of you unaware, the Joe Cinque case is an event long ingrained into the Australian psyche.

“In 1997 a young law student at the Australian National University (ANU) made a bizarre plan to murder her devoted boyfriend after a dinner party at their house.”

Most of these guests – students themselves had heard rumours of the plan, but nobody had managed to warn Joe Cinque.

He died one day – not peacefully as planned – not in any manner he had planned. He died of a heroin overdose after his drinks had been spiked with Rohypnol.

Two students were charged with his murder: Anu Singh his girlfriend, and her best friend, Madhavi Rao.

This is a story that many would be familiar with – Singh pleaded mentally ill, and the narrative became something else. It became a horror story for the victims – one of a failing judiciary, which failed to reconcile the law with ethics.

In the end, Singh received four years while Rao was acquitted of all charges. Today, her story has entered into the celebrity pantheon of malefactors. She has been featured in film, in literature, and her face is made familiar in the papers.

On the onset of the Joe Cinque case, the perpetrator is made immediately guilty by Helen Garner, but it soon becomes clear that there is more to her mental state than previous realised.

She was possessive – narcissistic, ‘a drastic dieter and a driven frequenter of gyms, obsessed with physical imperfections both real and imagined’. She famously declared to her friends she would rather be dead than fat. Immature and unprepared, it was in university when she began to fall apart.

Her father noted her complaints – aching legs, hot flushes, and pains, things crawling on her skin – he recommended she see a psychiatrist, which she refused. Twice the Mental Health Crisis unit was called, and twice they were turned away.

She developed eating disorders and took ipecac, apparently at Joe’s suggestion. She began to resent him – told her friend, Rao, that she was being taken advantage of – claimed she was abused.

Garner does her best to present the information as freshly as she can – compiling interviews and transcripts which have been largely void from the public. For those unfamiliar, it may prove a more interesting read but I found her attempts to be raw, heavy-handed and uninspiring. The narrative is littered with emotional readings and finishes quite often with the word’s “Joe Cinque is dead”.

Whilst not unappreciated, the frequency serves to pull the reader in several directions – the wealthy Singh’s on one side with their pragmatic horror and the Cinque’s the other, modest but raw.

The trial proceedings were where Garner’s talents shined. They were fast-paced, and the dialogue compelling in its cold intelligence, passionate defence, horrifying in its disappointment. There is a real sense of the failings of the system—from the manner in which Singh approached her defence, to the thousands of dollars Cinque’s spent flying between states.

As a read, it was a mix. Difficult at times, and fascinating at others. It explores how and why Joe Cinque died. It demonstrates the inner workings of the court and its hesitance in the face of duty of care.

It’s a reluctance as an individual, the majority of us are unwilling to face – the fiction of fairness and justice in our society.

Explore your fiction.

And Love your Reality.

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