sometimes witty book reviews
Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip tracks the slow progression of Nora’s relationship with a junkie named Javo. Over the course of the novel, Nora and her young daughter make a tour of various share houses, home cooked meals, places to swim and people to meet. Javo wonders in and out of Nora’s life variously swearing himself off crack, off life and off Nora. Monkey Grip is not for those seeking a plot but I would recommend it to those fond of stream-of-conscious writing.
I suppose people living in very famous cities with long literary heritages experience this all the time. Intimate, tiny bits of detail about that street that takes you to uni, the shop where you buy pizza on the weekends, the bank you use or a pair of trees in the middle of a roundabout at the top of your road. Monkey Grip by Helen Garner is immensely gratifying to a Melbournian, and particularly those living near The University of Melbourne, for this reason.
The characters and plot is, however, totally unlike anything I know. Which is what makes the experience so jarring. But in a satisfying way .
When your whole life is lived sleeping, working and researching in the same ten kilometre radius, it is very easy to fall into thinking that you know a place. Every facet and nook and ‘way’ your neighbourhood works. Monkey Grip was a slap in the face for my complacency and assumptions. Though set in the 1970s, the descriptions of Melbourne are still unnervingly accurate. I cannot relate with assisting house mates to shoot up, cycling my primary-school aged child to school in bare feet, running off on an under-organised road trip to the coast or living in a house where the wind is as much a housemate as the alternative film maker in the next room. But the laconic, precise descriptions of the suburbs I adore combined with a life in them I can’t possibly imagine by myself, reveals a lot about the assumptions one is prone to make even about one’s closest people and places.
Reading suggestion: For my fellow Australians, Monkey Grip may just change your long-held disbelief in Australian literature.