Monkey Grip by Helen Garner
1970s Fitzroy, Melbourne: Nora and Javo are trapped in a desperate relationship. Nora’s addiction is romantic love; Javo’s is hard drugs. The harder they pull away, the tighter the monkey grip.
First Impressions: I was really excited to read this contemporary classic. The beginning of Nora and Javo’s relationship started on the first page and the beat of a different era just rang through.
Highlights: I didn’t know how I’d feel about this novel as stories about drug addicts and open relationships don’t really appeal to me. However, this is a novel about addiction in the widest form. Interestingly, even though the share house community felt the addiction to free love, very few were fully comfortable when they were the ones having to compromise.
It was the silences in the story that I found most interesting as the novel is purely about Nora and Javo. Everything else is incidental. I wanted to know more about Nora’s family and background. More specifically, I wanted to know more about her young daughter Gracie.
Gracie only appears every so often but in some ways I like this. Even if you have a child it shouldn’t define you as you are still your own person. Yet for Nora to be like this it would have been quite controversial to some at the time of writing. I had never considered the possibility of raising a child in a share house with lots of communal babysitting and siblings but maybe it works for Nora and Gracie. How do their other options compare? Gracie sees a lot she shouldn’t but I don’t think her thumbsucking – maybe to some an indicator that she is traumatized and seeking comfort – is anything other than a habit which many children have. Yet why include it? Purely to spark debate?
If I was an editor: Parts of the story were less gripping than others but I don’t know how you could improve it. Still standing strong after almost 40 years.
Overall: I wish I knew Melbourne better to fully appreciate the story!