The Need is Still There: Monkey Grip

Monkey GripMonkey 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!



Zany Combinations: A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists

A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade ListsA Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists by Jane Rawson

Winner of The Most Underrated Book of the Year 2014. How can I resist!

Future Melbourne is bearing the brunt of climate change with UN Peacekeepers keeping order. Caddy camps by the Maribyrnong River and ekes out a living doing odd jobs organised for her by businessman Ray. When Ray makes a trade for some old maps he falls through the cracks (literally) and meets a brother and sister who are travelling across the USA on a quest to stand in every 25 foot square of the country. 

First Impressions: Climate change Melbourne is (scarily) realistic.

Highlights: Amazingly creative. That is the only way to summarise this novel. To have two disparate plot lines and seemlessly mesh them together so well is a rare thing. I have read some reviews that say it became a bit too abstract but I disagree. It was all perfectly balanced. One minute you are parched and sitting with Caddy in an unairconditioned bar with some UN soldiers and the next minute… Well, that’s just giving it away! Also, of you can’t tell, I liked reading about futuristic Melbourne. It is a very interesting society with a huge gulf between the haves and the have nots who all seem to operate off the radar in black market dealings. It made Caddy’s life very interesting!

If I was an editor: and a brash young writer boasted to me they completed a creative writing course, I wouldn’t expect anything less than the cleverness and imagination of this novel. Rawson is naturally an innovative writer and consequently has not had to enrol in such a course to unleash her imagination. However, being able to concentrate on her work at Varuna writers retreat was well worth it (although this has been for her next book I have since discovered; see comments!).

Overall: Yikes, imagine a world where vodka cruisers are a high demand black market item! Is that what climate change will bring us to??????

A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists: 5 stars