Review: Monkey Grip by Helen Garner

It is the early 1970s in Melbourne, a time of great change in attitudes and freedoms, in a city that is both progressive and renowned for the arts, yet still very conservative and clinging to the old ways. Nora is a single mum, living a bohemian lifestyle in a shared house where there is a strong sense of friendship, sexual freedoms and an underlying hint of selfishness that no one ever acknowledges or talks about. And though she is with a different man, she soon finds herself hopping into a relationship of sorts with Javo, a drug addict. Javo loves her, but he loves his freedom more and he's caught in the trap of addiction. Meanwhile Nora has and struggles with an addiction of her own--love.

Reading Monkey Grip felt very much like reading someone's diary. It's episodic and often there isn't a sense of closure. And often we see Nora make the same mistakes when she clearly knows better. So it's a bit like real life, really. Just set in a very different time--after all, this was an era where there were huge sexual freedoms. The contraceptive pill had been invented, but HIV was unheard of. Sexual freedom does not equate to freedom from all emotion though, as Nora soon learns as she struggles to be the perfect, permissive and loving partner to a man who, perhaps, does not deserve her.

Monkey Grip remains one of Garner's best known works of fiction and it is not difficult to see why. There is something about this one that isn't always nice, but it is always authentic.


This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2019


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