Monkey Grip by Helen Garner
In “Monkey Grip”, Helen Garner charts the lives of a generation. Her characters are exploring new ways of loving and living – and nothing is harder than learning to love lightly. 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. A lyrical, gritty, rough-edged novel that deserves its place as a classic of Australian fiction.
This book is told by the voice of Nora as she looked for that which is missing from her life. She does not appear to be able to particularly grasp what it is and when the opportunity presents itself, she backs up in fear. Doesn’t that just speak for all of us?! If it’s not one thing then it’s another thing.
I was starting to notice that I hadn’t fucked for a long time. It wasn’t fucking I missed: I wanted love. I felt sad and hungry, or greedy rather, wishing to comfort myself. I ate small snacks all morning, felt disgusted with myself, and returned to my room, upstairs to pick away at the walls hour after hour.
This is Nora’s life inMelbourne’s 70s where it appears promiscuity is rife and drugs readily available & acceptable in some level. She and her mates wanted to break from the mould of fidelity and yet at the same time, felt the pain of betrayal when her lovers turn to others. She, however, ended up falling in love with a junkie; knew it to be foolhardy and yet unable to help herself. She cares for him and at the same time is worried that she’s becoming his ‘mother’ rather than lover / partner. All the time, she worries what this relationship will do to her and yet, each time she sees him, she falls all over him yet again, unable to move on.
I wished for him as he had been, occasionally, in the past. I wished there were no such thing as junk. I didn’t wish I’d never known him. I wished there were some way for us to love each other. And I wished he were out of trouble so my mind could rest.
There was a life to be made.
Nora is apparently a ‘straight’, as opposed to junkies. Nevertheless, she seems to be using, a lot! However, she doesn’t appear to be as sneaky as the ‘junkies’ so maybe there is a fine line there. One that is very easy to cross…
‘Nora. What are you up to?’
‘I’ve just had a huge snort of coke,’ I cheerfully announced.
‘Ooh, you lucky thing! Haven’t got any more, have you?’
‘No,’ I lied, sitting there in her room with an envelope of it in my back pocket.
What’s happening to me?
But, as if in revenge for my greed, as I left her house the coke turned around, gave a twist and a wriggle, and fled away, dumping me unceremoniously in a limbo, skew-whiff and desolate. I drifted through the rest of the afternoon in a puzzled dream.
And when I came home I decided not to waste another snort, but to wait till my body was clear. I sat down at the table to transfer the coke to an uncrushed wrapper, and idly sniffed up the residue as I worked. How thoughtlessly you can persuade yourself that what you’re doing at any particular moment is not actually getting into dope, or eating, or smoking, or whatever it is you’ve rationally decided not to do; that it’s just a small aberration, or to make sure something is not wasted – or it’s not anything at all because your mind has slipped its moorings, disconnected itself for that moment from your body. The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.
It’s definitely not a fun read but written so well that you’d want to finish it – you need to see that light at the end of the tunnel.