Athena and Dexter lead an enclosed family life, innocent of fashion and bound towards a disturbed child. Their comfortable rut is disrupted by the arrival of Elizabeth, a tough nut from Dexter's past. With her three charming, chaotic hangers-on, she draws the couple out into a world whose casual egotism they had barely dreamed of. How can they get home again? (Source: publisher's website)
Unit Suitable For
AC: Year 11 (Literature Unit 2). Year 11 has been chosen as the focus for this unit because it deals with significant themes demanding some maturity with a strong focus on literary technique and analysis appropriate to Year 11.
aspirations, autism, disability, domesticity, family, infidelity, isolation, marriage, music, relationships
Critical and creative thinking, Ethical understanding, Intercultural understanding, Literacy
'To read a novel by Helen Garner is to intrude on characters living their lives with no regard for your presence. You wander into their stories with the same sense of abandon with which they wander into Melbourne flophouses, drug dens, the homes of old and new lovers. ‘In the old brown house on the corner, a mile from the middle of the city, we ate bacon for breakfast every morning of our lives,’ begins Garner’s first novel, Monkey Grip (1977), whose narrator, Nora, ushers you to the kitchen table then leaves you to pick your way through the raucous crowd gathered there in the summer of 1975. Here is Martin, her faithful lover, ‘teetering as many were that summer on the dizzy edge of smack’. Here is Javo, ‘just back from getting off dope in Hobart’, Lou, Selena, Georgie, Clive, Eve, Gracie – and a little boy called ‘the Roaster’ who seems to belong to no one and everyone. There are no introductions, just intimacies that rise sharply above the clatter only to sink back into it.' (Introduction)
'Helen Garner's 1984 novella, The Children's Bach opens with a description and commentary on the famous photograph of Alfred Lord Tennyson and his family taken en pleine air at their house on the Isle of Wight in 1862:
'Dexter found, in a magazine. a photograph of the poet Tennyson, his wife and their two sons walking in the garden of their house on the Isle of Wight. To the modern eye it is a shocking picture: they are all, with the exception of the great man himself, bundled up in such enormous, incapacitating garments. Eye-line: Tennyson looks into the middle distance. His wife, holding his arm and standing very close to his side, gazes up into his face. One boy holds his father's hand and looks up at him. The other boy holds his mother's and looks into the camera with a weak, rueful expression. Behind them, out of focus, twinkles the windy foliage of a great garden. Their shadows fall across the lawn: they have just taken a step. Tennyson's hands are large square paws, held up awkwardly at stomach level. His wife's face is gaunt and her eyes are set in deep sockets. It is a photo of a family. The wind puffs out the huge stiff curved sleeve of the woman's dress, and brushes back off his forehead the long hair of the father's boy who is turned towards the drama of his parents' faces; though he is holding his father's hand, he is separate from the group, and light shows between his tightly buttoned torso and his father's leg.' (Introduction)