Set in inner suburban 1970s Melbourne, Monkey Grip describes the fluid relationships of a community of friends who are living and loving in new ways. Single parent Nora falls in love with Javo, a heroin addict, and together they try to make sense of their lives and the choices they have made.
Set in inner Melbourne over two summers, Monkey Grip is a frank portrayal of a divorced mother who is attempting to cope with both her thirteen-year-old daughter and her own relationship with a drug addict, while also trying to get into the music business. As she battles to regain control of her life, we meet an array of talented and reckless musicians, actors, and writers, all of whom play a part in her world and most of whom refuse to live by society's rules.
'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)
'Text’s new edition of Helen Garner’s 1977 novel Monkey Grip is an opportunity to revisit the book’s influence on Melbourne. In addition to being widely considered a classic of Australian fiction, Monkey Grip is frequently referred to as an iconic ‘Melbourne’ novel. Certainly, it is a novel absolutely grounded in and shaped by place. Monkey Grip exhibits an intimacy with place that is built through local knowledge and the regular, routine movement through the spaces of one’s life. The city is much more than a backdrop to action. For Nora, the narrator and protagonist, it is the locus of the social encounter and emotional intensity on which the book’s narrative depends...' (Introduction)
'This chapter proposes that in the literary sphere the drug trope reframes spatial and temporal regulatory notions of the body. The drug metaphor disrupts temporal linearity through the reconfiguration of “junk time”. Likewise, landscapes, cityscapes and a sense of place are re-imagined in fluid, drugged dreamscapes. In this way, drug imagery evokes leakages and slippages across time, space and the body enabling a re-evaluation of corporeal possibilities and potential. The “perverse” portrayal of the subject-body in drug literature is hyperbolised through the drug trope. The extremities of drug use also magnify the examination of difference between bodies based on gender and corresponding (dis)connections with space and time. A textual analysis of the Australian novel, Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip (1977) in this chapter provides a literary example.'