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Monkey Grip

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  4,006 ratings  ·  275 reviews
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-edg ...more
Paperback, 245 pages
Published February 7th 1984 by Penguin Books (first published January 1st 1977)
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Average rating 3.74  · 
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 ·  4,006 ratings  ·  275 reviews

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My interest in Australian women writers has always been keen, and if anything, it is a genre that is growing with interest.

Helen Garneris an author I should have read by now, so I did borrow this from work with interest. This is her debut, written in the 80's about drugs, sex, and more drugs and sex.

It is a meandering story that has no real clear storyline. Communal living, the blurred lines between emotional love and sex; all intertwined with addiction. Everyone seems to be drug affected, most
‘I’ve seen the way she comes on to him—I just can’t stand it. You know—what really s**ts me is how you spend years working on yourself to get rid of all that stupid eyelash-fluttering and giggling, and then just when you think you’re getting somewhere, you find out that guys still like women who do that sort of thing. I watch ‘em fall for it, every time.’

Yep. The more things change, the more they are the same (which sounds prettier in French, but doesn’t everything?) I’m sure there were cave
James Noonan
Mar 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I first heard about this novel while at uni, when my professor was waxing lyrical about Helen Garner in his usual effusive way. I didn’t particularly like my professor so I didn't pay much attention to his suggestions. Anyway, a couple years later Monkey Grip popped up on one of a best-of list of Australian novels, and I remembered making a mental note that I’d get around to it at some stage.

Fast forward to a week ago when I spotted it prominently displayed on a rack at the library, its cover—t
Jun 12, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
To start, I have to say that I think Garner has a magical way with words - I felt transported to the scenes they were so well crafted. I started out loving this book - and then I got fifty pages in and was like, "what is happening? am I missing some major plot point here? is my version missing pages?" Hence my problem with this book: the story itself was a little too meandering for my taste.

Don't get me wrong, I got the point of where/why the story was constructed this way and I normally love op
Bri Lee
Nov 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As part of the gradual hardcover re-release of her entire catalogue, I was sent this new (suprisingly clean and beautiful blue, considering the content) copy of Monkey Grip for a re-read and was just totally blown away all over again. It's a love story I shouldn't be able to relate to at all: I've never dated a junkie, never been polyamorous, and have never dated with a child, and yet I am aching and gutted for Nora. The voice is so no-bullshit and yet there are moments of transcendental beauty ...more
R Strange
Jul 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
A real empath wrote this book. The crystal clear memory, and the nature of that attention, tell the story of one of the classic personality types that are often among the arts. Written in 77, despite becoming a rocker meme in 82, also is interesting for capturing pre-tech western life. The pacing, the dropping by and comings and goings, the phone as an extension of place, not person. Many adults today do not have a memory of that way. People who live by feeling in this way are often misread, but ...more
29th book for 2020.

A semi-fictionalised account of Garner's life as a single mother, sharing houses and drugs in inner city Melbourne in the 1970s.

It's hard for me to give an objective review here; too much of my own twenties is mirrored in its pages. My shared houses were filled with university students, her's bohemian artists and con-artists; our drugs were somewhat different, but not too much and we occupied the same spaces—read the same books, when to the same bars, cafes, parks, even the s
Jan 10, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: australian
Australia in the 1970's, what a time to be alive.
"I suffered from some painful emotion towards them, something to do with Rita's daily struggle to live, and the fact that I had been through this struggle myself with Gracie, years before: hating her because her existence marked the exact limits of my freedom; hating myself for hating her: loving her all the while, gut-deep and inexpressibly; and beginning each day with the dogged shouldering of a burden too heavy for one person: the resp
Oct 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Having just finished Monkey Grip, I am feeling suitably provincial. Garner's 1970's story is utterly urban, and incredibly hipster - it would break the hearts of modern loose fringed copycats. People ride their bikes around from one inner city Melbourne share house to another, swapping beds, children and needles, and rarely seem to go to work. There is no internet. You go to a bank to collect your dole money. The writing is rich and sensual and the supporting characters are rain, sun, wind, heat ...more
Zuzu Burford
Mar 02, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: women-authors
I cannot see what all the fuss was about when this was first published in 1977.
What a slog. Repetitious, boring, cliched. To think this book launched Helen Garner's career is astounding.
Dec 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I got a lot out of this book - and there's a lot to get, for a patient reader. It's a book about Melbourne in the mid-1970s, about community, about love, about addiction, about love as addiction, and about how you can only live your own life.

This is not a gentle or easy book. It is narrated in first person by the main character, Nora, and the reader is thrown in the deep end, only ever given as much about Nora's external life and circumstances as is absolutely necessary (and this is usually div
Tamsien West (Babbling Books)
First book of the year and it's a brilliant one! Helen Garner's writing is incredible, so lyrical and vivid, but also quite simple and easy to read. She has a gift for highlighting tiny mundane details which make ever scene leap off the page in high definition.

The story is meandering, following the mostly uneventful life of a woman in Melbourne during the 1970s. The primary focus is her relationship with junkie Javo, and her various friendships and other relationships.

Garner writes frankly abou
James Perkins
Oct 05, 2016 rated it it was ok
I'd heard about this novel for years - it was a landmark book in the mid-seventies and later made into a film of the same name a few years later. Now that I've got around to reading it, I really can't see what all the fuss was about. The characters are all perpetual losers: mostly unemployed drug addicts, I had difficulty understanding how they could all afford to live in Melbourne's inner city, buy heroin and marijuana, and take care of their children. The narrator Nora, an occasional user, is ...more
Jul 25, 2009 marked it as abandoned
Shelves: australia
I tried reading this a long time ago, and couldn't be bothered with it. It was on my book group's reading list, so I bought a second hand copy but could not make myself try again. I gather from the discussion in the group that I made the right choice. See for why I really dislike this author's work.
Helen Garner just *gets it*:
"I'm going home. See you when I see you."

He caught me on the hop. But I was well-disciplined by the orthodoxy, a fast faker. I was sitting at my table. We were ten feet apart, and I grinned at him, neat, sharp and steady.

"Yeah. See you."


I saw him pass my window, though, and a small death occurred. Who am I kidding?

Intimate in a non-personal way, Monkey Grip is a bit like reading someone's diary. Reading it feels like an experiment in being in someone else's he
Oct 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I've been thinking a lot about this book since I finished it recently, but feel incapable of articulating my feelings. This, her first novel - now an modern Australian classic - focuses on Nora, a single mother in her early 30s, and her relationship with Javo, an off-again, on-again heroin addict. Oscillating between being passionate lovers and strained friends, their connection is seemingly-inescapable. At the heart of this novel is the idea of addiction - whether it is Javo's addiction to junk ...more
Amy Polyreader
Garners prose is just magic. She could write a cleaning manual and I’d give it 5 stars. The trials and tribulations of drug culture is always a rough read, but Garner does it in a way like no other. I wish I’d read this in my youth instead of Kerouac and Bukowski. I know I’ll read it again, just to lose myself in that visceral writing of hers.
Nov 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: australian
I love this book and reread it every couple months
Also good reads is asking me to rate its app but I'll rate it right here because I can't be bothered going into iTunes:
The goodreads app is excellent! If you're reading this on the website grab your phone and install it now
Rosemary Atwell
Jan 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: re-reads
Helen Garner’s breakthrough debut novel is still stunningly so evocative more than forty years later. Yes, the characters are maddening in their chaotic and self-indulgent existences but the sense of place and wonderfully descriptive passages still hold the reader spellbound. I have to reread this every few years just to remind myself why Garner is my favourite Australian writer.
Aug 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: australian
So I have just put this book down and as yet not entirely sure what I thought, but I really enjoyed its sad meanderings. I think it was the connections that I was feeling. My Mum studied in Melbourne, then travelled. By the time this book was published she was living in a commune in Tasmania with my one year old sister. As as I know she was not directly involved with junkies but the scenes and the links back with Melbourne must of had some cross overs.

I liked Nora too. She lived a theory of life
Aug 14, 2011 rated it liked it
I love the simplicity of Helen Garner's writing. She really knows how to capture the mood without using over-indulgent language. I also love that she is from Melbourne - this wonderful sense of familiarity washes over me when she refers to specific places that evoke a lot of memories for me.

This book was written well before my time, and a lot of things have changed in Melbourne, but many are still the same; drugs are just as rife now as they were in the 70s, but the culture is a lot different.

Sep 18, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Sorry boring. Page after page of repetitive bore. Save your time - read candy by Davis instead
Mark Dunn
Jun 18, 2017 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Stevie Lou
Jul 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Aside from how great it was that this book was set in a part of Melbourne I'm pretty familiar with, Helen Garner's writing totally blew me away. It's not complicated, there are no 'big words', and yet she manages to capture emotions and senses incredibly sharply and beautifully. This book was a great lesson for me about how effective 'simple', conventionally un-literary writing can be. One of my favourite lines was "And as the day began we lay together in my bed in the empty house and made love: ...more
Mar 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017
This was a great reading experience, Garner's writing paints beautiful pictures of a 70's Melbourne, her emotions (or sometimes lack there of) palpable as you read on. Despite this, I didn't come away with too much, as I felt there was no real or fleshed out resolution to Nora's internal struggles. ...more
Brendan Brooks
Mar 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
Loved it, love Helen Garner's style, like an Australian form of Beat. Direct with emotions that crash with severity rather than flutter descriptive flourish. Fascinating description of the period and Melbourne. Will look up the movie now. ...more
Oct 18, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Just beautiful. This story is so full of so much warmth I feel like I'm glowing when I think about it. I'll come back with a better review when I can say something slightly more sensible. ...more
Interesting read about life in 1970s Australia.
Declan Melia
Nov 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
I seem to recall starting this book in high school and giving up 50 pages in. It’s not hard to see why; Garner makes no compromises with her writing. Glad I read it now, hope one day to read it again.

A few years in the life of Nora, a young mother immersed in the hippy community of 1970s Melbourne. They’re not into monogamy, careers, or doorbells. They dig rock n’ roll, communal living, and heroin. Lots of heroin.

Goddard disciples like myself know that the 60s ended on 6 December 1969, taking
Feb 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I took my friends advice and sat on what I would write as a review for a day and so here it is. This book was a style I wasn’t as familiar with or as drawn to. As such it took a while to get into the rhythm and randomness of the book. I found myself continually getting lost between the characters and how they linked and it took me a while to realise that was intentional. The book was such a thought provoking, reflective story that wove in and out of so many peoples lives. It was a great capture ...more
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Helen Garner was born in Geelong in 1942. She has published many works of fiction including Monkey Grip, Cosmo Cosmolino and The Children's Bach. Her fiction has won numerous awards. She is also one of Australia's most respected non-fiction writers, and received a Walkley Award for journalism in 1993.

Her most recent books are The First Stone, True Stories, My Hard Heart, The Feel of Stone and Joe

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