monkey grip

May 5, 2007

A strange and fascinating book by Helen Garner. I picked it up at Brisbane airport last week and did not look at the publication date. I read it on the plane, trying to work out where all these people lived and what social group they belonged to. It was hard to place them, an assortment of twenty and thirty somethings who seemed to spend all their time taking drugs and having sex, living in large share houses with large numbers of people coming and going, riding bicycles and raising children who seemed to be absent from the story half the time. I then discovered it was written in 1977 and the penny dropped.

The book tells the story of a codependent relationship of a single mother (Nora) with a junkie (Javo). The relationship, at least her side of it is emotionally and psychologically real, and one starts to feel like one of her flatmates, that you know her well. You don’t find out Nora’s age or anything about her background for most of the book and eventually discover she is 33. You wonder how these people support themselves and realise it is undoubtedly through welfare but how are they allowed to go on collecting the dole without any semblance of job seeking. That must be the right winger in me coming out. I do feel, however that I don’t want to pay tax towards supporting people in their drug using lifestyle however free and enlightened it is. The positive side of that lifestyle is that these overgrown adolescents do share a sense of community and a richness of friendships that we don’t have, due to our individualism and busyness. Reading the book makes you want to lie around drinking coffee, reading more books and having long conversations with people into the early hours, something I never do. It makes me want to relax my parenting and let the kids roam around discovering things for themselves in a big herd of other children. It was definitely a book that made me feel something and think about life.

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