Monkey Grip (novel)

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Monkey Grip
First edition
Author Helen Garner
Country Australia
Language English
Publisher McPhee Gribble
Publication date
Media type Print
Pages 245
ISBN 0-14-004953-3
OCLC 11950836
823 19
LC Class PR9619.3.G3 M6 1984
Followed by Honour & Other People's Children

Monkey Grip is a 1977 novel by Australian writer Helen Garner, her first published book. It initially received a mixed critical reception, but has now become accepted as a classic of modern Australian literature. The novel is concerned with the life of single-mother Nora, as she narrates her relationship with a heroin addict, juxtaposed with her raising a daughter while living in share houses in Melbourne during the late 1970s. A film based on the novel, also titled Monkey Grip, was released in 1982.

The novel, published at the height of a burgeoning counterculture movement in Australia, achieved some degree of notoriety for its astute, uncompromising depiction of heroin addiction and love. It became recognised as being one of Australia's "first contemporary novels", and long since its initial publication, has come to be regarded as being the "voice of a generation".[1] Furthermore, it helped establish the career of Helen Garner–who is now one of the most well-known writers in Australia.[2]

Plot summary[edit]

The novel is set in inner city suburbs of Melbourne in the mid 1970s. Nora and her young daughter live in a succession of share houses. She is in love with Javo, a heroin addict, who repeatedly drifts out of Nora's life, then back into it again.[3] Other characters, including Rita–Nora's friend and housemate–Gerald, Francis, Bill, Willy, Claire and Martin, also drift in and out of the story. Di Gribble of McPhee Gribble, the book's first publisher, wrote that the title of the novel referred to both a linking of hands and the monkey on your back of drug addiction.[4]


Kerryn Goldsworthy writes that almost all of Garner's fiction addresses "the relationship between sexual behaviour and social organisation; the anarchic nature of desire and the orderly face of the institution of 'family'".[5] The plot point of Nora's obsessive love for Javo is matched by Javo's addiction to heroin–although the source of obsession is different for both people, it possesses a similarly destructive power.

The book makes numerous references to the sacred Chinese divination text I Ching, which Nora consults several times for guidance.

Critical reception[edit]

Monkey Grip initially met with a mixed reception in Australia.[6] It is now recognised as a classic of modern Australian literature.[7]

In 1978, Garner was awarded the National Book Council Book of the Year Award for Monkey Grip–making her the first woman in Australia to win the award.[8] The panel acknowledged that it was "not an easy choice", given that the book's subject matter included "heroin addiction, inner-city communal living and obsessional love".[8] They further stated that the central character, Nora, is "superbly realised in her hesitancies and enthusiasms", that the book was "beautifully constructed", and that Garner had been "utterly honest in demonstrating the dilemmas of freedom, and particularly of social and sexual freedom for women trying to create for themselves a role which will recognise their full humanity".[8]

It has been translated into several languages, including French and Italian.[8]


By the time of the release of the film adaptation, the novel had sold in excess of 100,000 copies.[8] It has been taught widely in high schools and universities.[8]

Movie adaptation[edit]

In 1982, the novel was adapted to the film Monkey Grip directed by Ken Cameron from his own screenplay. The lead actors were Noni Hazlehurst and Colin Friels.[9]


  1. ^ "Helen Garner's Monkey Grip". ABC. 1 October 2014. Retrieved 3 September 2017. 
  2. ^ "Helen Garner on murderer Robert Farquharson". The Australian. 25 March 2017. Retrieved 3 September 2017. 
  3. ^ Tegan Bennett Daylight (3 November 2012). "A phone call to Helen Garner". The Australian. News Corp Australia. Retrieved 13 April 2016. 
  4. ^ Frizell, Helen (13 October 1978). "The year's best books - 1. Helen Garner's Monkey Grip". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 13 April 2016. 
  5. ^ Goldsworthy, Kerryn (1996) Australian Writers: Helen Garner, Melbourne, Oxford University Press, p. 28
  6. ^ Goldsworthy (1996) p. 1
  7. ^ Monkey Grip, Penguin Classics
  8. ^ a b c d e f Brennan, Bernadette. A Writing Life: Helen Garner and Her Work. Text Publishing. p. 48. ISBN 9-78192541-039-6. 
  9. ^ Monkey Grip on IMDb

External links[edit]