IS IT WRONG to discuss a book before you have finished reading it? What authority can you claim? Especially when the book in question is so well known and widely read. But I am going to, briefly, nonetheless. Simply because I am moved to do so.
This is my first reading and I am surprised I have not gone here earlier. I was prepared for grit, but not for such lyricism. As a writer of poetic-style fiction, I am revelling in Garner’s prose. This is a narrative created through an intense singularity of perspective. There is an absence of character and background information and of temporal links as we jump, often within paragraphs, in time; the gaps and pauses are almost as voluminous as those paragraphs and all they hold within them. The novel moves forward but is deeply soaked in a sense of repetition; emotionally it steps backwards as much as forwards; there’s a constant pull on its parts that threaten to fly from a centre but are relentlessly pulled back together, just as Nora fights to free herself from her relationship with Javo, only to be pulled, and to pull herself, back in again. Hypnotic continuity meets in discontinuous parts.
The title describes the book’s effect on me, the reader, as much as the interaction between Nora and Javo, the main characters in this strung-out story of obsession, addiction, need and desire. I too am in a monkey grip of compulsion and revulsion.
Some might criticise Helen Garner’s factual base for her fiction. But whether or not a part, or even the whole, of a fictional world happened to take place in ‘real life’ seems to me irrelevant to the achievement of artistic distinction. The art lies in the expression, in the style, in the piecing together of the character’s parts. For me, the art lies in the poetry.