Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Monkey Grip won Australia’s National Book Award, despite mixed critical response. Reviewing the novel for The Times Literary Supplement, Galen Strawson reasonably protested that “there is no development of a theme, no progressive revealing of a character, no sustained enrichment of a reflection.” On the other hand, The New Yorker judged the novel to be “elegant and wry” rather than maudlin or merely gruesome. Australian critic Peter Kemp described the novel in Filmnews as a “consciously personal deliberately rambling chronicle.”

Certainly the novel takes the form of a diary or personal journal, and reading it is often embarrassing, partly because of Nora’s candidness, partly because one is made to feel like a voyeur. The advantage of this format is the sense of immediacy and authenticity that is created. The disadvantage is the sometimes maddeningly casual nature of the narrative. The novelist drops names of characters who have not been properly introduced. The reader has to remember who is who and can build a history for each character only by carefully cross-referencing the text. The novel, one is tempted to conclude, makes unreasonable demands of the reader for what it offers in return.

Besides the awkwardness of the easy informality that forces one into an intimate relationship with characters whom one may not wish to know intimately, the all-too-personal journal approach has a fragmented...

(The entire section is 452 words.)