The Helen 100, Helen Razer

Melbourne journalist and communist Helen Razer is one of my favourite people. I used to always be able to read her in the daily political newsletter Crikey, and later in the (related I think) arts newsletter Daily Review. Her opinions are always incisive and quite often funny. Unfortunately, however often I subscribe, the Daily Review never actually arrives in my inbox, so I haven’t been sure for the last year or so whether it has survived and if so if Razer is still writing for it.

The Helen 100 (2017) is a memoir of the year when Helen was  41 43 and the woman who had been her partner for 15 years has left her. The memoir – it’s described as Memoir, so I suppose it is – begins with Helen lying on a table getting a bikini wax and it only gets more graphic from there. This may well be the most scatological work I have ever read. Ok. you are warned.

Be more specific. Well, I was more specific. As I felt him pull on my hair and resume his interest, by which I mean cock, I was able to say some really specific shit … a great stream of Kerouac Kink written on a single sheet of longing … All I can remember is that it involved a lot of ‘arse’, ‘fuck’ and ‘hurt me, Georges’, and possibly an offer from me to clean his kitchen in my scanties.

The woman waxing her ladyparts has persuaded Helen that the only way to get over a failed relationship is to go on as many dates as possible, Helen determines to go on 100, men or women, and no.12 is into bondage and sado-masochism. She asks him for more than he is willing to give.

Wanting sex, I have since learned, is a fairly standard middle-class female response to the shock of separation. I believe it comes a close second to going to Italy and Finding Oneself.

This is an astonishing work if it is indeed memoir as I’m sure many of the people represented here, not least Helen’s ex-partner, would be instantly recognisable in Melbourne’s inner suburban media/artsy set. It’s all told in that snappy, smartarse way of professional colour piece writers in the weekend pages, which I mostly despise, but Razer gets a leave pass from me for her fierce communist politics (only evident in passing here). And it feels true. I’ve been in a messy relationship breakup -not Milly! – and this is what it feels like.

Helen breaks into her ex-partner’s PC and discovers the break up, her partner’s involvement with other people, has been coming a lot longer than she realised.

I should have brushed my hair. I should have done my nails, I should have taken the best advice of all marriage manuals and not worn elasticised waistbands for months in the company of my spouse. I had worn elasticised waistbands for months and for months. I had been tolerably miserable.

She blames her horrible job, coming up with a constant stream of copy for an online discount advertiser. A job which early on she stops doing. A job which it turns out she was using to support her partner, a not very good artist. Going so far, in an effort to save their marriage, as to pay for a threesome. In a posh hotel. In New York.

On a dating/instant sex website after lots of truly bad exchanges (as a pedant she’s mostly upset by the bad spelling) she starts talking to John, a witty, intelligent text messager, but it’s a while before they meet. Meanwhile she’s busy racking up her 100. Sort of. Anyone she interacts with ticks the counter over.

She has a cat, Eleven, with whom she shares fried chicken. The fried chicken delivery man counts as a date. She has a therapist, Cheap George, who advises her no one ever gets over divorce, they just do something different and pretends that’s “growth”. Anyone she spends any time with she lectures on workers rights.

There was a spectre haunting my vagina. It was the spectre of communism.
‘Look,’ he said, ‘I think you’re cute. But you really need to shut up.’

It’s a while before she actually scores. John occasionally reappears and they do good conversation. They meet. He has his faults. By date 53 she’s getting into the routine of it all, but Cheap George is right, “What you need is just one mild truth: you’ll never get over your fucking divorce.”

And where did I find this amusing memoir? On my ex-wife’s shelves, where I was idly pulling books out in preparation for boxing them up for her big move. I don’t know about you, but I can’t box books up without inspecting them as I go. Neither Milly nor I remembers, but I’d say I bought it on spec two or three years ago then gave it to her for xmas thinking I could read it later. Which I now have. I wonder who else of you would like it. Neil@Kalaroo maybe. He’ll read anything.

.

Helen Razer, The Helen 100, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2017. 305pp.

see also:
Helen Razer, Total Propaganda: Basic Marxist Brainwashing for the Angry and the Young (2017)

17 thoughts on “The Helen 100, Helen Razer

  1. I just realised this is the Helen Razor I used to listen to on Triple J back in the early to mid 90s and I could only handle her in small doses. I’m not sure I could read a book by her! Is she really a communist or is it just performative?

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    • I’m pretty sure her communism is real. It’s a while since I read an economic article by her, rather than the social/arts/media space she mostly occupies, But I think her class analysis is pretty spot on. I’m not sure C21st marxists still advocate for the dictatorship of the proletariat. I hope not!

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  2. You’re on. I just finished my current book, and was wondering what to read next. And hey, I did read Puberty Blues, I just didn’t know how to review it!

    And just to show that you are right, I’ll read (or start to read) anything, here are some recent reads: Seven Games: A Human History by Oliver Roeder, The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley, The Maid by Nita Prose, Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella. All thoroughly enjoyed.

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    • That’s interesting about the difficulty you found writing a review of Puberty Blues. My first thought is to put a book into its context – the writer’s life, the times, other works by that author, other works of the period. When that fails I sort of drift along, describing the plot and the characters and trying to bring in other stuff so it’s not a straight synopsis. I’m sure I don’t always succeed. Puberty Blues is special. I don’t remember now if it is well written, but nearly everything else in Gen 4 was written by women at least 30 and more often 40 or 50.

      So, do you have The Helen 100 on a reader or do I need to pack my lunch and a water bag and bring my copy to the distant northern suburbs?

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  3. I’ve read this, Bill! I remember being amused at the time but can’t recall much about it since. The only reason why I bought it (and went to her launch at Avid Reader) is because Razer is my partner’s lesbian crush. He was once chased by her at a music festival because he & his friend messed with her Triple J broadcasting tech (he has since matured a little).

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    • Good thing they didn’t meet. Helen’s only criteria it seems to me were human and willing. Mmm.. he had a crush. Well, perhaps it’s a good thing for you they didn’t meet.
      Us old people (I mean me and Sue and so on, not you, heaven forbid!) often discuss Helen Garner’s willingness to let it all hang out, a tendency occasionally observable also in Hearing Maud, and of course rampant here. One day we might get you to write to the subject: ‘In defence of barely fictionalized memoir’.

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  4. I’m reading a book about marriage in which the author has been working in the famous “Love Lab” for 40-odd years and doing scientific studies on relationships. I know two key factors are friendship and fondness, and if you lose those, you’re in trouble. The affairs, he says, often come after the friendship and fondness are gone. My first thought was, “Tell that to Frida Kahlo,” but I know what the author means. If you can’t think fondly of your partner, what are you doing together?

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    • That’s an interesting observation. I’m a bit (a lot probably) like Helen in that I seem to have always been the one that’s left. But at the time of leaving there has still been fondness on both sides. There was something else in our inability to stay together, eg. the always absent truck driver! Strangely, I’ve been talking to Jackie about the same subject. After all these years I think the most important thing – assuming you want the marriage to keep going – is to find out what your partner thinks is wrong.

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      • So, fondness but incompatible in terms of what you want from a relationship, maybe? If she wants a home with you in it and you’re always on the road, those don’t go together.

        Oh, Bill! Your advice leans toward the negative — “what’s wrong” with the other person — but what if you asked instead what they like about each other? I once asked a friend who bitched about her husband all the time what she liked about him, and the blank face was telling. They later got divorced.

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  5. I am always astonished at what people will put in memoirs – especially if they are writing about people who have public profiles themselves and are likely to be identifiable. This sounds like a particularly noteable example, but it’s something I often think when I’m reading the genre!

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    • You wonder if maybe she was a mess after the breakup and feeling more than a bit reckless. Nevertheless, nothing gets into print without the firm’s lawyers giving their sayso first. Makes you wonder if Helen’s ex-partner at least is fictional. But she also says things about herself and her desires that I wouldn’t say about myself to anyone, let alone to the public at large.

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  6. There’s no way I could pack books without looking at them in some detail either. Then again, nobody’s ever asked me to help them pack books. Either they know how inefficient I’d be, or they’re afraid I’d ask them too, in return. Heheh

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    • I often help Milly with her books, to see what she’s bought that’s interesting and to see what books I’ve given her that it’s time I to reclaim. Not a disinterested process then! I’m not sure I know anyone else who has books, except my children.

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