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