Created by Dorothy Porter
“Christ, not more bloody poems.”
Subtitled “An Erotic Murder Mystery,” Dorothy Porter’s 1995 book The Monkey’s Mask is more than just the story of JILL FITZPATRICK, an Australian lesbian private detective who dives head first into “murder, manipulation and the consuming power of sex.”
It’s also some kind of literary tour-de-force, stunning in its audacity and awe-inspiring in its execution.
It’s an erotically-charged lesbian detective story-poem, rendered in angry, staccatto verse form, and that’s definitely something you don’t see every day. And it’s not just a gimmick. Beyond the literary fireworks and its growing cult status, it’s very simply a great, kick-ass mystery tale, a fast-paced, a transgressive-as-shit yarn full of dark humor and wit that takes all the stand-bys of a million P.I. stories, and gives them a lesbian spin. And then sets it unapologetically in Sydney and Australia’s Blue Mountains.
Diminutive, pragmatic Fitzpatrick is hired to find Mickey, a missing student, a moody, angst-ridden poet, but when the girl is found murdered, the detective promises the girl’s parents that she’ll find the killer. Working her way through Sydney’s thriving (and backstabbing) poetry scene, Jill eventually tracks down the the girl’s former poetry professor, an apparently straight femme fatale; a blonde bombshell who towers over Jill, both physically and intellectually, and oozes enough raw is-she-or-isn’t-she? sensuality to make Jill’s head spin. Is the prof just a pleasant distraction (“a bit of all right,” Jill says) or is she actually involved somehow? Suffice it to say that sparks fly.
And talk about terse. Even Hammett never boiled his prose down this far:
I want to say
That it’s no good
when I’m in this mood
abused children are crawling
through my hair
wives with hammer-shattered heads
are smeared on my eyeball walls
Mickey’s skull whistles
Through its black holes
I’ve got the male violence DTs
And amazingly, this weird hybrid of a book was even made into a pretty decent film, a Japanese-French-Australian co-production involving Arenafilm, Asmik Ace Entertainment, Fandango, Le Studio Canal, the New South Wales Film & Television Office and TVA International. It’s directed by Australian Samantha Landers, with Susie Porter as Jill and statuesque American Kelly McGillis (already something of a lesbian icon after her work with Jodie Foster in The Accused) as the professor. It’s not perfect, but it’s frank and unflinching, and little seems to have been toned down, although it does lag at the end.
Dorothy Porter was considered one of Australia’s most innovative writers, and wrote several other verse novels, including El Dorado (2007), about a serial child killer, which was nominated for a Ned Kelly Award.
- “You’re a great fuck but you’re a very ordinary detective.”
— Diana, it turns out, really knows how to hurt a gal.
- “Unlike the book, Lang’s film loses most of its way with “the mystery”–probably because the supporting characters… are not defined enough to make them memorable as victims or suspects.
But the overall mood of the film captures the strengths of Dorothy Porter’s vision, by retaining Jill’s skewed view of the unfolding plot as a voice-over… The film is definitely worth seeing; and Dorothy Porter’s book should be read once a year to remind us of what is possible.”
— Lindy Cameron (Crime Factory)
- The Monkey’s Mask: An Erotic Murder Mystery (1995) | Buy this book
- THE MONKEY’S MASK | Buy this DVD | Watch it now
(aka “Die Affenmaske,” “Cercle intime,” “La Maschera di scimmia” and “Sex Poetry”)
Based on the novel by Dorothy Porter
Adapted by Anne Kennedy
Directed by Samantha Lang
Cinematography by Garry Phillips
Producers: Robert Connolly, John Maynard
Co-producer: Domenico Procacci
Starring Susie Porter as JILL FITZPATRICK
with Kelly McGillis as Professor Diana Maitland
Also starring Marton Csokas, Deborah Mailman, Abbie Cornish, Jean-Pierre Mignon, Caroline Gillmer, Brendan Cowell , Boyana Novakovic, John Noble, Linden Wilkinson, Jim Holt, Annie Jones, Chris Haywood, John Batchelor, William Zappa