I didn’t expect to be transfixed by such a detailed account of one woman’s mission to build a labyrinth, but Amanda Lohrey’s Miles Franklin Award winning novel, The Labyrinth, is surprising.
Erica has moved to a tiny coastal town to be closer to her artist son who is incarcerated for homicidal negligence. While there, driven by a childhood memory, she obsesses over the building of a labyrinth and, in its construction, the labyrinth becomes a source of focus for others in the town. As hints to the history of these characters are revealed, it is apparent that in building the labyrinth they are attempting to reset the stones laid earlier in their lives. This is a book about obsession, particularly artistic obsession, and its power to both strain and save.
Unlike a maze, labyrinths are designed to be meditative, and this is what reading this novel is like. It isn’t so much the plot that drives the narrative, but a desire to stroll through the labyrinth in a dream state. It is contemplative but not conclusive, leaving you to ponder themes of loss, neglect, impermanence, grief, guilt, intergenerational trauma, and ultimately renewal. It is very much a literary novel, and its joy lies in the dexterity with which Lohrey wields words.
It is impossible to read this book without googling labyrinth designs.
This month I read Denizen by debut author James McKenzie Watson, and I was absolutely blown away by his talent as a new writer, and by the story itself.
Denizen won the Penguin Literary Prize in 2021 and was picked up for publication. It follows the story of Parker from the age of nine, through to adulthood when he’s a father himself, told from his perspective. Brought up on a remote farm in western New South Wales with a troubled childhood (and troubled mind), Parker is a character who you don’t always love or understand, but you feel deeply for all the way through. It’s haunting and visceral and so, so emotive. Exploring the stoicism of people in country towns, in outback Australia, and the crippling anxiety of loneliness. Five stars.