Book Review: Labyrinth by Amanda Lohrey

A powerful story of love and guilt, this novel won the Miles Franklin prize in 2021.

Erica’s son is in jail and she relocates to Tasmania to live near the jail to be near him.  She is used to strange people and strange places because she was brought in a mental asylum where her father was the head psychiatrist. It’s at the asylum where she used to play in a labyrinth and so she tries to recreate one in her garden at the seaside hamlet in Tasmania where she now lives.

The story of her life unfolds as does her obsession to recreate the labyrinth of her childhood searching for strength, will or perhaps happiness. She befriends a stone mason, an illegal immigrant who understands her vision and after doing menial jobs is happy to help her build the labyrinth.

‘I am the prisoner of an idea with no path to its realisation. Were it not for the dream I would not persist, but for now I remain its captive.’

Lohrey explores the relationship between mother and son which begins with little to no communication and is slightly reminiscent of We Need to talk about Kevin. But it’s not so much a reflection of their relationship but rather a journey of introspection into Erica’s life and the relationships which holds dear. But the one with her son is the most painful – ‘the hatred of the mother who is not enough, who is not the longed-for father.” Just that sentence conveys such pain.

It’s a beautifully written novel, descriptive as it is evocative.

“I light a fire in the living room fireplace, which is shallow and smokes; it spits embers onto the rug and the first billow of smoke stings my eyes.’

Erica’s house on the beach, is rundown yet holds a charm and she soon becomes immersed into the community and eventually acquires a sense of belonging and peace. And now I know what a labyrinth is.

It’s a wonderful read.

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