Tag Archives: Miles Franklin Literary Award

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 emersed 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.

Book Review: The Yield by Tara June Winch

This highly awarded book is an evocative and eye-opening read from Australian (Wiradjuri) author Tara June Winch.

There are actually three stories all cleverly constructed to relate to each other:

Pop (Albert Goondiwindi) composes a dictionary of Wiradjuri words. He peppers the meanings with stories of his family, his past and his culture in the hope that none of it will be lost. He passes away before completing it.

The second story is from his granddaughter’s point of view. August flies home from England for Pop’s funeral and faces the family she ran from many years earlier.  She’s embraced by her grandmother and aunties and must confront the reasons for running away.

The third is a series of letters from Reverend Greenleaf of German background who set up a Mission for Aborigines in the late 1800’s.

This is a remarkably clever reconstruction of a history largely forgotten and untold in Australia. The dictionary was genius giving us a real sense of the Wiradjuri language including pronunciation. The focus on intergenerational trauma as well as the strength of connection to land and culture was inspiring.

Look at it this way – when people travel overseas the first thing, they do is learn a handful of words, learn the local language – please and thank you and hello and goodbye, maybe even where is the supermarket? People do it because it makes life easier but they also do it out of respect…

And then we’re all migrants here, even those first-fleet descendants, we forget we’re all in someone else’s country.”

Reading The Yield gave me all sorts of feelings. The anguish and anger of what happened to our indigenous people was detailed in the letters written by the Reverend. His seemingly good intentions to set up a mission under the guise of removing a long-established culture to impose another was incredibly misguided. But this is what he and most missionaries around the world have done. Even so, his so-called protection was never enough.

Then there was the sorrow about the loss and trauma experienced by August: her missing sister, not knowing what happened and the affect it had on her for years afterward, her emptiness and lack of belonging to the land or to her people.

The disgust about how we treat the fifty-thousand-year-old indigenous history. If we dug up a Roman building, we’d revere it yet that history is new in comparison to what exists in Australia. Who can forget Rio Tinto blowing up a 46-thousand-year-old sacred site only last year? And the novel’s story parallels this when the land that Pop had lived on and loved was sold off for a tin mine.

This is another great novel for all Australians to read. These stories help us to understand. Please check this one out.

Book Review: An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire

The novel opens in a small Australian country town with a young policeman informing Chris Rogers that her younger sister, Bella Michaels may have been found after having been reported missing. He asks Chris to identify the brutally slain body which turns out to be Bella.

Unlike so many crime novels, this is told mostly from the point of view of Chris and we feel every bit of her anguish. ‘The loss of her is already too much and then there’s the other thing – the end of being loved in the way only my sister could love me. What I feel for her survives and that hurts like battery acid every minute, but worse is that what she felt for me died with her. I will never be loved like that again. ‘

Twelve years older than Bella, our hearts break as the relationship and the intense love between Chris and her only sister is revealed. We’re introduced to Nate, Chris’s truckie ex-husband and their complicated relationship.

The crime and the police investigation is secondary to how the people who are left behind deal with the trauma of loss. The writing is superbly raw and honest and delves into themes of an ever-present feeling of violence, vulnerability and fear felt by many women particularly heightened in the aftermath of a vicious crime. About men’s violence on women, the following paragraph is the most poignant of all.

And there are men who don’t cause quite so much damage and so are all too happy to publicise the worst so they can look mild in comparison, and men who do no violence and so don’t see how it is their problem that others do, and here are men who want us to know about the bad and the worse and the negligent so that we go to them for protection and there are men … who are pure and good of heart and intent and who want only to be our friends and brothers and lovers but we have no way of telling those from the others until it’s too late and that, perhaps is the most unbearable thing of all.’

On the other side, is the media’s portrayal of a slain girl who is interesting only because she is young and pretty and the relentless pursuit for an angle at all costs. And this is where we’re put into journalist, May Norman’s point of view. We read her posts just as we would the newspaper. She too must deal with the aftermath of the murder and her job of reporting, while escaping from her own loss of love. If there is any weakness at all in this novel, it would be this character whom I found difficult to warm to.

Shortlisted for the Miles Franklin and Stella prize in 2017, this is an important novel to read, well executed and exquisitely written.

Book Review: The Last Days of Ava Langdon by Mark O’Flynn

 

The Last Days of Ava Langdon by Mark O’Flynn was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award 2017. A tantalising story about the last day in the life of the eccentric and elderly writer, Ava Langdon. Set against the backdrop of the beautiful Blue Mountains, the author has very skilfully drawn an exquisite character, inspired loosely on the real life writer, Eve Langley. She dresses in men’s clothing, drinks from a sherry bottle in the park and apart from her machete which she carries with her, obsesses over her writing.

There is hardly a plot, as the author, almost poetically takes us through a day with Ava meandering around the township of Katoomba. We are inside her head as she imagines the stories of the locals who are wary and barely tolerant of a person they little understand. A recluse, we are given a tour of her derelict hut yet happy in her surroundings, she asks for no pity. There are hints of how she has arrived at such a place, alone and destitute. Our idea of how an elderly woman should behave is challenged as we’re taken with her to the café, the library, soup kitchen, the Post Office, the pub, and hospital.

A surprise visitor brings us a glimpse of her past and as the book ended, I was left wanting more of her sad back story. Not a long book,  I enjoyed reading it, and the language was evocative and superbly crafted, but it might not be to everyone’s taste.