Winner of the 2021 Miles Franklin Literary Award
Erica Marsden’s son, an artist, has been imprisoned for homicidal negligence. In a state of grief, Erica cuts off all ties to family and friends, and retreats to a quiet hamlet on the south-east coast near the prison where he is serving his sentence.
There, in a rundown shack, she obsesses over creating a labyrinth by the ocean. To build it-to find a way out of her quandary-Erica will need the help of strangers. And that will require her to trust, and to reckon with her past.
The Labyrinth is a hypnotic story of guilt and denial, of the fraught relationship between parents and children, that is also a meditation on how art can both be ruthlessly destructive and restore sanity. It shows Amanda Lohrey to be at the peak of her powers.
What to do with a mother’s guilt? Where does a mother’s shame lead? What does love make us do? Amanda Lohrey asks these questions of her readers in her latest breathtaking novel.
Erica Marsden’s son Daniel – an eccentric, driven artist – commits a heinous crime and will spend the rest of his life in prison. Single mother Erica moves to a run-down cottage by the ocean to be able to visit Daniel, but also to reflect on happier times. Her childhood was spent within hospital grounds that hosted a wonderful maze – a labyrinth. It is a place where being lost made sense, and Erica decides re-creation is in order.
Of course, this is not the first novel to ask questions about a mother and son’s volatile relationship. Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin addressed the aftermath of a son’s violence and the irreversible link between a mother and her chid. However, this novel is different because it does not seek to shock us, but rather it quietly allows us to witness crossroads and transformations. Lohrey’s writing ensures we invest in and understand a mother’s intense need for forgiveness. Her writing asks us to participate in Erica’s loneliness and grief.
Lohrey’s skill, however, is that The Labyrinth is fundamentally a story of hope. It is an illustration of community spirit, of kindness and of empathy. Lohrey writes so quietly and confidently that you will be drawn into the scenery and to the supporting characters, and you will be weeping for Erica before you finish.
Clearly, I am a huge fan of Lohrey’s writing and I do believe that this novel is her very best. It is perfectly balanced and completely masterful. Fans of Alice Munro and Anne Tyler will rejoice in this kind of Australian story.
Chris Gordon is the programming and events manager for Readings.
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