Reading Madame Bovary: Amanda Lohrey
I was blown away by Amanda Lohrey’s novella of 2008, Vertigo, and finished this first collection of stories wishing for a volume of novellas. (Of course, there is her rich and satisfying backlist to consider if you’re new to her marvellous body of work.)
The beautifully pitched characters, perspectives and settings in Reading Madame Bovary are typically engaging. There’s an appealing range of scenarios on offer here, including a young Australian traveller looking after British schoolkids on a barge, a family of house-sitters in the Sydney hills, an academic drawn to a religious student’s sick mother and harassed corporate underlings seeking restoration. The most lacerating speaker in the book, a genial Sydney neurosurgeon, speaks to us in interview mode, providing an acerbic monologue which left me quaking: ‘Am I grateful to my father for talking me out of becoming a mathematician? Yeah, probably’ (‘The Existence of Other Men’). This follows ‘The Art of Convalescence’, an excursion into the very real terrors of tracking an ovary through the public hospital system, with the Sydney Piano Competition as a glittering soundtrack. As Kay remarks in the mesmerising ‘Primates’, Fluctuat nec mergitur: we are tossed by the waves but we do not sink. Come on in, this water is amazing.