The Labyrinth (Text Publishing 2020) is a gorgeous literary novel by author Amanda Lohrey. Written in exquisite prose, the novel leaves so much white space for the reader to imagine what is going on in those spaces. Lohrey gives us a complex and intimate story, with great characters, authentic dialogue and a lovely ethereal quality to the shimmering sentences, but she also leaves much unsaid, and as readers we are asked not only to imagine the absences, but to ponder questions about the characters’ actions, motivations and histories.
Ostensibly, the story is of Erica Marsden, whose son Daniel, a gifted artist, is imprisoned for an horrific act of revenge. Erica moves from Sydney to a sleepy coastal town, close to where Daniel is serving out his sentence. The dynamics of the relationship between mother and child are extraordinary, bleak, heartbreaking and strange. She visits him once a fortnight; he is mostly unresponsive, occasionally cruel. Their relationship is devastating to witness. A mother’s most instinctive response – to protect her child – is unable to be fulfilled. And there is a blurriness about her feelings for this young man, her son, who has done monstrous things and yet is of course still her flesh and blood. I found this the most interesting aspect of the novel – this duality, this contradiction, this damaged boy and his grief-stricken mum.
Erica lives in a run-down shack by the ocean where she obsesses over building a labyrinth. She has no idea how to go about this plan – what resources she will need, how she will design it, what she will build it with, whether it is even possible. And so she must turn to the strangers in the town who gradually become … well, sometimes friends, sometimes merely people she must decide to trust.
The landscape and environment are depicted with haunting beauty. Themes of loneliness, desperation, guilt and reparation are featured, and the unique dynamics between a parent and a child – disquieting, unsettling, fragile and yet somehow unbreakable – are explored with nuanced empathy.
Erica’s father (a psychiatrist; she grew up in ‘an asylum, a manicured madhouse’) had often quoted Jung: ‘the cure for many ills is to build something’ and she hopes that building her labyrinth will complete something in her that is missing.
This is a quiet novel that will draw you in and encourage you to ask questions about your own life, and the choices you might make if you found yourself in different circumstances.