My lingering recollections of The Labyrinth by Amanda Lohrey (Text Publishing) are of place and the nature of the labyrinth.
Erica finds a fibro shack on the sandy, salty, windswept coastline in the hamlet of Garra Nulla. It is a shambled labyrinth but its core is perfectly proportioned. Erica buys the house.
“I have arrived. I have found the place.”
Erica has moved to be near her artist son who is in prison. He is a destructive fantasist intent on remaking the world in his own image. She longs to save him by holding him in a net of her thoughts, with her only distraction the labyrinth of her dreams.
Her land has a wide bare space between the house and the dunes that she calls the gap. Despite harsh conditions this dead space is to be redeemed by human hands.
As children, Erica and her brother Axel lived in a metal asylum where their father was the chief medical officer. They played on a labyrinth of brick and terracotta paving and made their own rules to reach the centre and waylay each other. The pattern of the labyrinth “seemed to suggest the possibility of another reality, a mystical geometry of secret formula and magic spells”.
Erica’s father made her a doll’s house with a circular staircase where she almost expected to find part of her missing mother hiding in the attic. These childhood experiences and her father’s Jungian credo to build in order to heal prompt her to imagine her own labyrinth.
She studied the arcane languages of Latin and Greek and has an aptitude for entering other worlds. History, culture and nature reveal many labyrinths and mazes – the latter a challenging trap of dead ends. Erica dreams and plans, stuck in a loop of pathways and lost time.
The labyrinth must blend into the landscape of her new home. Although crafted by men, it must appear to be part of nature. Erica settles on the asymmetrical organic form of the traditional seed pattern with nine circuits. She must be able to walk it, and with the help of elusive Albanian stonemason Jurko, they begin a construction of low stone walls to be filled with soil and herbs.
The possibility of “reversible destiny” and fraught relationships between sons and their parents are explored within the branches of Erica’s new community and the tantalising, indelible boundaries of the labyrinth.
In this fine, sensory work Amanda Lohrey spins imagination, ideas and humanity into a refuge.
Thank you to Text Publishing for the review copy of The Labyrinth.
Other books by Amanda Lohrey I have read and relished are A Short History of Richard Kline and Reading Madame Bovary.
Amanda is also well-known for Camille’s Bread, The Morality of Gentlemen, The Philosopher’s Doll and other works.