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Five Minutes with Amanda Lohrey

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Acclaimed novelist Amanda Lohrey lives in Tasmania and writes fiction and non-fiction.

She is the author of much-praised novels such as The Morality of Gentlemen, Camille’s Bread, A Short History of Richard Kline, the novella Vertigo; as well as the award-winning short story collection Reading Madame Bovary.

Her latest novel 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.

We caught up with Amanda ahead of her online In Conversation event, presented by Harry Hartog, with Canberra’s best-selling author Karren Viggers tomorrow, Wednesday 19 August

Where did the concept for The Labyrinth come from?

In the past 20 years, there’s been a revival of interest in labyrinths and I began to notice that they were cropping up everywhere—in modern churches, in hospitals, in prisons, in public and private gardens, and even on farms cut into crops like wheat and barley.

Perhaps the best known in Australia is the exact copy of the labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral that was built in 2014 by public subscription in Sydney’s Centennial Park. (you can walk it etc). And there’s a very beautiful one in Watson in Canberra built by children who were evacuated from Chernobyl just after the nuclear disaster. Often the people who build labyrinths speak of them as not just a thing of beauty but an aid to meditation. To walk one is to feel calm and centred.

The enduring appeal of the labyrinth is intriguing but probably derives from the fact that in essence it’s a spiral and the spiral is an archetypal form found throughout nature: in galaxies, in plants, in shells, in the oceans, and of course it recurs in the art of many, many cultures, including many old cultures that go back thousands of years.

The story revolves around the ever-present sense of mother guilt. Would you say that there is redemption in creation or self-exploration?

I’m not sure what redemption means. When under stress we seek ways to keep ourselves grounded and sane and often a practical project works best and stops us from over-thinking.

Jung said something to the effect that often the hands have access to a wisdom that the brain can’t divine. But the novel has allegorical elements and the labyrinth is an image of something vital we connect with that can’t be expressed in words.

Wherever it occurs, the labyrinth is an image of enfolded mystery. And within the novel it stands in for the mystery of whatever it is that sustains us. We all have at least one object in our lives that’s meaningful for us in that way—a tree, a mountain, a river or a meaningful artefact like a painting. It’s what Oscar Wilde called the enigmatic object, enigmatic because it represents, pictorially, something we experience intuitively but struggle to express.

Community plays a vital role in the story. Due to the nature of the trauma in The Labyrinth, do you feel the presence of community assists or hinders the healing process?

It can do both. It depends on the nature of the community and its individual members. Sometimes a solitary retreat is the best therapy.

It is a story that offers insight on how to keep going when presented with adversity—how do you think this might be relatable to what is going on in the world at the moment?

Well, anyone under pandemic lockdown with an access to a workshop and a garden is going to fare a whole lot better than someone in a claustrophobic apartment.

Doing and making are therapeutic which is why we’ve observed the phenomenon of people suddenly wanting to bake bread in lockdown. In our lives there are certain things that represent ideal forms, and a well-baked loaf of bread is one of them—highly symbolic in most religions—and a labyrinth, the spiral of growth and eternal return, is another.


What: Harry Hartog online series: Amanda Lohrey in Conversation with Karen Viggers
When: Wednesday 19 August from 6.30 pm
Tickets: via Eventbrite


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