Book Review: ‘The Labyrinth’

I am utterly speechless and surprised. Not only in this book but in myself. Literature is not often my forte, nor do I usually find pleasure and addictiveness in reading literary language, plots and character conversations – yet THIS! WOW! I am blown away and can 100% see why ‘The Labyrinth’ by Amanda Lohrey won the Miles Franklin Literary Award for 2021.

Where to start …

‘The Labyrinth’ begins with the introduction of Erica, our main character. She is reflecting on her time as a child where she has just witnessed her mother abandoning Erica and her brother, Axel. They are left in the care of their father, who raises the children on the ground of a psychiatric facility where he also works as the head psychiatric doctor. This environment sets a feeling and acknowledgement of intense mental health and psychotic episodes throughout the novel. This theme reoccurs when Erica is comparing the life and work of her father, to her son Daniel.

Daniel is an incredibly interesting character in this story as we meet him whilst in goal. Erica bought and moved into a small coastal beach shack to be closer to him. We know that he is in goal after obsessing over a person, mostly through painting and drawing this person over and over. It is implied that this obsession then took a bad turn. Daniel connects to the world through his art, and there is an amazingly dark scene where Erica visits Daniel in goal after she has written multiple times to the goal administration to allow Daniel oil pastels. Daniel receives these but at the visitation with Erica, he breaks one in half, sits half on the table for her and proceeds to place the other half in his mouth, chew it and smirk as Erica. It’s twisted and dark and psychotic. You’re left thinking as the reader, what does this mean?! All the while, Erica continues to visit him due to this feeling of responsibility for him being the way he is and self-sabotage.

The idea of building a labyrinth comes to Erica in a dream and she feels this overwhelming urge to create one. The process of designing, developing, finding the right stonemason, obtaining material and the emotional support along the way, is all part of the core plot. The story is quite simple, yet it isn’t. Majority of my book club really enjoyed this novel and felt that Erica’s journey really did represented a Labyrinth. The circling relationship with Daniel, the moving past different characters and not overly investing time in or with them, or getting to know them. Erica’s dreams and final scenes in the novel were incredibly raw and moving.

I love that the Literature Book Club I’m leading is really pushing me out of my comfort zone. The discussions are AWE-some and really switching on this appetite for more Australian literature. If you’re looking for a novel to ponder over long after it’s finished – read this one!

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