December 2008 – January 2009

Arts & Letters

‘Vertigo: A Novella’ by Amanda Lohrey

By Meg Mundell

The idea of leaving carries a seductive charge: an implicit dare to abandon your old life and begin afresh. City-dwellers Anna and Luke, the protagonists of Amanda Lohrey's timely new book, feel something is missing. Worn down by doubt and pollution, unsettled by the dinner-party drone of renovations and share portfolios, the two thirty-somethings decide to leave the city. Seeking a sea change, they scout for a rural hideaway.

On one long drive, straying from the bitumen, they chance on the remote beachside settlement of Garra Nalla. It's perfect: no shops, no tourists, no macchiatos - just a landscape of unruly beauty, a scattering of neighbours and the broadband access the couple needs to run their small business. They set up home in an old weatherboard house. As the summer heat builds, Anna plots out a native garden and Luke, who initially can't tell a raven from a blackbird, develops a passion for birdwatching. Gradually they befriend the neighbours and learn the lore and atmosphere of this new place.

While they have escaped the city, the past proves harder to evade. Beneath the quiet rhythms of their new life lurks an unspoken grief, albeit one framed by tenderness and not despair. Luke becomes engrossed in a dusty book by a long-dead explorer, a man whose account of wandering the Promised Land is marred by deep sorrow. Anna opens her arms to a haunting presence that hovers just out of frame; at night she surfs the cable news channels, seeking connection with the outside world.

Despite the couple's dislocation and the legacy that shadows them, the danger that eventually strikes is an external one. Lohrey depicts its gathering violence vividly. She writes with a sure, deceptively light touch, gliding seamlessly from accounts of bird life to the locals' easy conversation, to the menace of what comes to pass. However, given the centrality of landscape to the story, it's a pity that the book's evocative images, by the Tasmanian artist Lorraine Biggs, are not given the scale they deserve.

The undercurrent of this pastoral tale is about people coming to terms with loss. Yet there is an alluring lightness to it, a generosity - the sense that we are resilient, that we can emerge from disaster profoundly changed, rather than irrevocably damaged.

Cover: December 2008 - January 2009

December 2008 – January 2009

From the front page

Image of Solange

A black woman in space: Solange’s ‘When I Get Home’

Songs distilled from the quiet expanses of high art and black culture

Climate sums fail

Our debate looks only at one side of the ledger

Image from ‘Eat the Problem’

Can ‘Eat the Problem’ solve the problem?

Mona’s new project explores our fraught ethics of consumption

Image of ‘Islands’ by Peggy Frew

‘Islands’ by Peggy Frew

The bestselling author delivers a nuanced examination of family tragedy


In This Issue

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Alfred Deakin & John Bunyan

Feeling lucky

What drives economic optimism?

‘A Mercy’ by Toni Morrison

Tradition, truth & tomorrow


More in Arts & Letters

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Missing witnesses: Valeria Luiselli’s ‘Lost Children Archive’

The Mexican ‘documentary fiction’ writer delivers a polyphonic road trip

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David Malouf’s new worlds

Consciousness is at the heart of the celebrated author’s body of work

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A black woman in space: Solange’s ‘When I Get Home’

Songs distilled from the quiet expanses of high art and black culture

Haruki to Highsmith: Lee Chang-dong’s ‘Burning’

Mr Ripley echoes through a masterful tale of class tensions in Seoul


More in Noted

Image of ‘Islands’ by Peggy Frew

‘Islands’ by Peggy Frew

The bestselling author delivers a nuanced examination of family tragedy

‘Who Killed My Father’ by Édouard Louis (trans. Lorin Stein)

Political rage fuels the French author’s account of a fraught father–son relationship

‘Exploded View’ by Carrie Tiffany

This new novel is most striking in how it diverges from its predecessors

‘Zebra and Other Stories’ by Debra Adelaide

Difficult-to-grasp characters populate this new collection


Read on

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Much ado about Barry

On Humphries’s brand of confronting comedy and the renaming of the Barry Award

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Can ‘Eat the Problem’ solve the problem?

Mona’s new project explores our fraught ethics of consumption

Image from ‘Janet Laurence: After Nature’

‘Janet Laurence: After Nature’ at the MCA

This survey offers a root and branch study of the natural world’s fragility

Image of Scott Morrison and Michaelia Cash

Scott Morrison’s short-sighted defence of cars with grunt

Our leader remains in Luddite denial about electric vehicles


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