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.

From the front page

Image of the Kiama Blowhole, New South Wales

The edge of their seats

Lessons from Gilmore, Australia’s most marginal electorate

Image of Anthony Albanese

How to be a prime minister

The task ahead for Anthony Albanese in restoring the idea that governments should seek to make the country better

Image of Peter Dutton and Sussan Ley

The future of the Liberal Party

Peter Dutton doesn’t just have a talent problem on his hands

Image of Australian Army Cadets on parade. Image via Alamy

Ghosts in the war machine

Does the military attract violent misanthropists, or are they forged in murky theatres of war?

In This Issue

Barack Obama at campaign rally in Cleveland, Ohio. Image: TonyTheTiger at en.wikipedia

Once upon a time in America

Getting elected in Zanesville, Ohio

‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’ by Paul Kelly & Kev Carmody

Illustrations by Peter Hudson & Gurindji schoolchildren
Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

The black polo

Southern discomfort

Tasmania’s art scene

More in Arts & Letters

Still from ‘Men’

Fear as folk: ‘Men’

Writer/director Alex Garland’s latest film is an unsubtle but ambitious pastoral horror, mixing the Christian with the classical

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Altona

Image of Fonofono o le nuanua: Patches of the rainbow (After Gauguin), 2020. Image courtesy of Yuki Kihara and Milford Galleries, Aotearoa New Zealand

The dream machine: The 59th Venice Biennale

Curator Cecilia Alemani’s long overdue Biennale overwhelmingly features female artists and champions indigenous voices and other minorities

Image of Daniel Boyd, ‘Untitled (TBOMB)’, 2020

Mission statement: Daniel Boyd’s ‘Treasure Island’

An AGNSW exhibition traces the development of the Indigenous artist’s idiosyncratic technique, which questions ideas of perception


More in Noted

Cover of ‘Trust’

‘Trust’

The American novelist Hernan Diaz audits the silence of great wealth in a story of four parts presented as novel, autobiography, memoir and diary

Still from ‘Irma Vep’

‘Irma Vep’

Olivier Assayas revisits his 1996 film in a delicious palindromic limited series, in which a frazzled director remakes his ‘Irma Vep’ film into a TV series

Cover image of Louise Kennedy’s ‘Trespasses’

‘Trespasses’

The powerful debut novel from Irish author Louise Kennedy is a masterclass in emotional compression

Cover image of Paul Dalla Rosa’s ‘An Exciting and Vivid Inner Life’

‘An Exciting and Vivid Inner Life’

Alienations and fantasies of escape unify the stories in Australian author Paul Dalla Rosa’s debut collection


Online exclusives

Image of Australian Army Cadets on parade. Image via Alamy

Ghosts in the war machine

Does the military attract violent misanthropists, or are they forged in murky theatres of war?

Composite image showing John Hughes (image via Giramondo Publishing) and the cover of his novel The Dogs (Upswell Publishing)

A dog’s breakfast

Notes on John Hughes’s plagiarism scandal

Image of Erin Doherty as Becky Green in Chloe. Image supplied

App trap: ‘Chloe’

‘Sex Education’ writer Alice Seabright’s new psychological thriller probing social media leads this month’s streaming highlights

Pablo Picasso, Figures by the sea (Figures au bord de la mer), January 12, 1931, oil on canvas, 130.0 × 195.0 cm, Musée national Picasso-Paris. © Succession Picasso/Copyright Agency, 2022. Photo: © RMN - Grand Palais - Mathieu Rabeau

‘The Picasso Century’ at the NGV

The NGV’s exhibition offers a fascinating history of the avant-garde across the Spanish artist’s lifetime