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

Morrison’s reboot

The PM’s new ministry marks a generational shift

Image of Tony Abbott

Thus passes the glory of Tony Abbott

The former member for Warringah will mainly be remembered for his mistakes

Image from ‘Broad City’

The last laugh

On ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’, ‘Catastrophe’, ‘Broad City’, ‘You’re the Worst’, ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ and ‘Veep’

Photo of Leonard French underneath his stained glass ceiling at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Leonard French’s Balzacian life

Reg MacDonald’s biography may return this Australian artist to the national imagination


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

Photo of Leonard French underneath his stained glass ceiling at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Leonard French’s Balzacian life

Reg MacDonald’s biography may return this Australian artist to the national imagination

Book cover of Choice Words

The desperate, secretive drama: ‘Choice Words’ edited by Louise Swinn

Personal stories consider questions of choice, legality and stigma surrounding abortion

Still image from John Wick Chapter 3 – Parabellum

Killer instincts: The ‘John Wick’ franchise

Keanu Reeves hones his stardom in the hyperreal violence of an assassin’s tale

Image of Michael Jackson and James Safechuck.

Starstruck: Reckoning with Michael Jackson’s legacy

What do we do with the music after ‘Leaving Neverland’?


More in Noted

‘Room for a Stranger’ by Melanie Cheng

The medico-writer delivers a novel driven less by storyline than accumulated observation

Still image from Game of Thrones, Season 8

Game of Thrones: Season 8

HBO’s epic fantasy series reaches its martial conclusion

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


Read on

Image of Tony Abbott

Thus passes the glory of Tony Abbott

The former member for Warringah will mainly be remembered for his mistakes

Image from ‘Broad City’

The last laugh

On ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’, ‘Catastrophe’, ‘Broad City’, ‘You’re the Worst’, ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ and ‘Veep’

Image of former prime minister Bob Hawke

Remembering the Silver Bodgie

Bob Hawke’s ability to build consensus reshaped Australia

Doomsday is nigh

The ALP’s policies are mild – why are they being treated as a mortal threat?


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