Reviewed by Heather O’Connor

Amanda Lohrey

Text Publishing, $24.99

This is the winner of the 2021 Miles Franklin Award and currently shortlisted for The Age Book of the Year – a great reward for the 74-year old Tasmanian writer. It tells the story of a woman who moves to a small village on the south coast of NSW in order to be close to her son, recently sentenced to years in a local prison for homicidal negligence. So, beyond exploring the challenges involved in the new life of a sea changer, it also delves into the fraught relationship of mother and son: his fury and failure to acknowledge the consequences of his actions; her determination to stand by him regardless of his behaviour towards her. 

How the woman, Erica Marsden, heals and restores herself relies in large part on her willingness to accept the kindness of strangers, as she sets out to build a labyrinth in her garden. Despite her determination to isolate herself, her life becomes entangled with her neighbours and, more importantly, with an undocumented refugee whose expertise she needs to complete the project. In the process she learns about the restorative power of art and the consolation that comes with being connected to community, both of which are strong themes in these times of fire recovery and coping with a pandemic. 

A powerful message is that family disasters have no neat endings: people don’t just ‘move on’, ‘get over it’ – survival requires heroic determination.

The deeper into the book I went, the more I could relate to the struggles people meet and endure as they try to adjust to circumstances totally beyond their control. 

This is recommended reading for lock-down early spring reading.