Tasmanian novelist Amanda Lohrey has already won the 2021 Miles Franklin and Voss literary prizes for her eighth novel, The Labyrinth, but she can now add the Prime Minister’s Literary for Fiction to that list.
Described as “a writer of uncompromising artistic purpose who is never content for the novel to be mere entertainment”, judges praised the novel as “an unusual gravity with a deeply poignant background which is also a quest for some shape and pattern that might give meaning to a life with a diminished horizon.”
Lohrey’s novel tells the story of a white woman who travels to a remote location in NSW to be closer to her incarcerated son.
There, memories and childhood dreams reawaken, spurring the recluse woman to build a labyrinth in her backyard to process her grief and pain.
“[Lohrey] has an instinctive, if understated, sense of form and an inimitable novelist’s voice,” the judges’ said in a statement.
“’The Labyrinth’ is shadowed and haunted by strangeness. It is a novel in high realist mode that also has romance elements, if only in the way it encompasses a tragicomic mood and a certain formal audacity that brings to mind the moodiness and restless shifts of late Shakespeare.”
Lohrey’s previous works include Reading Madame Bovary, A Short History of Richard Kline, Camille’s Bread and Vertigo – all have been widely acclaimed.
At an awards ceremony in Sydney on Wednesday morning, Lohrey’s literary agent Lyn Tranter accepted the award on her behalf, reading out a speech Lohrey had written.
“Australian literature has never been richer or more diverse,” Lohrey wrote.
“So it was a great shock when our oldest university – Sydney – recently abolished its chair of Australian literature.”
“I look forward to the day when the university re-establishes an institution that any self-respecting nation should be proud to showcase.”
In a statement released before the awards ceremony, Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the ways “literature carries even more importance, connecting us to a range of Australian voices and bringing us closer together”.
In his prerecorded speech, which was aired at the ceremony hosted by Annabel Crabb, he thanked the short-listed writers.
“These awards are Australia’s way of saying what you do is important, what we value is your gift to us, to our country and to the world,” he said.
“Your ability [is] to go to the heart of the matter and think deeply to find truth and to share passionately and beautifully, to open our minds reach into our souls and unleash our creative spirits. So thank you for telling our stories.”
The Prime Minister’s Literary Award is comprises six categories, including non-fiction, poetry, Australian history, Young Adult and Children’s.
This year’s winner for Non-fiction was Quentin Sprague’s The Stranger Artist: Life at the Edge of Kimberley Painting, which follows the journey of artist and former gallerist Tony Oliver through the East Kimberley to establish the Aboriginal painting collective Jirrawun Arts.
Emeritus professor of history at the University of New South Wales, Grace Karskens’ People of the River: Lost Worlds of Early Australia took out the Australian history Award, while debut novelist Cath Moore, won the award for Young Adult literature with her novel, Metal Fish, Falling Snow — which took out this year’s Victorian Premier’s Literary Award and was shortlisted for the Stella Prize.
The Children’s literature Award was shared between Remy Lai for Fly on the Wall and Meg McKinlay and Matt Ottley’s How to Make a Bird.
Each category winner is awarded $80,000 (joint winners receiving $40,000 each), with shortlisted authors taking home $5,000 each.