Amanda Lohrey

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Vertigo Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Amanda Lohrey's Vertigo. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Amanda Lohrey

Amanda Lohrey was born in Hobart, Tasmania in 1947. While she was raised among working-class people and learned about unions from her family members (some of whom helped to run unions themselves), she was taught conflicting ideas at the Catholic school of her youth. Her experiences at Catholic school were mostly negative, fostering a distrust of women and authority figures that affected her for years afterwards. Even though Lohrey didn’t feel a connection with Catholicism, she continued searching for a sense of spirituality and deeper connection to the world in her work. Many of her early works were essays and political writings, as she preferred to focus on a person’s connection to the wider material world around them, rather than their individual, subjective experience. While this political theme runs through much of her work, Lohrey continues to experiment and defy expectations with her novels. After attending the University of Tasmania, she studied at Cambridge and later became a lecturer at the University of Technology in Sydney. Her writing has received several awards, including the Miles Franklin Award and the Voss Literary Prize. Today, she lives in Tasmania with her husband Andrew and continues writing in the Australian National University School of Literature, Languages, and Linguistics.
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Historical Context of Vertigo

Luke and Anna’s first encounter with the history of the area is their discovery of a colonial fort surrounding an old house near their new home. The crumbling structure is a remnant of Great Britain’s colonization of Australia starting in 1788 with the establishment of a penal colony in Botany Bay. As for more recent history, Vertigo takes place (and was written) during the war in Afghanistan, which began in 2001 shortly after the September 11th terrorist attacks in the United States. While the conflict itself is distant from Australia, the country’s participation in the war is felt by the novel’s characters. Gil has a grandson participating in the war, and Gil is afraid to mention it for fear that the conflict will claim his grandson’s life. Meanwhile, Luke becomes interested in the history of Palestine after watching a bombing on the news. He’s surprised to read about how apparently uneventful the Middle East was in the early 20th century, at least according to the British surgeon Sir Frederick Treves. One other historical event that may have influenced the novel is the financial crisis of 2007-2008. While this great recession didn’t affect Australia as severely as other countries like the United States, its effects were felt across the world. Anna’s financial worries about her and Luke’s apartment in the city at the beginning of the novel might be informed by this wider crisis. 

Other Books Related to Vertigo

The tiny coastal town of Garra Nalla is the main setting of Vertigo, but Garra Nalla also features in The Labyrinth, one of Lohrey’s more recent novels. The Labyrinth deals with similar themes, as the main character (Erica Marsden) flees to the coast to escape an upsetting event that happened to her back in the city. Erica’s experiences in Garra Nalla flesh out the small town even further, letting the reader see it from the perspective of a new character in a similar situation. Meanwhile, for Vertigo itself, Lohrey mentions in an author’s note that she was inspired by Henry Lawson’s poem “The Fire at Ross’s Farm.” The poem describes two bitterly feuding families who constantly argue over the area’s farmland. On Christmas Eve, a bushfire threatens to overrun one of the family’s farms, and the ordeal eventually brings the clans together to fight back the blaze. Lawson’s description of the fire resembles the firestorm in Vertigo, and the two families joining forces echoes how the citizens of Garra Nalla come together to help each other through the disaster. Lohrey also reused some of the names in the poem to flesh out the history of Garra Nalla. Readers interested in the themes of Vertigo might also enjoy Cloudstreet, a novel by Tim Winton, another Australian author. Cloudstreet follows two families who’ve both experienced serious traumas, including the loss of a young boy. The novel details their attempts to deal with their grief and make a new life for themselves in a strange new place.
Key Facts about Vertigo
  • Full Title: Vertigo
  • When Written: 2009
  • Where Written: Australia
  • When Published: May 4th, 2009
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Novella
  • Setting: Garra Nalla, a small, fictional town on Australia’s coast
  • Climax: A raging bushfire threatens to destroy the town of Garra Nalla, forcing Luke, Anna, and the other townsfolk to flee from their homes.
  • Antagonist: The novella has no traditional antagonist. The protagonists are in conflict with nature, the elements, and the trauma of their past.
  • Point of View: Third Person Omniscient

Extra Credit for Vertigo

Rings a Bell. Alan Watts, one of Luke and Anna’s neighbors in Vertigo, is also the name of a famous philosophical writer. It’s possible that Lohrey is referencing the real Alan Watts with her character, though it’s also likely that this is just an interesting coincidence.