The search for identity and belonging

The pursuit of identity and the need to belong weave through “Vertigo” as key themes, mirroring the characters’ journey to self-discovery and their longing for a deeper connection with nature. This is clearly demonstrated as the characters move from an overbearing city life to an open, coastal setting.

The sudden onset of asthma compels Anna to reassess herself. Accustomed to fitness and vitality, the illness presents her with an unfamiliar side of herself, making her feel “weepy and vulnerable as if she were no longer the person she thought she was” (p.14). This health crisis shakes the core of her identity, prompting her to redefine what her life means.

Luke’s sense of self is equally disoriented as their dream of homeownership in the city fades. He starts to feel the burden of their inability to buy a house, an issue he previously didn’t consider. Their choice to move to the countryside is about escaping these emotional stresses, seeking peace and a more profound sense of self.

Their new home, Garra Nalla, provides them a chance for a fresh start: “They felt that in some essential way it was uncultivated, a landscape out of time, and as such, it could not define them. Here they could live and simply be” (p.18). The tranquil, coastal environment allows them to construct a new identity free from societal pressures and focused on living authentically.

The theme of identity and belonging is further explored through Ken, Luke’s father. Ken’s traditional values put pressure on Luke, making him feel inadequate when it comes to his career choices. Ken’s critical attitude underlines the struggle between the identities forced upon us by societal norms and those that we shape for ourselves.

Ultimately, “Vertigo” shows us that the quest for personal identity and a sense of belonging isn’t only an inner journey but is also influenced by external factors like health, societal pressures, and physical surroundings. Through this challenging journey, Luke and Anna explore the myriad facets of their identities while seeking a place they can truly call home.

The impact of environment on well-being

The theme of environment’s impact on wellbeing is skillfully examined in “Vertigo,” where Amanda Lohrey contrasts urban life and coastal living to show how surroundings can influence characters’ health and happiness.

In the city, Anna’s asthma worsens, reflecting negatively on her physical health: “In the first weeks of winter Anna developed a chest infection she couldn’t shake…she was being told that for a long time perhaps even decades she would have to inhale steroids” (p. 14). The city, with its stifling air, constant sirens, and relentless pace, takes a toll on her well-being, illustrating how an urban environment can adversely affect physical health.

The city’s detrimental impact extends beyond physical to mental and emotional well-being. Luke and Anna feel crushed by city life and its materialistic demands, longing for escape and renewal: “That burnish of rough glamour that had once overlaid his city seemed suddenly shabby… He could feel the future coming towards him… and it was not what he had hoped for” (p. 13). The city becomes a symbol of lost hopes, further hinting at how an urban environment can negatively impact mental and emotional health.

On relocating, their environment drastically changes from the dark, rundown city house to the serene coastal hamlet of Garra Nalla: “The paint on the ceilings was cracked and peeling and the rooms were dark with a sombre brown varnish on the woodwork” (p. 15) makes way for a new life among “casuarinas and shaggy old banksias” (p. 18). This transition represents a journey towards recovering their wellness and identity in the calm, natural environment.

However, Garra Nalla isn’t portrayed as a perfect haven. The weather elements, especially the “blustering wind,” symbolize challenges they must confront in their new home (p.33). The correlation between weather fluctuations and wellbeing subtly underscores life’s unpredictability, even in seemingly ideal settings.

Rodney’s character introduces a different perspective, hinting at the negative impacts of isolation and possible unlawful activities on his wellbeing: “The smell of trouble drifts in the air on those nights when Rodney is banished back to base camp to sit out on his boxy deck to brood and smoke” (p. 78). This aspect of the narrative reveals a darker side of Garra Nalla, which disrupts its image as an ideal, uncomplicated setting.

Thus, Lohrey, through “Vertigo,” illuminates the profound effects of environment on wellbeing, demonstrating how physical surroundings deeply intertwine with personal health and happiness. The story underscores that the journey to wellbeing involves more than a change of scenery—it’s about learning to navigate and adapt to the unique challenges presented within any environment.

The transition from youth to adulthood 

“Vertigo,” by Amanda Lohrey, extensively explores the theme of the transition from youth into adulthood. This transition is characterised not merely by age, but a complex mix of changing attitudes, evolving responsibilities, and encounters with harsh realities that fundamentally impact the characters’ understanding of their identities.

Anna Worley’s character transformation encapsulates this theme. Once a carefree individual embracing her bohemian spirit, she is forced to grapple with her newly diagnosed asthma and the subsequent changes it brings about in her life. Her journey is an exploration of the abrupt end of youthful buoyancy, replaced by disheartening realities of adult life: “Anna had thought of herself as bohemian a free spirit… but now she was turning into some other woman” (p.15).

Luke’s character evolution reflects the plight of staring at unfulfilled dreams and coming to terms with the realities of adulthood. His disillusionment surfaces when his aspirations of owning a home in the city become seemingly unreachable: “When interest rates rose for the third time in eighteen months he and Anna despaired of ever buying in the city” (p.13). Luke’s struggle symbolizes the fading of youthful optimism, replaced by the sobering realities of financial constraints—a common aspect of adult life.

In contrast to Anna and Luke’s transitional challenges, Ken represents a comparatively rigid, conventional understanding of adulthood. His critique of Luke’s choices emphasizes generational differences in defining success and maturity in life. Ken’s critique—”Ken managing to insinuate that… the rest of life in Garra Nalla is pretty much nothing” (p.24)—highlights the tension between societal expectations and personal desires in shaping one’s adult identity.

Zack and Briony, in their carefree play, embody the essence of youthfulness starkly contrasting with the complexities confronted by Anna and Luke: “Briony and Zack cavort around an old soccer table shrieking and whooping” (p.85). These characters serve to underscore the innocence of childhood and the stark contrast it holds against the trials of adulthood.

In “Vertigo,” Lohrey showcases the passage from youth to adulthood as a complex unfolding process, distinguished not simply by the getting of wisdom, but by reconciling with life’s unanticipated bumps and detours. As the characters in the narrative navigate this transformative terrain, their experiences highlight the universal human process of maturation and its accompanying pains and insights.

Interpersonal relationships and family dynamics

Amanda Lohrey’s “Vertigo” casts a spotlight on the theme of interpersonal relationships and family dynamics, painting a rich portrait of the complexities that define human connections. The narrative examines the intricate weave of familial ties, romantic partnerships, and friendships, providing insight into the impact of these relationships on the characters’ personal growth and self-understanding.

The relationship between Luke and Anna encapsulates how external factors, such as health conditions or financial stress, can test the resilience of a romantic relationship. Anna’s diagnosis of asthma fundamentally alters her self-perception and casts a shadow over the couple’s dynamic: “It was as if her robust beauty… was being preyed upon by an invisible vampire” (p. 14). This powerful metaphor underscores the insidious nature of illness and the profound impact it can have on both individual identity and interpersonal relationships.

The familial conflict between Luke and his father, Ken, further illuminates the complexities of family dynamics. As Luke grapples with his own ambitions and identity, he becomes resentful of his father’s scrutiny and judgement: “He does not want to submit to one of his father’s inquisitorial probings” (p. 24). This father-son tension represents a universal struggle between generational expectations and individual desires for autonomy and personal fulfillment.

Gil, a neighbor to Luke and Anna, adds another layer to the narrative’s exploration of family dynamics. His muted concern for his grandson, who is serving in Afghanistan, provides a poignant reflection of the stoic endurance often exhibited by older generations: “Luke is miffed; he thought Gil told him everything. ‘Why wouldn’t Gil mention it?’ ‘I don’t know but he doesn’t seem to want to talk about it'” (p. 65).

Contrasting these diverse familial and neighborly relationships, Rodney’s clandestine love affair reveals the darker facets of human relationships: “He waits for his girlfriend’s husband to fly inland to the mine for his two-week shift so that Rodney can moonlight in the miner’s bed with the miner’s wife” (p. 78). Rodney’s situation demonstrates how deceit and secrecy disrupt trust, suggesting the potential toxicity lying beneath the surface of seemingly normal interpersonal relationships.

Overall, “Vertigo” delves into the many faces of interpersonal relationships and family dynamics, exploring every shade of affection, conflict, and resilience. Lohrey demonstrates how these intimate connections—both harmonious and fraught—form an integral part of individual identity and personal development, anchoring us in an interconnected web of shared human experience.

Resilience and coping with change

“Vertigo,” penned by Amanda Lohrey, is an evocative exploration of managing unexpected changes and fortifying personal resilience. The novel presents an intimate portrayal of how the characters shape their lives in response to shifting circumstances, casting light on the human qualities of adaptability and perseverance that such changes demand.

Choosing to swap their city lives for a simple existence in Garra Nalla, Luke and Anna’s big move signifies resilience. Despite experiencing feelings of vulnerability and apprehension, they decide to change their life trajectory proactively: “For days she felt weepy and vulnerable… As for Luke for the first time ever he felt his innate optimism beginning to metabolise into something jittery” (p. 13). The decision and the subsequent shift in their lives beautifully embody their strong-willed spirit, highlighting their readiness to confront the uncertainties that the future may throw at them.

The persistent winds on the coast that make life challenging for the couple serve as a metaphor for adversity in the novel. Yet, these very winds uncover Anna’s resilience as she chooses to defy the adverse weather conditions to maintain her routine: “In defiance of the wind she persists in swimming the lagoon so that she can keep up her regular run along the beach” (p. 33). Her dedicated commitment to continuity despite hindrances is a testament to her capacity to face and surmount obstacles, underscoring the notion of change as a stimulus for personal growth.

The communal effort of the locals to breathe life into an abandoned tennis court also marks a collective resilience, showcasing how shared experiences of change can unite a community and strengthen bonds: “They revitalized an abandoned tennis court near the general store and used it over the summer for long games of social doubles” (p. 71). This episode demonstrates the power inherent in communal action in which common challenges can lead to social cohesion and the establishment of new, shared traditions.

The story of Rodney contrasts with this display of resilience. His secretive nocturnal actions suggest a negative side to change, indicating that not all adjustments are met with open arms but can sometimes incite a sense of isolation and resistance: “The smell of trouble drifts in the air on those nights when Rodney is banished back to base camp to sit out on his boxy deck to brood and smoke” (p. 78). Rodney’s character illustrates that the journey of navigating change isn’t always systematic or positive; instead, it’s often spiked with complexities, retreat, and uncertainty.

“Vertigo” eloquently portrays how change is integral to human existence and how people evolve in response to shifting circumstances. Life’s transitions are depicted not solely as hurdles but also as thresholds to deeper self-understanding and personal acceptance. As such, the narrative strikes a nuanced balance between human resilience, adaptability, and the promise of renewal that confronts those braving life’s tumultuous waters.

The interplay of social norms and individual desires

In Amanda Lohrey’s “Vertigo,” the theme of balancing social norms and individual desires plays a pivotal role in shaping the characters’ identities and decisions. The narrative zeros in on the constant tug of war between societal expectations and personal aspirations, unveiling the trials that accompany the aim to conform, or rebel, against societal standards.

The protagonists, Luke and Anna, navigate this critical tension throughout the story, as they grapple with the question of what kind of life they should want versus what they truly desire. The city lifestyle—with its touchstone of success standards, especially financial stability—compared to their heartfelt craving for a less complicated, more fulfilling existence manifests this dilemma. The city life they lead, marred by long working hours and still failing to afford a comfortable living space, shows the societal pressures they face (p. 15). Luke’s journey—from viewing debt as a shackling burden to reluctantly wanting to bear it—highlights the intricate duality of societal obligation and personal ambition: “Now absurdly he began to feel burdened by his inability to shoulder the very debt that he had once scorned” (p. 14).

Ken, Luke’s father, emerges as a standard-bearer of traditional societal norms, often critique Luke and Anna’s alternative lifestyle choices. His skeptical perception of the couple’s shift to Garra Nalla—”Ken managing to insinuate that from what he’s seen so far the rest of life in Garra Nalla is pretty much nothing” (p. 24)—cements the generational and ideological gap within the family. This schism underscores the varying interpretations of successful living between generations, underscoring the discordance when one’s personal desires for health and peace deviate from society’s scale of progress and prosperity.

On the flip side, the character Rodney offers a glimpse into how pursuing personal desire against the clash of societal norms can lead you astray. His rumored secret entanglement and suspected unlawful activities present a character on the edge, navigating murky societal waters: “The smell of trouble drifts in the air on those nights when Rodney is banished back to base camp to sit out on his boxy deck to brood and smoke” (p. 78). This representation emphasizes how unchecked independent desires can push someone to the societal fringe, often ostracized and misunderstood.

In “Vertigo,” Lohrey illustrates the delicate balance between adhering to societal norms and the pursuit of personal desires. The characters’ experiences affirm the complex process of creating a life that aligns with personal authenticity while navigating within societal rules and expectations. This exploration sheds light on the intricate weavings of personal autonomy, individual ambition, societal boundaries, and the human quest for a contented life.