Questions of Travel
Michelle de Kretser
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
RRP: $ 39.99
Copy courtesy of the Publisher
“What are we looking for when we leave home?”
“How can we tell when we’ve found it?”
These are the questions at the core of Michelle de Kretser’s 4th novel, Questions of Travel.
Beginning in the 1960s, we meet Laura Fraser and Ravi Mendis – two people from very different backgrounds. Laura is a dreamy, not so good-looking girl, trying to find her place in the world. When Laura’s Aunt Hester dies, Laura is left with a large inheritance which she uses to travel overseas. She goes to Bali, India, and many European countries. Thirty years later, Laura lives a peripatetic life as a writer, travelling from country to country, searching for stories for the glossy travel magazine she writes for. Really though, she is just longing for her home in Australia. In 2000, after the death of a close friend, she returns to Australia, but the boredom of office work and the fast-paced excessiveness of 21st Century society have her longing to travel again.
In a dual narrative, we meet Ravi who lives a relatively stable life in Sri Lanka as a computer programmer. Secretly though, Ravi is longing to travel. In the year 2000, he is forced to leave his beautiful but brutal country after a tragedy involving his wife and son. He flees to Australia, where he attempts to seek asylum.
Eventually, these two lives coincide (albeit not until page 369!), while both are working for Ramsay’s – a publisher of guide books for travellers. Ravi’s bid for asylum is ultimately successful, but he opts to return to his native Sri Lanka. Laura also decides to travel again, and chooses to go to Sri Lanka.
For anyone who has ever travelled, this novel describes the nostalgia of travel beautifully – seeing the wonders of the world, discovering something new at every turn, the smells, the heat, the bad hotels and the pickpockets. Laura works in the glamorous industry of tourism, but as she realises at the end of the novel, “It was the unforseen that returned tourism to travel.”
De Kretser’s writing is gorgeous, and her descriptions are so vivid that the images just pop off the page. Obviously there are too many examples to list here, but a couple that really stood out for me were when describing Sydney after a thunderstorm, she writes:
“When there was a scorcher, afternoon tightened around the streets in a blinding bandage.”
“in the park the light was necklaces and pendants looping through the trees.”
A few pages later, she adds,
“Light was starting to fade, rubbed from the sky with a dirty eraser,”
Questions of travel is a sprawling, lyrical novel, and I enjoyed it so much that I will definitely be seeking out more of her work in the future. The ending, which I didn’t see coming, was like a punch in the stomach.