Questions of Travel
Michelle de Kretser
Little, Brown and Company
Laura Fraser grows up in Sydney, motherless, with a cold father and an artistic bent. Ravi Mendes is on the other side of the world–his humble father dead, his mother struggling, determined to succeed in computer science. Their stories alternate throughout Michelle de Kretser’s ravishing new novel, culminating in unlikely fates for them both, destinies influenced by travel–voluntary in her case, enforced in his.
With money from an inheritance, Laura sets off to see the world, returning to Sydney to work for a travel guide. There she meets Ravi, a Sri Lankan political exile who wants only to see a bit of Australia and make a living. Where do these disparate characters truly belong? With her trademark subtlety, wit, and dazzling prose, Michelle de Kretser shows us that, in the 21st century, they belong wherever they want to and can be–home or away.
My View :
This is a stand out read. This is the best contemporary novel I have read in many a year.
Remarkable insights to life and modern living, of identity, of travel; a multifaceted book, so many issues, so much probing and the pricking of conscience.
This is a modern day story told from the perspectives of the two main characters, Laura and Ravi, both living and surviving in a modern world where technology and globalism rule. Both characters give the outwards appearance of coping, of being, of having purpose but they are both lost, they are both just marking time trying to figure out who they are , where/what is home and where do they belong whilst asking the question “what does the future hold?”
I disagree with the above description of Ravi supplied on NetGalley – Ravi is not “a political exile just wanting to see a bit of Australia and make a living.” That description is trite and superficial and untrue. Ravi is not on holiday. Ravi was a victim of the political persecutions in Sri Lanka, he didn’t want to be in Australia, he only wanted freedom from fear and to have the past undone. He was a victim of the atrocities in Sri Lanka, of the corruption in governments and authorities, of a country living in fear. He is trapped in a world where ugly visions of death permeate his very existence, (p.211) “ Ravi remembered stories that had hung over their bed in light, smothering folds: sons set on fire, daughters raped with broken bottles, brothers who had gone to a police station and never returned.” And the reality of violence is no longer something that happens to others. Ravi is a very empathetic character; I loved his descriptions of home and of his vision of Australia.
Laura is lost, looking for meaning, looking for acceptance, but she hides it well; she travels, is she travelling to or is she escaping from? She often asks herself “What are you doing here?” She may as well have asked who is Laura Fraser, (p. 186) “ She was sharing a flat in Kentish Town and freelancing…when people asked where she lived, she would say London. But she might have replied, just as truthfully, that she lived in hotel rooms and gate lounges, in taxis and planes…She was inert, strapped into place, yet hurtling and fast forwarded. She could lay claim to two passports and three email addresses, she was between destinations, she was virtual, she was online, she was on the phone….Laura Fraser was a late twentieth – century global person. Geography was beside the point.” How astute, how true of a lot of our lives. Laura also comments (p.312) “Tourism is about dollars, no argument. But ‘travel’ lets you pretend. Travel has an aura. It allows us to believe publishing guidebooks, is you know, a good thing. We tell ourselves that what we do contributes to global harmony, international understanding, you now the stuff i mean. It’s understood without being spelled out.”
This book has so much to offer and so much to debate. But do not be deceived this book also has many moments of light and of humour.
I loved the description of the dog called “Fair Play” who (p.252) “detested all other dogs, loved Lefty. Devotion required her to tug with all her strength on his cheek. There was also standing under Lefty’s belly, reaching out her muzzle and sinking her teeth into his neck. Lefty, a romantic, was tolerant of these coquettish manoeuvres and only occasionally sat on her head.” I just love this description – it is so realistic it fills my face with a smile.
I predict this novel will be read by many. This novel will find itself on the reading lists of many academic classes – in Social Science rooms, in Women’s Studies classes, in Australian Literature courses, it has so much to offer, so many reflections on life, and so many truisms are shared.
Every traveler should read this book. Yet it is a book not just for travelers or tourists. This book made me think. This book made me smile. This book disturbed me. What a gift Michelle de Kretser has; the ability to share with us her words which evoke such strong emotions and stimulate thought, this book is amazing and the best contemporary fiction I have read in years.