Questions of Travel, by Michelle de Kretser
Questions of Travel
Michelle de Kretser
Allen and Unwin
Why travel when you can go anywhere by tapping on a keyboard? Has a century of mass tourism made real travel easier or harder? And when people are forced to seek asylum abroad, what kind of travel is that?
A Sri Lanka n who emigrated to Australia when she was 14, Michelle de Kretser (below) has structured Questions of Travel as a series of alternate chapters that visit and revisit her central characters from the 1960s to the present, so the narrative is constantly packing and unpacking its cases. As in the real world, this is both good and bad.
Happily, the characters are terrific travelling companions. Laura, overweight and rejected by her widowed father, inherits enough money to spend years bumming around Europe before fetching up as an editor at a guidebook publisher. Ravi, a computer nerd whose Sri Lankan family is subjected to horrific violence, flees to Sydney in a state of isolation and trauma.
De Kretser, who won a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 2004 for her book The Hamilton Case and was longlisted for the Man Booker and Orange prizes for The Lost Dog , peoples her vast canvas with an array of memorable individuals. There are many amusing moments – Laura shares the first few destinations of her lovingly planned off-the-beaten-track itinerary with an Indian waiter only for him to finish the list, in the correct order – and many lyrical ones. Sri Lanka and Sydney are evoked with subtlety and skill.
At more than 500 pages, Questions of Travel is a somewhat longer haul than it needs to be, but it’s a fascinating read for anyone who travels regularly – which, in 2013, is set to be a billion souls. This truly is a book for our times.
Arminta Wallace is an Irish Times journalist