Review Blog

Mar 06 2013

Questions of Travel by Michelle De Kretser

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Allen and Unwin, 2012. ISBN 9781743311004.
(Adult) A dual narrative follows the lives of Laura Fraser and Ravi Mendis from the 1960s to the end of 2004 in Questions of Travel. Laura is a big, plain, sexually ravenous woman from Sydney who travels for years before returning to work for a travel-book publisher and Ravi who flees Sri Lanka after a tragedy. Laura's tedious life is embellished by her affairs at work and in the house at McMahon's Point where she lives in exchange for tending the roof-garden and later, on Sundays, to titillate the old man who lives there. The portrait of Ravi gives an insight into the refugee who is escaping death - its threat and memory - and a character whose exterior passivity may derive from his experiences as well as his own personality. His relationships are inhibited. Most of the Australians of this novel may be well-intentioned but they cannot understand Ravi.
The writing is high-quality: dense and literary - with themes of connection and isolation, injustice, search for meaning, dysfunctional relationships, and, of course, travel (its tedium, search for familiar landmarks when lost, inaccessibility for the poor and the impossibility of being anything other than tourists for those rich enough to afford it). It uses strong symbols of the child (and father, or fatherless, relationship), nets (including the internet and websites), flowers and water. Water encircles both the novel and its significant places. In spite of the book's formidable length at over five hundred pages, re-reading will unearth powerful links between characters, events and place that may not be absorbed at a first reading. In the context of secondary student readers, Questions of Travel will have appeal for sophisticated mature readers including those with an interest in Sri Lanka and refugees. Its true audience is readers of award-quality literary fiction.
Joy Lawn

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