Review | Monday 24 September 2012
Questions of Travel is a big, sweeping narrative for lovers of Literature with a capital L that follows the lives of two characters.
Laura is the daughter of a wealthy doctor. Described as unattractive and unloved, she travels the world before returning to Sydney to work in publishing. Ravi is a Sri Lankan IT specialist who longs to travel, and whose life is altered forever due to a tragic event. While on the surface level these two have nothing in common, their lives frequently echo one another in subtle, quiet ways.
De Kretser’s novel is ambitious and there is something inherently wonderful in an author willing to commit to an idea of this size. She explores political issues such as immigration laws in Australia, tracks the rapid growth of the internet from its early days to recent times, provides insight into how ethnic tensions affected everyday life for Sri Lankans, looks at the attitudes of and towards tourists, and much more. This all-out approach to storytelling is not always ideal as ultimately the novel lacks a certain momentum. I read the book as a series of events, and instead of being swept up in the excitement of these moments I felt at a distance from them.
At times the writing is very funny; there’s a terrific chapter in here about Laura’s day in an office that lists all the emails she receives. This includes ‘twenty-three emails replying to the email about cancelled gym membership’ and ‘an email flagged with an urgent red ! proclaiming someone in sales couldn’t find his coffee mug’.
There are also some warmly humorous interactions between Ravi and the Australians he meets, such as one man’s suggestion Ravi repay a favour by cooking a curry sometime. This suggestion greatly alarms Ravi, who has never cooked one in his life. De Kretser’s ability to challenge our ideas in the guise of anecdotes is the underlying strength of the novel.