“Laura Fraser grows up in Sydney, motherless, with a cold, professional father and an artistic bent. Ravi Mendis lives on the other side of the globe–exploring the seductive new world of the Internet, his father dead, his mother struggling to get by. Their stories alternate throughout Michelle de Kretser’s ravishing 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, eventually returning to Sydney to work for a publisher of travel guides. There she meets Ravi, now a Sri Lankan political exile who wants only to see a bit of Australia and make a living. Where do these two disparate characters, and an enthralling array of others, 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 Thoughts: Questions of Travel is an odd novel. The opening line is fantastic, but the tension it promises dissipates under a rambling prose that is reminiscent of a journey with end. The two characters are as dissimilar as two people can be, and their lives are equally unalike. Readers push forward hoping the their paths intertwine into a joint story that takes the novel to another level. Sadly, this never occurs.
The reader is left with a novel that really should be two separate stories. Laura’s life as a globe-trotter has nothing in common with Ravi’s struggles for survival. The near-constant political rebellions and fear that mark Ravi’s youth and early adulthood are a far cry from Laura’s almost posh life as a professional house sitter and someone who spends every free moment traveling around the world. There is something almost obscene about having the two narratives told together because it trivializes both experiences.
While Laura and Ravi are undoubtedly the two main heroes of the novel, the cast of characters is large and varied. The problem with this is that none of the secondary characters make much of an impression, and distinguishing between them proves difficult. This is made worse by the fact that the story jumps between Laura’s and Ravi’s perspectives, so readers must try to remember someone mentioned in passing in Laura’s section after having attempted to untangle the weave of Ravi’s acquaintances, friends, and family during his section. It is a situation that does not improve with the passage of the novel either, as the two main characters grow older and expand their circle of acquaintances.
Questions of Travel is a disappointment. It is the type of story that leaves you wondering what the point of it is and, more to the point, why you bothered to finish it in the first place. Its two meandering storylines never really merge as you expect them to do, and the characters’ fates seem more like a convenience rather than an attempt at closure. While the prose does have moments of brilliance, it too fails to portray any semblance of coherence and cohesiveness between Laura and Ravi; the bloated character list furthers the confusion. The end result is a novel that leaves readers wanting more in the way of a structured plot with well-developed characters whose lives connect more than superficially. Alas, that is not what you get.