I’ve been reading the Miles Franklin Literary Award winning book for 2013 written by Michelle de Krester called ‘Questions of Travel’. Many cups of coffee later I’ve arrived at the end of this magnificent but daunting five hundred page plus read.
A double narrative, the book follows the travels and life experiences of two people. Laura and Ravi, two separate lives from different places cross paths in a way that teases the reader into developing a readers plot . . . but no, this book twists and turns and never allows for predictability.
The characters are a contrast both circumstantial and culturally. Ravi, traumatized from the death of his wife and child in Sri-Lanka is depicted as a gentle soul who elicits sympathy from the reader. He’s an interesting character who views Sydney and Australia through the lens of a refugee. Laura, is not so kindly dealt with in my opinion, after an unhappy childhood she blunders her way through the world and is depicted in a rather brash manner. de Krester paints Laura as large and ugly but a somewhat humourous Australian. This raises for me the issues of cultural perspectives and how the characters in this book appear to act primarily as vehicles for the exploration of underlying cultural subtleties and perhaps biases (this might be a little harsh).
I heard an interview with de Krester and she talked about the book being about identity, contemporary life and travel, she went on to comment that modern age is the age of travel. This made me think about the actual question of why we travel. What is travel if it is not a means to an end . . . why do we move or seek to move away from the familiar (often to return at a later time in life) to the unknown? Is the unknown an extension of self or is the need to extend beyond self actually a limitation of our identity? Is the author suggesting, I think she may be, that travel is now universal. But is it? Interestingly in one of her interviews, de Krester talks about the global rich (those who travel) and the global poor (those who do not travel). Feels a bit like a contradiction. . .
Anyway, more about my reading experience. This was a book that was impossible (for me) to read quickly and it certainly isn’t a skim read because tucked into a line or between a few well-chosen words a little something dances. . . a nuance that allows the narrative to eventually come together (in my humble view).
I like and dislike the way the author does not attempt to explain or carry the reader along . . . it’s as if the choice to follow the narrative and what to make of it is entirely up to the reader . . . Now I am going to ‘stick my neck out’ here. Michelle de Krester is no doubt a brilliant writer, after all not many writers win the Miles Franklin . . . but I find her style to be a tad aloof, there I’ve said it . . . It could be that she is enormously complimentary and assumes we are all as competent (in a literary sense that is) as she is.
The joy of this book for me, is that it’s made me think long and hard about world situations, people’s lives, cultural differences and similarities, not so much about travel. So if the measure of a good book is to leave the reader thinking well after the last page (and writing blogs). . . then this book ticks all of the boxes . . .