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Book review: Questions of Travel

Questions of Travel by Michelle De Ketser, Allen and Unwin, ISBN 9 781743 317334

This book won the 2013 and Miles Franklin and the 2013 Prime Minister’s book award, and if you ever wondered at the value of literary prizes this is it. I found at first this book hard to get into but over my shoulder the judges whisper. Persevere.

It would have been easy to give up but this book ultimately rewards the reader for their faith. It is not a fast book to read, in part because the language is so exquisite, with wonderful sentences that encapsulate in a few lines the difference between worlds.

“A taxi cut in front of the car. Angie said, ‘Don’t you love a dickhead?’ Ravi didn’t immediately realise that these events were cause and effect. He had been marvelling afresh at how little the Australian traffic wove about.”

Earlier, the suburban Australia is described as Ravi, who grew up and has lived all of his life up until now in Sri Lanka, sees it for the first time.

“Everything bore the glaze of strangeness, the fast, baleful traffic, the pavements where the only rubbish was fallen blooms. … Thirsty boats stood in the streets, each covered with a blue wave that had crisped and been reborn as a tarpaulin.”

Hence the narrative notices in passing that which we might take for granted in the same way a tourist might see things we no longer notice. It is wonderful.

The story follows two people in different parts of the world. It starts in their childhood and follows them to, as you expect but not as you expected, their meeting later in life. It starts brilliantly “When Laura was two, the twins decided to kill her.”, and just as you are expecting a jolly good murder thriller we are off to find out about Ravi on the other side of the world.

The alternating chapters are quite short, scenes from childhood and the like, and I found this structure hard to follow particularly early because as yet we do not know who these people are. Switching relentlessly between one narrative and the other it is as if you have started reading two unrelated books. Later the alternation is less rigid and we get several scenes together, but I wonder if it would have been better to do this at the start.

This is not a fast book to read. It is a book to immerse your self in, read for the pure pleasure of the words, and think slowly about the world within and the world we live in. Questions of Travel. Questions of lives.

An edited version of this review appears in Goodreads