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Questions of Travel by Michelle De Kretser

Questions of Travel (2012)

by Michelle De Kretser

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
2822463,733 (3.55)1 / 47
"Laura Fraser grows up in Sydney, motherless, with a cold father and an artistic bent. Ravi Mendes is on the other side of the world--his humble father dead, his mother struggling, determined to succeed in computer science. Their stories alternate throughout-- 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, returning to Sydney to work for a travel guide. There she meets Ravi, a Sri Lankan political exile who wants only to see a bit of Australia and make a living" -- from dust jacket.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
Gave it a good go but could not find the books rhythm. Did not finish ( )
  TheWasp | Jul 25, 2019 |
Beautifully written tedium. I abandoned it. ( )
  elimatta | Jan 10, 2019 |
This highly acclaimed and awarded novel did little to inspire our group. The mingling of Laura and Ravi’s stories tended to confuse rather than bind, and most of us found ourselves lost in the language rather than thriving in it. Not the reaction we generally look for in a novel.

Therefore, our discussion centred mostly around travel verses tourism, as this was the only real theme we could identify with. In doing so, we shared some wonderful travel stories and chatted about the pros and cons of travelling, where it took us and what we gained from it. Most of us have travelled moderate to extensively, so it was a lively discussion.

This was all very interesting, but what were de Kretser’s questions of travel … in other words, what was she trying to say to us in this novel? Cheryle struggled big time with this book and even tackled it by reading all of Ravi’s story first, then going back and reading Laura’s. Not with any great success, but at least she gave it an honest shot!

In the end we came to the conclusion that literary fiction may not be our ideal read … but as a book club we are always up to the challenge.
  jody12 | Jan 27, 2017 |
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.
  jmchshannon | Dec 13, 2016 |
A bold, clever and multi-faceted novel that is very difficult to summarise. It interleaves the stories of two main characters - Laura, an Australian who spends the first half of the book travelling and living in Europe and the second back in Sydney working for a company that makes travel guides, and Ravi, who leaves Sri Lanka and seeks asylum in Australia after his wife, a human rights campaigner and his son are murdered, ending up in Sydney working for the same company as Laura. These protagonists are largely passive ciphers, pegs to hang ideas and observations on. The ideas are about national identity, why people travel, how it changes them (or doesn't), how the travel industry works, how the internet changed perceptions and much much more. There are also richly observed details on many different places, and the writing flows easily and is never difficult to read. At just over 500 pages, it could possibly have been edited a little, but that is my only real criticism. For me de Kretser's best book yet. ( )
  bodachliath | Aug 10, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
This dichotomy – of tourism in troubled places – is at the core of Questions of Travel. Its Australian author Michelle de Kretser, who was born in Sri Lanka, takes us quite happily to Heritage or Thrills, anywhere in the world – to ‘St Petersburg, Jaipur, Ljubljana. Hill trekking in Thailand, a weekend in an abbey on the Isle of Wight’ – but along the way shows us an extra thing or two. Like a taxi-ride that keeps pace with an open-sided truck in Singapore, which is ‘transporting guest workers to and from a building site … One of the dark-skinned men … asleep on a pile of bricks.’

Applied to de Kretser’s work, ‘along the way’ is no idle phrase. A novel about the politics and philosophy of travel, Questions of Travel is also a highly digressive text which, in its waywardness, discards a causal chain of events; it insists on its ‘right to interrupt the narration’ and to challenge ‘the despotism of “Story”’ (as Milan Kundera put it). It is a playful, performative, unsettled and often extremely unsettling narrative, which charts its own fantastic-realistic course. There are many departures from the main line, each detour creating suspense about where we are being taken and how to describe this labyrinth of pathways.

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