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Questions of Travel is the fourth novel by Sri Lanka- born author, Michelle de Kretser. This novel follows, from childhood, events in the lives of two people: in Sydney, Laura Fraser, inspired by her Great-aunt Hester's travel stories, uses a bequest from Hester to travel the world, eventually making a career in travel guide publishing; in Sri Lanka, Ravi Mendis's life is turned upside down by devastating events, causing him to flee for his life. Ultimately, their paths cross, although this does not happen until almost three quarters of the way through the book. de Krester is skilled at conveying atmosphere and mood: she captures the feel of Sydney summer beautifully and her intimate knowledge of Sri Lanka is apparent. de Kretser slowly builds her story around a set of complex characters: I really wanted happiness for these two, but they seemed determined to thwart their own contentment at every turn. de Kretster's novel will have the reader thinking about travel in its many different forms: travel for pleasure, for work, as migration, and in flight from persecution or war. At one point, Ravi realises that "Immigration was the triumph of geography over history." de Kretser juxtaposes the superficiality of tourism with the life of locals in those destinations: the global rich in the context of the local poor. There is some beautiful prose: "Antennas were suspended above tiles - or were they the bones of fish? Clouds parted, and a great rib of light reached into a valley like an illustration from a Bible story." And "Ferries passed, lit up like cakes. The bridge went on holding the two halves of the city apart." The last paragraph is a completely unexpected twist. Powerful and thought-provoking.
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on 22 November 2013
It's a huge volume of two stories from Sri Lanka and Australia entwining in a modern fable - nice to read something very up to date and encompassing the Great Escape of westerners wanting to experience the world through hostels and cheap hotels, and the 3rd world lot of those wishing to escape but often unable to, except through the internet. it is a novel of our times. Trouble was for me I didn't warm to the Australian heroine. I didn't care about her enough. The Sri Lankan hero was much more interesting - particularly the shocking violence done to his wife - that is very haunting. They are both loners seeking something - but in the end, it all became a jumble of affairs and love stories in a tour office.......and no happy ending. Not that I need a happy ending, but it was all kind of ...uncomfortable and unsatisfying. Maybe that was the point. The relationship between the individual and the collective world.
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on 26 June 2013
Skillful, yes. Excellent descriptive passages. Absorbing - not for me. No matter how well crafted or skillfully written a book, the reader should always be drawn into the plot and towards the conclusion. This was not my reaction. I even got three quarters way through before I decided I didn't think I cared enough to be bothered finishing it - something I would rarely contemplate.
The characters remained two-dimensional and I was not particularly interested in what happened to them. But A.S Byatt liked it!
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on 15 February 2014
‘Questions of Travel’, which takes its title from a poem by Elizabeth Bishop, is almost entirely told from the point of view of two people. In alternating chapters or sections, from their childhoods to the early days of the 21st century, we come to know Ravi, whom external forces oblige to leave his native Sri Lanka, and Laura, who does the regular Australian thing of backpacking round Europe, working here and there, but once back home seemingly lacks sufficient internal motivation to carve out a coherent and fulfilling life for herself.

Certainly, if you’re desperate to read about the lives of two attractive people converging and resolving themselves in happy communion, this isn’t the book for you. But Michelle de Kretser’s novel isn’t about that kind of narrative. What it sets out to explore is how we experience travel and whether and how travel differs from tourism, adventure and simple wandering. Why do people leave home and what do they expect? Does there have to be a purpose? How do you establish an identity for yourself in foreign places and can you interact satisfactorily with local people or other travellers like yourself?

Notions like this are explored in the author’s gorgeous prose over 500 pages. If the book seems to underscore the idea that it’s easier, if not necessarily better, to travel than to arrive, when we do come to the end we find the final paragraph is a corker.
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on 15 June 2014
I loved this book. It follows the seemingly unrelated lives of a Sri Lankan man and an Australian woman for over a decade before they find themselves both working for a travel writing company in Sydney. The writing style is indulgent and rewarding, the narratives are honest and real and there is not a cliche in sight.
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on 22 March 2014
I bought the book after having been to one of the author's readings in Paris (btw she is a lovely lady). The book sounded interesting, the author seemed to be an interesting person and - being a passionate traveller myself - I had high expectations when I started reading.

Well, the storyline in general really was interesting and some paragraphs really make you stop and think about how you perceive travelling, tourism, etc. but overall the book was quite boring and I gave up after the first half (what I seldomly do).

The problem for me was not the author's writing, which is very good, very fluent and very vivid. However, some parts of the book (sometimes whole chapters) were just quite dull and I had to push myself to finish them, hoping that at some point it will get better again. The problem I had with Questions of Travel was its protagonists. They are original and the author is very good at giving them a voice and a personality but I just could not connect with them, so I didn't care much about what happened to them, which is deadly for reading a novel.

These are all very subjective reason why I did not like the book. Other readers may feel totally different about it. My recommendation therefore is: Don't buy and spend money on it, just try to find it in your local library.
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on 22 October 2013
I was really looking forward to reading this book, but it is heavy going and difficult to get into, it touches on many interesting areas but doesn't develop them. I stopped reading with about 10% to go as it wasn't engaging enough and I wanted to get on to another book.
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There are two people's stories in this novel: two displaced people who've travelled in order to find, or to escape. Laura Fraser, freshly moneyed thanks to a legacy, leaves Australia behind in order to see the world. Laura ends up in London where she becomes a house-sitter and then works as a travel writer. Laura is an outsider with few attachments. Ravi Mendes leaves his Sri Lankan homeland in fear of his life, and ends up applying for asylum in Australia.

`Now the world is full of people who don't belong where they end up and long for places where they did.'

Laura sees Europe through Australian eyes, while Ravi sees Australia through the eyes of an asylum seeker. Travel can be both experience and refuge, either way it is an industry. Half way through the novel, Laura starts working for Ramsay Publications, a publisher of travel guidebooks. Ravi, before he leaves Sri Lanka, was interested in geography and wanted to be a tourist. Neither Laura nor Ravi is fated to belong in the worlds they inhabit. Both remain as outsiders.

`Ferries passed, lit up like cakes. The bridge went on holding the two halves of the city apart.'

The stories of Laura and Ravi alternate throughout the novel, which covers 40 years of their restless lives. Ravi, at least, has a sense of what is missing in his life. Laura seems less focussed. Travel may have broadened Laura's experience, but it seems to have diminished her sense of self. Do Laura and Ravi meet? And what impact would any meeting have on their lives?
I found Ravi's story more engaging than Laura's: I found it easier to empathise with his situation and to understand his choices. I could also understand how - for Ravi- the Internet became another mode of travel, a way of shrinking a vast world. Travel is not just physical, and it isn't always beneficial. Laura does not seem to develop as a consequence of her travel, and while Ravi finds comparative safety it is not enough.

`Across the world, the world-weary were waiting.'

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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on 22 June 2014
I suppose its good writing to create such a strong association between a mutilated body and a thing I will see very often. But its cruel. Of course once the image was there I thought I would carry on reading. This is a long book where two fairly uncharismatic characters who don't really have anything to do with each other take turns to voice the authors thoughts on the internet, travel and the effect of violence. It features - and describes in mundane detail - a 'cast of characters' that seemed as important to me as friend's friend's colleague's friend's. My reading on was not rewarded, and the nasty association was strengthened by the association with a very famous painting. There are a few very beautiful sentences in this book but I really do not recommend it.
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on 31 October 2014
I bought this as holiday reading. Although I followed along and read the book from cover to cover, it didn't excite me. Perhaps it was just my state of mind when I was reading.
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