Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser - review by Ophelia Field

Ophelia Field

Seeking Refuge

Questions of Travel

By

Allen & Unwin 519pp £12.99 order from our bookshop
 

In 1903, the German essayist Georg Simmel wrote in ‘The Metropolis and Mental Life’ about the loneliness of city people ‘swallowed up in the social-technological mechanism’, and growing more anxious and calculating because of technology (in Simmel’s day, the ‘diffusion of pocket watches’). Questions of Travel has an essayistic subplot that is as much to do with technology as with travel – cataloguing the subtle notches made in our mental lives between the 1980s and early 2000s: the suspense of the email inbox, the first photos taken on mobiles, the new ‘lightness’ of web-surfing. Ravi, one of two protagonists, bookmarks poignantly abandoned websites and ends up asking himself, ‘what if you preferred to scroll down a continuous story’ rather than lead a life that jumps through a series of hyperlinks?

This lengthy novel is sliced into almost symmetrical halves, which differ noticeably in quality. The first sometimes feels pedestrian and problematic; the second is a serious achievement, yet perhaps impossible without our slow journey through the first.

We meet Laura as a motherless, unattractive Australian child; the book will follow her

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