The New York Times Book Review - Randy Boyagoda
In addition to Ravi's and Laura's experiences, there are elaborate back stories and extended sidebar plots for many tangential characters, set alongside de Kretser's tart, thoughtful and frequently moving observations about travel, working life, family, friendship, migration and the disruptive and emollient effects of technology on all the above. The novel is studded with fine and funny writing, bursts of affecting drama and disarming images.
While her earlier books The Lost Dog and The Hamilton Case were meditations on the nature of art and mystery, de Kretser’s brilliantly observed new novel explores the meaning of travel. Borrowing a title from the poet Elizabeth Bishop, de Kretser evokes and subverts the tradition of the literary travelogue—the chronicle of the leisured, intercontinental quest for self-improvement. The book moves back and forth between the lives of two very different characters, Australian Laura and Sri Lankan Ravi. Laura’s early travels, like Bishop’s, are funded by a surprise inheritance; she trades art school for guidebooks as she sets out to see the world. The death of one of her twin brothers when Laura is a teenager creates a vague menace that later follows her from continent to continent, reinforced by a silent caller with an unknown agenda who wakes her in the middle of the night a few times each year. For Ravi, childhood is filled with the anxiety of limited opportunity, while the violence of the Sri Lankan civil war rages in the background. In his early life, he travels in his mind, whether to Japan or Silicon Valley; later, travel becomes necessary, a way to find safety in a brutal world. De Kretser creates the anticipation that Laura and Ravi’s paths will eventually cross, but an epigraph from E.M. Forster signals not to expect an epiphany when they do meet. While “Only connect!” is the message at the heart of Forster’s Howards End, de Kretser’s book severs strong ties and dissolves weaker ones, making the broken more broken. Coming together, Ravi and Laura plan a new journey that begins in guidebook banality and ends in disaster. While de Kretser doesn’t provide the expected satisfactions, she offers deadly darts of observation that puncture clichés and deflate false enthusiasm. In the end she leaves you flat on the ground, possessed of harder truths. Agent: Sarah Lutyens, Lutyens & Rubinstein. (May)
Laura Miller - Salon
"De Kretser has pulled off something remarkable"
Boyd Tonkin - The Independent (UK)
"An utterly captivating blend of intellectual muscle and story-telling magic."
"Subtle and mysterious, both comic and eerie, and brilliantly evocative of time and place."
Lev Grossman - Time
"De Kretser's prose is stunning."
William Boyd - New York Times Book Review
PRAISE FOR THE HAMILTON CASE (2004)
"Multi-layered and beguiling."
Clare Press - Vogue
"Rich, beautiful, shocking, affecting."
A.S. Byatt - Financial Times (UK)
PRAISE FOR THE LOST DOG (2008)
"A gripping story. . .elegant and subtle. . . .This is the best novel I have read in a long time."
Alison McCulloch - The New York Times Book Review
"More often than not, de Kretser nails some situation or foible in 20 words or less. . .There is much here that dazzles. . . .De Kretser's writing is as boldly beautiful as ever."
Dara Horn - Washington Post
"Uncannily compelling . . . .De Kretser's daring willingness to let suspense accrue without promising resolution is a worthy echo of Henry James's brilliance."
From the Publisher
Praise for Questions of Travel
"This is a novel unlike any other I have read....Questions of Travel is about uprootedness and travel, about tourism and flight from terror, about the trivial and the terrible....It seems to proceed with an uncanny lightness, in glimpses and sudden shifts. De Kretser is a master storyteller and again and again prepares smalland largeshocks that explode tens of pages later, and cannot be given away."A.S. Byatt, Guardian"
Studded with fine and funny writing, bursts of affecting drama, and disarming images."New York Times Book Review"
Questions of Travel should ensure her place as a serious international novelist of the first rank."Economist"
De Kretser's brilliantly observed new novel explores the meaning of travel....She offers deadly darts of observation that puncture clichés and deflate false enthusiasm. In the end she leaves you flat on the ground, possessed of harder truths."Publisher's Weekly (Boxed Review)"
Exquisite, haunting....As she traces Laura's and Ravi's lives over four decades, de Kretser's style is poetic, indelible, and often breathtaking in its beauty."Library Journal (Starred Review)"
Questions of Travel is that gleaming thing that makes everything around it seem dull in comparison. It's one of the most beautifully written books I've ever read."The Globe and Mail"
De Kretser writes movingly of the sudden attachments and partings that mark her characters' peripatetic lives. And her evocations of place are wonderfully precise... Even as she evokes the pleasures of travel, however, de Kretser wants us to think about its underlying meaning and purpose... She raises profound questions-is the connectedness of modern life an improvement over the rootedness of old? Is any attempt to confront a foreign culture fated to end in dubious simplifications?-but like all the best novelists, she leaves the answers up to her readers." -David Evans, The Independent on Sunday"
As surprising as it is ambitious, Questions of Travel is a satisfying journey through the dislocations of contemporary life." -Arminta Wallace, Irish Times
De Kretser has pulled off something remarkable
An utterly captivating blend of intellectual muscle and story-telling magic.
The Independent (UK)
De Kretser's prose is stunning.
Rich, beautiful, shocking, affecting.
Uncannily compelling . . . .De Kretser's daring willingness to let suspense accrue without promising resolution is a worthy echo of Henry James's brilliance.
More often than not, de Kretser nails some situation or foible in 20 words or less. . .There is much here that dazzles. . . .De Kretser's writing is as boldly beautiful as ever.
The New York Times Book Review
Two travelers--a man from Sri Lanka and a woman from Australia--ultimately meet up as both their lives and their narratives intertwine. The story begins in the 1960s with Laura Fraser growing up in Sydney amid a gloomy family situation, for her mother has died and her father is emotionally remote. The only saving grace in her early life is her beloved Aunt Hester. When her aunt dies, she leaves enough money for Laura to spend some time seeing the world, and Laura's travels take her from India to London and points in between. Concurrently, Ravi Mendes is growing up in Sri Lanka. He has Roman Catholic schooling and a technological bent, and he gets involved with an equally tech-savvy friend in the early days of the Internet. Although Laura has numerous affairs but no serious relationships, Ravi gets married to Malini and has a child. Malini has strong political convictions that lead her to expose corruption in Sri Lanka, but this passion eventuates in her being brutally killed and dismembered. Ravi is distraught but also endangered, so he immigrates to Australia. Not so coincidentally, Laura has recently resettled there, eventually getting a job--appropriately enough--as a travel editor for European guidebooks. Ravi spends his time getting accustomed to a new and alien culture, anchoring himself in websites familiar from his previous life in Sri Lanka, and Laura continues to fritter away her time with meaningless affairs, fulfilling the definition of "modern love: traceless, chilling." Eventually, of course, and after an agonizingly long time, Ravi and Laura meet. De Kretser negotiates the fragmentation of her major characters with aplomb as well as with an aggressive but rhapsodic prose style.
Awkward and diffident, Laura Fraser grows up in Sydney, Australia, feeling alienated from her family, her country, and her future prospects. But when she receives an unexpected inheritance and travels abroad, she slowly pieces together an independent life and self-identity during a transformative expatriate decade. Meanwhile, bookish Ravi Mendes comes of age in Sri Lanka as a witness to the horrors of the country's civil war. Wrenched away from home after escalating political violence destroys his family, Ravi arrives in Sydney as a refugee at the same time as Laura, who is finally returning from abroad. Their paths eventually cross at the apex of this exquisite, haunting novel. VERDICT Award-winning Australian/Sri Lankan writer de Kretser (The Lost Dog) is in wondrous form with this epic, savage tale of two lost souls. As she traces Laura's and Ravi's lives over four decades, de Kretser's style is poetic, indelible, and often breathtaking in its beauty. This novel of memory, transformation, and loss is not to be missed by readers who enjoy literary, multicultural fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 11/26/12.]—Kelsy Peterson, Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS