View Comments
Stay-at-home life just isn t enough
Stay-at-home life just isn't enough

_Continent, city, country, society: _

_the choice is never wide and never free. _

_And here, or there . . . No. Should we have stayed at home, _

_wherever that may be? _

  • From Questions of Travel by Elizabeth Bishop *

Sydney author Michelle de Krester's deft, poetic interrogation into the modes and motivations of modern travel takes its title from Elizabeth Bishop's poem, Questions of Travel. Because she's just as ambivalent about the idea of travel.

"Questions about travel - I don't have answers," says de Krester, whose last novel, The Lost Dog, won her countless awards including the NSW Premier's Book of the Year Award 2008 and was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize.

"Does travel connect us to the world or does it confirm our isolation? Often we are separated by language, relative privilege, the circumstances of our travel and staying in accommodation locals could never afford.

"But disorientation and dislocation can be wonderful in many ways."

De Krester says she wanted to explore travel from two different perspectives in her novel: the global rich and the local poor. Spanning 40 years, Questions of Travel, therefore, focuses on two parallel stories.

There is the Australian, Laura, a "compulsive traveller" who moves to London before returning to Sydney, where she works for a travel guide publisher. Then there is the Sri Lankan, Ravi, who has to flee Colombo after his wife and son are killed and tries to start over in Australia.

Secondary characters are as richly drawn as Laura and Ravi - characters such as Theo, who feels the weight of the past, and Hana, an Ethiopian woman who wants to put the past behind her.

"Ravi makes a positive choice to return to where he belongs," says de Krester, who was born in Sri Lanka and who also worked for Lonely Planet for 10 years.

"He has very strong family connections, which can be overwhelming, as it is for Theo. Laura keeps moving on because her life has no basis in family and Hana is very adaptive and open to new experiences."

De Krester's language reflects her characters' world view. Here is Laura: "Scenes she had once associated with far, tropical countries flashed up throughout the south of Italy: concrete-slab tenements festooned with exposed wiring, women fetching water from a public standpipe, children whose games centred on a plastic bottle - a worldwide web of making do."

Ultimately, de Krester sees one of the primary motivations for travel as being "a sense of lack".

"There is necessary travel for those who lack basic economic security for themselves and for their families," she says.

"When it comes to tourists, is it because there's something missing in our daily lives? People hope that by travelling their lives will become larger; by being taken out of their humdrum routine they hope to absorb the aura of a place that enriches them in some way. But does it necessarily make us more tolerant or more humane?"

As for the journey of writing, de Krester likes to have her destination firmly in mind before she sets out. "I always know the ending of the novel," she says. "I just don't know how I'm going to get there. That's what drafting is all about: feeling your way into characters and situations."

'Does travel connect us to the world or does it confirm our isolation? . . . Disorientation and dislocation can be wonderful.'