Laura Fraser grows up in Sydney, motherless, with a cold, professional father and an artistic bent. Ravi Mendis lives on the other side of the globe -- exploring the seductive new world of the Internet, his father dead, his mother struggling to get by.Their stories alternate throughout Michelle de Kretser's ravishing novel, 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, eventually returning to Sydney to work for a publisher of travel guides. There she meets Ravi, now a Sri Lankan political exile who wants only to see a bit of Australia and make a living. Where do these two disparate characters, and an enthralling array of others, truly belong? With her trademark subtlety, wit, and dazzling prose, Michelle de Kretser shows us that, in the 21st century, they belong wherever they want to and can be -- home or away. "It is not really possible to describe, in a short space, the originality and depth of this long and beautifully crafted book." -- A.S. Byatt, The Guardian
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 clich s and deflate false enthusiasm. In the end she leaves you flat on the ground, possessed of harder truths.