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.