Melinda Harvey’s piece on Michelle de Kretser’s Questions of Travel (October 2012) is precisely the kind of review that makes a reader like myself write to editors. As the last line makes clear, her review is positive, but her first and penultimate paragraphs betray how much academia must be jettisoned to arrive at enjoyment. The struggle to embrace an observational novel absorbed in the beauty and variousness of the world and its chaos is betrayed by remarks like these: ‘less arch, more cosmopolitan, and more seriously engaged with the larger events and problems of our times’; ‘a trill of affectation that shows we are in the world of rarefied literary fiction’; and ‘a tendency to indulge in needless periphrasis’.
These are indications that the reviewer supposes that there is a narrow path to making a correct fiction for our times, our ironically post-postmodern times. It felt like Ms Harvey was putting herself through a test, which, thankfully, she did pass, but, phew, don’t make the rest of us suffer that again. The contrast is this: a novel that everywhere offers darting, intelligent pleasures, and a slightly gritted review.
W.H. Chong, Kew, Vic.