Right from the outset this book grabs hold of the reader. We are drawn into the almost panic stricken, depressed mind of the narrator. A woman in her ‘middle years’, who is despairing at the state of the world around her. Just when you think she’s going to explode, or implode, she takes a deep breath and starts her story again.
It would be easy to get put off at the start – this is all too close to the truth. What is happening to the world we live in? Can we do anything about it? Is there hope? But hang in there, because the journey is well worth the ride.
The woman telling the story is a writer. She is having a midlife crisis, and so she and her partner Rupert (who seems to be very understanding and tolerant of her need to find answers) decide to take a sabbatical. They live in London. They buy an old camper van and set off to travel around Europe. This is no ordinary journey however. Our writer has two ‘selfs’ that speak to each other in her head. She also has the most incredible conversations with historical characters all along her journey. In every place they visit along the way, through France and Italy, the Balkans and finally to Greece, she finds connections to people who have shaped history, through paintings, sculpture and museum exhibits. She ‘collects’ some of these characters who join in the journey with them. The parallel narrative of her present journey, and then the interactions with these dead people is very clever. Some are well-known, and others are obscure, but all have had an influence on the future through their actions in the past. The writer is trying to put in all into perspective for herself. ‘Am I missing something?’ is an often- cited catch cry.
It’s quite a journey she and her partner undertake. They end up in Greece, enlisting as volunteers in a refugee camp. Suddenly this brings it all back into the present – the refugee crisis, the endless wars and fighting, yet there is also a sense of hope. As a reader you do want her to find hope I think, otherwise it would just be a terribly depressing book. It’s not that at all, it’s a remarkable journey, both of discovery and history, and told in a wonderfully descriptive way. In the end it comes back to the old adage ‘everything changes, but everything also stays the same’.
Reviewer: Rachel White
Allen & Unwin, $32.99