4x4th Estate: Voyages

4 books about journeying, recommended to you by 4th Estate.

‘Of travel I’ve had my share, man

I’ve been everywhere’.

Johnny Cash, I’ve Been Everywhere, Man

 The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

Harking back to week one’s theme, The Corrections centres upon that bastion of middle-class suburbia, the Christmas meal. Matriarch Enid is attempting to get the Lamberts home for one last festive get-together. But regrouping the atomized members of this nuclear family, even for something as profoundly nourishing as a festive dinner, will require more complex forces than physics. For the Lamberts, it takes a sojourn in Lithuania, a stunted screenplay, a head-on confrontation with depression, a small golden pill called Aslan and a cruise with some Norwegians to see the family reunited. Franzen proves that when it comes to voyages, whilst the journey can sometimes be more important than the destination, you can’t have one without the other.

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

When one thinks of voyaging one pictures an almost undetectable layering of azure sky and sea, thrown into relief with lashings of sunlight and crests of foam. But in The Shipping News, Quoyle – ‘a great, damp loaf of a man’ – embarks upon a somewhat less clichéd journey. Following the death of his two-timing wife Petal Bear, he uproots his family to the roughly-drawn coast of a stark and inhospitable Newfoundland. So begins a tragi-comic, but ultimately magical quest to stake out a life on this bleak piece of northern rock. As Proulx slowly frays and pulls apart at the knot that makes up her protagonist, you know you are watching a master at work. Staggering.

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

For those who like their travel dangerous—and glamorous.  A love triangle, a string of pearls, a velvet stole, a miniature pistol, and of course, one moustachioed Belgian detective.  All play in to a tragic honeymoon down the Nile for one beautiful, young, smart heiress Linnet.  This Christie is full of her usual you’ll-never-guess twist and turns, but also of strong characters, strong love, strong friendship, strong betrayal, and naturally, a good strong hit of surprise.  One of her very best.

The Cat’s Table  by Michael Ondaatje

A boy leaves Ceylon in the mid-fifties, bound for England and reunion with his mother. On board the Oronsay, our narrator (who shares his name and a number of biographical traits with the author), finds himself in the company of fellow misfits – amongst them, two other unaccompanied boys, an embittered piano tutor, a horticulturalist transporting a garden in the hold and the mysterious Miss Lasqueti. This small, floating society seems to encourage transgressions, between the public and private spaces of the Oronsay, and between its passengers. But a sequence of nightmarish incidents shatter the illusory world Michael and his friends have created, indelibly marking their future lives.

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