News arrived! I was being sent to Russia! To some place called Novosibirsk. I was extremely pleased as I’d always wanted to visit somewhere ending in ‘sk’. I’d favoured Omsk, Tomsk and Murmansk, but Novosibirsk would do nicely. […]
Outside in the perishing cold with sleet in the air and dirty slush underfoot, we met Valya, who would be our guide/minder for the trip. She was fresh-faced and blue-eyed, with blonde hair swirled like two danish pastries over her ears. As soon as we’d said hello, she told us that her husband had just left her. God, I love Russians. Love them. They’ll tell you anything. They do unhappiness with such verve, such style, such passion. As we lugged our suitcase to the car, Valya told me that she had nothing left to live for, but that she would still take care of us on tour.
Why I read it
It was on the Limbo Bookshelf – a result of the ongoing Great Book Cull of 2018 – so I grabbed it in a handful of other slim books to take as travel reading for our weekend in Melbourne.
Why did I even have it on my shelves? Well: I never would have bought something packaged as so blatantly ‘chick-lit’ if it hadn’t been part of this Pocket Penguin series. (Yes, like many feminists I’ve also assimilated lots of societal gender bias.) But the slim books in this fetching series, with spines that create a rainbow on your shelf, were selling for under $4 each when they went on sale in 2005 (gasp – it’s been sitting unread on my shelf for that long?) and buying an assortment was as easy as grabbing a fistful of candy. They were like a tasting plate of things you wouldn’t normally choose as a main meal. So I ended up with Keyes on my shelf for the first time.
This 56-page book collects 8 short pieces that were previously published in various magazines.
What I expected vs what I discovered
What I expected: gossipy gushings about shiny things and boyfriends.
What I discovered: Vivacious, funny, self-aware travel tales; the sort that take the mundane and elevate it to something entirely more colourful. The sort of thing I aspire my diary entries to be. (And part of me thinks they sometimes used to approach something like that. But nowadays the opposite effect happens: the process of diarisation takes the Kodachrome filmstock of life and decolourises it to sepia, slows it down to a juddering halt, and then causes it to melt into a celluloid gunge that gunks up the projector workings, catches on fire and burns down the cinema and everyone in it. That’s why I don’t write much any more.)
My favourite was Being Sent to Siberia, the account of a book tour through Russia where various travel discomforts and mishaps are embraced and celebrated with glee. There are also stories about gushing over shiny things and handbags. But they are funny and self-aware enough to laugh along to.
Keep or donate?
Keep. I don’t have anything else from Keyes on my shelves, and perhaps I can re-read it when I need a reminder of how much juice there is in life, just waiting for someone to pay enough attention to extract it.
This book was read on a Jetstar flight from Melbourne to Newcastle, grumpy due to ligament pain, reflux, bad Jetstar seats etc etc.