KRISTY CHAMBERS It’s Not You, Geography, It’s Me. Reviewed by Kylie Mason
The author of Get Well Soon! My (un)Brilliant Career as a Nurse takes more luggage than a backpack on her travel adventures.
As a rule of thumb, the worst travel experiences tend to make the best stories, and the best travel experiences are bilge in the story department. Nobody wants to hear your riveting tale about a moderately priced hotel being clean and tidy or how well you slept …
Kristy Chambers has had more than her fair share of bad travel experiences: the vile sharehouse in the UK countryside, the heaving sleeper bus in Vietnam, the revolting case of diarrhoea in Mexico; Chambers has a story from every trip she’s ever taken to horrify her readers. She also has depression and for years, international travel was her way of trying to outrun it:
For a really long time, I thought that happiness could be found somewhere other than where I was; that it was a place that existed outside my head, like Iceland or Tasmania, and if I just kept looking, I’d eventually stumble across my peace of mind in a faraway place.
Chambers’s depression manifested in her mid-teens after a bout of glandular fever, and reluctant to treat it with medication, she experimented with other ways to combat her despair and emptiness. She began by simply ‘[trying] harder to be happy’; she followed a naturopath’s advice and cut out all the foods that make life worth living; she got enough sleep; she exercised; she tried acupuncture. After six years, she saw a new doctor, who recommended medication and this time, she agreed. When the side effects passed, Chambers discovered the drug worked for her, but there was a new problem: what to do with her life now it wasn’t fractured by depression. She chose travel. And she began with a working holiday in the UK, where the dead-end jobs she worked inspired her to find a worthwhile career when she returned to Australia. That career turned out to be nursing, and working night shifts in an oncology ward and saving like a demon meant Chambers could satisfy her compulsion to travel.
Chambers’s second memoir is buoyed by the same black humour as her first, Get Well Soon! My (un)Brilliant Career as a Nurse, and is just as enjoyable. There is a certain charm to her willingness to showcase with directness and wit the very worst of her travel experiences, and she does not shy away from the harder aspects of travelling with a mental illness. Her appealing narrative voice makes it easier to read the unsavoury incidents she experiences and it’d be hard to find a more shrewd purveyor of travel advice. As well as being a tender and clear-eyed memoir of mental illness, It’s Not You, Geography, It’s Me is a wonderful collection of cautionary tales, from which even Chambers has learnt:
As I get older, I’m starting to let go of the idea of who I want to be and to accept the messy reality of who I am. Thanks for asking, but no, I don’t want to climb a mountain with you, and if the view from the top is really not to be missed, as you say, then take a photo and post it on Facebook like everyone else.
Kristy Chambers It’s Not You, Geography, It’s Me UQP 2014 PB 240pp $24.95
Kylie Mason is a freelance book editor based in Sydney. www.kyliemmason.com
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