New Welsh Review

The Worrier’s Guide to the End of the World: Love, Loss, and Other Catastrophes through Italy, India, and Beyond

Torre DeRoche

Amy Aed discovers that she enjoys the philosophical moments of this travel title as much as its brutal honesty towards travel companions, its humour and its informal voice

PUBLISHED ON: 27/01/21

CATEGORY: Reviews

TAGS: adventure, dysfunctional relationships, female, forest, international, mindfulness, nature, nonfiction, philosophy, travel

PUBLISHER: Hachette USA

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Torre DeRoche is one of the most immersive, enigmatic travel writers in the industry, blessed with an easy, relaxed form of prose. The Worrier’s Guide to the End of the World feels like a letter from a friend, or an effortless conversation with that friend, during which you discover their amazing travel adventures. Blend this informality with intriguing anecdotes, cultural facts and insights, liminal concepts, and humorous comments, and you’ve got a DeRoche book.

The story follows the author as she tries to overcome her fear of, well, everything. A paranoid child, a worried teenager, and then a terrified adult, when she goes through a rough breakup and the death of her father, she realises that she needs to do something to pull her up from rock bottom. And so, when the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go on a pilgrimage across Italy comes up, she knows that she just has to take it.

The Worrier’s Guide is just as educational as it is enjoyable. Not only does DeRoche go into detail about the cultures around her, interwoven with her own stories and experiences, but she also educates the reader on more philosophical concepts, such as the urge to escape selfhood, and the idea of ‘nowness’.

The author brings up that ever-present feeling that a lot of us face (which is especially applicable during this pandemic), which is that you’re not living the life you’re meant to be living. This phenomenon is also referred to as the ‘urge to escape selfhood’, the desire to surround ourselves with people we’ve not yet grown bored of, alluring places we aren’t disappointed by. However, this book reassures us that life is allowed to be mundane. You are allowed to take pleasure in the little things, and in fact, some may argue that life is better that way. This crushing urgency to always be interesting and experience bigger and better things can be detrimental, so it is nice to finally read a travel memoir that is open and loving about the simpler things.

It is this same authenticity that really draws the reader further into this book, and in the travel writing world, this honesty is rare. The human emotions of irritation and anger are ones that we all feel, and so to see it represented so clearly in a book helps to normalise them. Rather than letting negative encounters ride over her, DeRoche captures them in print for reliving, refusing to let that moment be lost to experience. For example, when she has an argument with Masha, her travel partner, she writes, ‘This would’ve been a moment to uppercut this bitch in the chin and have her punch me right back in the nose.’ This witty, brutal honesty is an alluring and yet often-overlooked technique of non-fiction writing.

 

Three seconds. Apparently, that is the duration of a single present moment…. What is odd about this phenomenon is that this same pattern of three seconds appears repeatedly throughout cross-cultural studies in everything from music to speech, movement to poetry. Poets often write three-second lines. Spoken language follows a three-second rhythmic structure. Infants have been observed to babble and gesture in three-second patterns. On average, the length of time we can keep something in mind without writing it down is… yep, you guessed it: three seconds. Psychologists call this window of alert perception ‘the feeling of nowness’.

 

As it happens, it’s not even just humans who experience this concept of nowness. Animals also display patterns three seconds in length—from chewing to defecating. Interspersing what is inherently a travel memoir with facts like this can sometimes be jarring, and yet, they are woven so expertly into the narrative that they leave the reader completely open to awe and wonder. Weaving metaphysical ideas with scientific facts and the present situations that DeRoche finds herself in, makes The Worrier’s Guide even more immersive and entertaining.

Taking the backstreets through thick forests broken up by streams and pathways, DeRocheignites in the reader a hidden appreciation for trees. But as you learn more about their sentience, how trees are social beings who suckle their young, nurse sick neighbours, and send tiny electrical currents across a fungal network to warn each other of danger, you begin to relate more and more to these often overlooked big friendly giants.

 

As I looked around the forest, I saw a thousand acts of love taking place: the roots and trunk of a tree drawing moisture up from the soil to feed young leaves; its young leaves, in turn, drawing warmth from the sun to feed vitality to the old trunk. For centuries after a tree has been felled, its surrounding community will keep the stump alive by feeding a sugar solution into its roots for reasons unknown…. Their inner worlds are far more complex and intelligent than we recognise.

 

Following the Italian pilgrimage, DeRoche then undergoes a pilgrimage across India. Here, she talks about how in India, you have to give everything around you the permission to be as it is: as it will be there, with or without your permission. ‘And it’s only there for you to behold for that single three-second window, before it will move on into the swirling dust storm of atoms and become a new version of itself.’

 

I leave the last words to the inimitable DeRoche:

 

So long as you keep your senses and soul peeled open, there is stunning magic inherent in every small detail, like the feel of a breeze on sticky skin or the call of a bird in an empty wood, and why not, therefore the texture and temperature of your father’s hand as life leaves it, the taut fullness of love in your heart just as it breaks. What beauty. What privilege there is, even in pain.

 

 

This is the latest in Amy Aed’s series of reviews on adventure books.