Monday 9 April 2012

TRAVEL MONTH REVIEW - 'Are You Experienced?', William Sutcliffe, (Penguin, 1998)

Liz travels to India because she wants to find herself. Dave travels to India because he wants to get Liz into bed. Liz loves India, hugs the beggars, and is well on her way to finding her tantric center. Dave, however, realizes he hates Liz, and has bad karma toward his fellow travelers: Jeremy, whose spiritual journey is aided by checks from Dad; Jonah, who hasn't worn shoes for a decade; and Fee and Caz, fresh from leper-washing in Udalpur. (Synopsis from Goodreads)

Are You Experienced?Ok, warning firsts. I've had a bit of a think about this and I've decided it's impossible to write a review of this without giving away a few spoilery spoilers in the process. Which I usually try to avoid doing, but hey-ho, there you go. So, BIG OLD (sort of) SPOILERS BELOW. If you're interested in that sort of thing.

Well, even though our protagonist, Dave, is technically a teenager, I'm not sure I would class this in a strict young adult fiction category. I'm going to try and avoid a big analysis of what constitutes YA etc etc. -  I should imagine a lot of older teenagers would enjoy reading this, but there is something about the tone and humour that screams 'adults looking back in nostalgic/mocking fashion' if this makes any sense whatsoever.

Well, I was in a bit of a conundrum about this one. On the one hand, the writing is VERY good, very sharp, witty, to the point. And this book is extremely funny. They was one particular scene that had me weeping. I make no apologies, I'm British and will therefore find toilet humour hilarious. I dog-eared so many pages with sublime quotes that this is yet another book I have left in tatters.

Seeing these fresh-faced scared little bunnies about to head off around India reminded me how pleased I was that I'd got the whole thing over with. In the end, I was glad I'd done it, but I had to admit that the having done it was more fun than the doing it. Crapping your pants, for example, is a dire and miserable experience; but having crapped your pants - I mean, that's a pretty good conversational party-piece.

HOWEVER, mmmmm, this is an out and out satire and is so full of vitriol, it oozes from every page. Most of the characters have no redeeming features - they are either clueless, trust-fund, sloany-ponies, or faux-hippy snarky, uppity madams. Even our narrator is far from lovable. Yes, he manages to cut through the bullshit with his cynical barbs, but he is whiny and sex-obsessed and you can't really blame most people he comes into contact with for trying to get as far away from him as possible.These people don't learn any lessons, they don't get their comeuppance, they don't kiss and make up. Which is kind of the point. As a satire it works really well. In showcasing the more unpleasant aspects of the backpackers' relations with their host country, it touches on issues of racism and colonialism. In terms of plot, it doesn't work quite so well -  characters are dropped at the, er, drop of a hat, and certain scenes are ridiculously contrived, which just doesn't fit with the honesty of the tone.

So a funny, intelligent read, yes. Maybe I'm getting a bit soft in my old(er) age, but after I finished this, I wanted to read something light and fluffy and heart warming to compensate for the slightly unpleasant aftertaste it left me with.

Oh, and just a quick note about he cover of this particular edition - AWFUL. Penguin, what were you thinking?

(told you it was a quick note).


I don't think you'll find a better book that depicts the horrors, boredom and therefore the truth about the backpacking experience. But if you're a backpacker, don't expect any sympathy. The main thing I think you get get from this one is don't eat burgers in India. Seriously, don't. And don't expect to remain on good terms with you travelling companion by the end of you trip.


  1. I have never, ever heard of the book or the author but it sounds like a lot of fun! And I completely agree, what a terrible cover! Great review, Anna!

    1. I'd never heard of it either until I was trying to hunt down some YA travel fiction. Weirdly, I wrote this review a few weeks back and am now struggling to remember much about it at all. I was very funny in parts, though. Just, rubbish, APPALLING cover! Nears no relation to the book at all, really ;)

  2. Wow, that cover. That is horrible. I think I'd seen the book before in the library, but not in the YA section? Huh.

    1. I know - the covers bears very little relation to the content. I wouldn't class it as YA, even though it deals with 18 year-olds. But that's not to say teenagers wouldn't enjoy reading it. It's very funny in places. I actually discovered it when it was listed in The Teen Book Guide.