"Back-pack" by Emily Barr
I have read a few of Emily Barr's books and found them to be an easy read, basically chicklit but with a different setting so a bit of a travel writing/chick lit genre if there is such a thing. I bought this one as part of a 3 for £5 deal from somewhere so good value for a holiday read I thought.
I had not read the blurb on the back or looked at te book until I started reading it. Strangely the journey the lead character takes includes Laos where we went on this holiday and Vietnam the country visited a few years before so it was interesting to see what she made of places we had visited.
I really struggled to like the lead character Tansy initially as she was a coke head and virtually an alcoholic and really quite objectionable but I stuck with it to see where the story took me. Tansy is the daughter of an alcoholic mother who died on Christmas Eve. We first meet Tansy in hospital where she is recovering from a bender, a lethal overdose of drugs combined with alcohol which she 'enjoyed' the evening of her mother's funeral. tansy has a brother she has only just met as he was given up by their mother aged sixteen when she was thrown out and disowned by her wealthy 'hunting, shooting, fishing' snobby family.
Tansy has to be the unlikeable heroine initially and it is well into the last section of the story that you begin to feel like she might actually be a normal person with psychological problems as the result of her mother's alcoholism and father abandoning her and moving on to have another family. Her on/off relationship with the London boyfriend is one I find hard to believe. I really can't see anyone hanging on that desperately to such a loser.
The story is partly told through Tansy's voice and her experiences with fellow travellers and partly through a series of emails from her various friends and family back in the UK or ones she has met up with on her travels.
Tansy was meant to be going travelling with Tom the objectionable boyfriend from London who lets her down at the last minute ad so she decides she will go alone using some of her inheritance money from selling the mother's house in London. Her first destination is Vietnam and admittedly her first city in Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City which is the seediest and least attractive of any of the cities in Vietnam but her descriptions of the people and the dirty streets as well as the food lead me to think that the author hasn't been to Vietnam as it really isn't that dirty. There are far dirtier cities in Asia, her description of trying to cross the road and the cyclos is pretty accurate and I do realise she is actually making more of a statement as to Tansy's character than the country but still I really didn't think the description was fair and if she wanted to choose a grubby seedy city to start the journey with she would have been better off choosing Bangkok which is a far more likely starting point for someone travelling around as you have to go through Bangkok to get to Vietnam from the UK anyway. She then moves to Hoi An which she disregards as full of cheapie tailor shops which to an extent is true but there is so much more to the place.
Throughout the story Tansy refuses to think of herself as a backpacker, she is a tourist or traveller and doesn't want to be labelled for the kind of bag she is carrying. There are comments about the fact that once a place becomes known on the backpacker trail then the westerners move in and take over and backpackers are no better or worse than other tourists they just think they are superior but spend less than other travellers which is true!
Tansy moves up through Vietnam and enjoys the trekking in North Vietnam and begins to lose her superior attitude and starts to enjoy her travelling. She starts to wear 'backpacker' clothes, loses weight and enjoys the food but is still drinking heavily and desperate for 'Charlie' her drug of choice. From Vietnam she and some of the people she has befriended move on to Laos and she appears to like Laos more. I loved Laos but compared to Vietnam it is much grubbier, certainly more litter lying around through less traffic and a lot poorer. The food is nowhere near as nice and different as in Vietnam. We found that there were about five main dishes and they were served everywhere we went whereas in Vietnam the range was amazing and generally much tastier too.
As the story progresses Tansy becomes more likeable and there is a side story of backpacking girls getting murdered in places where Tansy is planning to visit and all of they look like her, attractive with blonde hair. This element becomes more and more part of the character's discussions and there is definitely an element of tension that develops as this part of the story begins to impact upon Tansy and her travelling friends.
I began to enjoy the story more about a third of the way through and as tansy became more likeable her attitude to the different locations became more true to life and realistic. I did find the little side lectures about Westerners taking over places and spoiling them for the locals a bit tiresome at times. It may be true but a lot of them have far better lives because of tourism that they had before as it does bring in revenue to the country but I did take the point.
The writing style is very easy and I read the book in a day sitting by the pool. After my initial wanting to slap the main character I began to find her more normal but some of the side characters were a little stereotypical. We have the Aussie who had 'done' Europe but couldn't remember where she had been, two other Aussies who had spent time in London and were still wandering around in Asia and a few other dreadlocked or scruffy saronged and sandalled fellow travellers. Her description of Khao san road in Bangkok was pretty accurate however and it really is full of Westerners and where the backpacker fraternity stay in decent budget accommodation.
I would say that this is a light read but with an element of travel combined with chicklit. I quite enjoyed it in the end despite wanting to give Tansy a good slap within the first fifty or so pages. I would read other books by Emily Barr as she doesn't ask much of her readers. She writes a good story with reasonable enough charters set in places around the worl which adds a bit more of an interest for me personally.
WHAT OTHERS HAVE SAID
"A blast of fresh air." - Sunday Express
"Has the emotional ups and downs of a Marion Keyes novel, and none of the annoying travellers of Alex Garland's 'The Beach' - Company
Now I am no fan of 'The Beach' and found t5he film really patronising and self indulgent but i would say that this does has equally annoying travellers personally!
"Believable characters that are variously biting, insightful and sympathetic." - The Times
This I would agree with to an extent though biting and insightful I feel are rather extreme descriptions.
"Funny, thought- provoking and thoroughly gripping." - B Magazine
Well I am sorry I didn't find anything very funny or particularly thought provoking and if that is gripping then the reviewer needs to read something beyond chicklit in my view!
Anyway it is not a bad read and I did quite enjoy the story. It was a good beach read and I did find some of the descriptions of places I had visited interesting. Certainly not a reject and I found it a pleasant enough story with an element of tension not usually found in books of the chicklit genre.
Thanks for reading. This review may be posted on other sites under my same user name.
First of all, I would like to apologise to all the previous readers of this review! Unfortunately, through no ones fault but my own, I missed off a whole chunk of the review! Nevermind, so I have tried to rewrite it for you. Here goes :- I have never been one for 'chick lit' and I certainly do not like romance novels, which is the complete opposite to my friend Helen. Therefore when she recommended Backpack to me, I had severe reservations. I have to admit, I will never ignore her recommendations again! Emily Barr was 29 years of age when she wrote Backpack, her debut novel, which proved to be a British Bestseller. She had made herself known by writing columns for papers such as The Observer and The Guardian. She spent 1999 travelling and writing, before finally settling down in London. When you begin to read Backpack, it does seem to be a bit Bridget Jones-esque. We are introduced to Tansy Harris, a too-trendy Londoner, the main character of the novel. The novel opens: On the day we buried my mother, I deduce, I have poisoned myself with alcohol and drugs, and woken up in hospital. I console myself with the knowledge that it's what she would have wanted. We are also introduced, through Tansy's thoughts, to her on-off boyfriend Tom and her brother, Will, who she never knew she had, until her mother died! Tansy is incessantly moaning on about her designer image and how its suffering, the pressure of her hot-shot media job, obsesses about drugs, alcohol and smoking. She decides to leave Britain and backpacks across Asia to assert her independence. And to some degree, what you see is what you get. The novel is indeed packed with girl power and a lot of giggles!. Tansy's
supposedly liberating, rejuvenating backpacking adventure certainly gives her the wakeup call she was not expecting! Her ayres and graces play no match as she enters Vietnam. She comes face to face with begging children, dirty streets and near death experiences whilst trying to cross a street!. Waiters refer to Tansy as "Mr. Brown" as their limited English comes from the books they have available! . Finally Tansy meets a friendly pair of Australian backpackers and Tansy slowly gets acclimatised to Asia and begins to enjoy herself, as she steps down from her own pedestal!. Following the group of travellers is the news of a serial killer stalking blonde British backpackers in Southeast Asia, a pattern of murders that seems to be tracing their very path. Despite this, Tansy makes friends, gets tanned, finds love with Max and indeed finds herself. Tansy had hoped that her inheritance would have helped in her role to be cast as the glamorous "Englishwoman Abroad, " as she travels from Vietnam to China. Unfortunately, she is treated like a tourist, as she is and she realises that she is not as special to everyone else as she seems to think of herself! She next meets a group of grimy back packers she likes more than she'll ever admit. They just go against everything she has ever believed in! But when blond Englishwomen in Asia start turning up dead, what began as a grand adventure suddenly becomes a real-life murder mystery . . . and blond make up less, dirty, sunburnt Tansy wonders if she'll live long enough to tell the tale of her travels. While the serial killer subplot seems gratuitous and even silly for most of the novel, it keeps you hooked! This book is certainly not as 'fluffy' as it may seem! As the book nears the conclusion, we are made to doubt the v
ery things we should be most certain of!! Each chapter jumps from each scenario to the next, for example, Chapter, she is in hospital, chapter two, she is at the airport, chapter three, she is pushing away begging Vietnamese children. The choppiness of the novel, keeps you enthralled. Rather than the rather tedious descriptions of every move the heroine makes, as you find in so many books! There are chapters simply full of her emails and their replies. She keeps in contact with her father, brother and father. But is all as it seems? A thick and crafty plot, makes you realise, we can so easily be fooled. The book, in my printer edition, is 373 pages long with twenty six short seven or eight page chapters. Whilstreading Backpack, I found myself saying, 'Ill just read to the end of this chapter', and six chapters later, finally putting it down! I found Backpack to be very original and had no idea how the book was going to end until quite late on! I have read the book again twice since, and still wish to read again. Thanks for reading
It’s not that unusual to pick up a book, read the back and buy it just based on that alone, but it’s not something I do all that often. I made an exception here though. Backpack’s blurb begins “On the day she buries her mother, Tansy wakes up in hospital having poisoned herself with drugs and alcohol”. I read this in a bookshop somewhere down south, less than 2 hours after my father’s funeral, and I just knew I had to have it. It was the 1st book I’d picked up in the shop too – spooky. Over the last few years there’s been an influx of books set around gap year trips to Asia and the like but only some of them have done it for me. I fell madly in love with Sutcliffe after “Are you experienced?” but couldn’t get into even the film version of “The Beach”, despite being a Leo DiCaprio follower at the time. “Backpack” is different immediately because it is both written by, and takes the trip through the eyes of, a woman. Tansy (think Topsy and Tim’s little friend) is a little older than lots of the travelers she meets, having taken a career break rather than a pre-uni one. Her life so far has not been all fun and games, and her mother’s death makes her want to just get away from it all, and preferably in a place from where she’ll be able to return “skinny, tanned and wise” – now that’s my kinda gal. The plan was that she would go with her boyfriend on a whirlwind tour of the Indian sub continent and beyond, but when he bottles out, she decides just to go on her own anyway. As with most tales of this kind, there is romance to be had, drugs to be taken, realizations that the UK’s pretty luxurious in comparison to some place to be, erm, realized, and so on. Whether it be teaching the local children to shake hands, or getting ripped off by the mad tuk-tuk drivers or discovering that it is possible to have public lo
os which are worse than those in France, she soon begins to feel at home in her new environment. Why, at one point she even eats in a restaurant filled only with natives, and where the menu isn’t even in English! When she and her new friends learn of a series of murders in the areas they are visiting, in which all the victims look alarmingly familiar, they all start to worry for their safety, hence the byline on the front cover: “sometimes travelling alone can be murder”. For most of them it’s just the way the girls look which frigtens them (British, blond, 20 something) but for Tansy there’s an extra shock from the way in which the victims are found. The ending is a bit predictable, but none the less you still breathe a sigh of relief to know it’s all over. “Backpack” is Emily Barr’s first novel, and in some ways this does shine through. It was written over the two years she spent travelling around, after completing a series of assignments for various newspapers. Although the writing style is fluid, it seems to flit back and forth from what are blatantly her experiences to the opposite extreme. Despite this, you do get caught up in the story, and I had to race to make it to lectures on two occasions when I’d been lying on my bed reading it and had lost track of time. Most of the book is straight forward narrative, but every few chapters this is followed by a series of emails from and too Tansy’s friends and family at home, although to be honest, after a couple of times I just skipped these bits – the story still made sense, and I was spared the hassle of interrupting my stream of reading to check the from and to lines repeatedly so I would know who was saying what. The book is, I would imagine, a perfect one to take on holiday with you (assuming of course that you’re not a blonde, British female travelling alone in China, Vietnam and Nepal) – it’s a good leng
th but doesn’t drone on, and there are lots of short chapters so you’re almost always at a good place to stop when the sea starts calling you, plus parts of it are simple hilarious as she recounts her trips and the strange characters she meets along the way. It retails at a rrp £5.99 but can be picked up for less online. ISBN = 074726676. Oh and the map tracing Tansy’s journey on page 3 is most useful, especially if, like me, your knowledge of such areas is pretty sketchy :-)
When people talk about yahooing the New Year in with a BANG..well we get the pre-conceived idea that is was a memorable one! However for poor Tansy Harris, her New Year has begun with a blurry journey into hell followed by a snap, crackle, pop, a gaping hospital gown and paper knickers. Its New Years Day and Tansy has woken in hospital (funnily enough the book concludes with her in the same place) after surviving a lethal cocktail of cocaine and vodka, and with the vivid memory of her mother's death just days earlier hanging around like wet washing in her subconscious mind. Tansy’s life has simply been far from Disneyland. Her whole existence has been a charade of mechanical support, keeping her alcoholic mother stable and standing. Her father walked out while Tansy was only knee-high to a grasshopper and now has his own family circle and in the wake of her mother’s death, Tansy’s half brother William is unearthed. Tansy lives in slimy old Soho (although she’s pretty proud of that fact) with her flatmates Guy and Rachel, she works as a journalist and spends her spare time guzzling vodka, snorting cocaine and falling in and out of love with her part time b/f, Tom, who you get the impression resembles that of a farmyard animal (even that’s being kind-I can’t stand this guy), but she thinks she’s got it all and life is great (simple things for simple people eh?). Tom and Tansy had planned to gracefully float off to Thailand together, although at the last minute Tom-being the gentleman he was born to be, announced he had cashed in his ticket and was staying in London (yep-almighty choice, give up Thailand to stay in London, smart man, round of applause, now please go take your medication you FOOL). So Tansy is now faced with the life altering decision to either give it all up and stay with Tom in lovely paradise-like Soho, or do it for herself and head off into the depths of Asia
to “find herself”. She starts off as an extremely irritating, bitchy, opinionated, cow-like young woman and the thought of travelling through Asia as a “Backpacker” is somewhat of a dirty word in her books. Throughout the book we follow Tansy’s transformation from stuck up, Gucci wearing London <beep> to lay-back traveller babe, who’s managed to throw in her hunger for cocaine and alcoholic concoctions and even better, her love for Tom. During her explorations throughout, China, Saigon, Vietnam, Tibet etc she be-friends a group of people that normally she wouldn’t have batted an eye lid at back in London, however here is the prime example that travelling really does open up her view on life and she realises that being on her own is starting to give her a more complex outlook on life and people alike. It was under this new faze of thinking that her romance with Max (a fellow Jesus look alike backpacker) begins to bloom. Although she keeps justifying this romance with Max as a travel fling, Tansy is faced with a blast from the past when Tom decides to meet up with her in Thailand. After a few days with Tom, Tansy is wearing thin of his ladish ways and realises that Max is more than just a passing fling and up’s and leaves Tom to find her love and beg for his forgiveness etc blah blah blah happy ending, yay!! From Tuk-Tuk’s in Thailand, squatting over cesspits in China, romance in Saigon and group expeditions through Vietnam there is a string of murders that seem to be closing in on Tansy. Each murder is always a 20 something, blonde, British woman and every time a body is found a small trinket is in the hand of each girl. Tansy is for some reason (which you will have to read the book for) convinced that this series of killings is in some way linked to her and the plot is evident towards the finale, although it hit me like a tonne of bricks, I must say the ending
could be seen as predictable to some, although I half-heartedly enjoyed this journey through Asia etc witnessing Tansy’s full circle transformation down the path of self-discovery. Emily Barr did well with this as her first novel with some hilarious one-liners and inner thoughts, although a fair amount of criticism was received in return. For several years now Emily has been writing travel pieces and columns for papers such as the Guardian and the Observer and during 1999 and 2000 she spent an extensive amount of time travelling and writing, although she’s now settled for the time being in Sussex. This book received a 7 out of 10 from me, with 3 points lost for its hazy Melrose Place like ending.
Oh to be in a land where re writes are not needed. I hate doing em. But, to be done they must. If only to rid the hallowed pages of dooyoo of the dregs of op's clogging up otherwise needed space, to make room for other worthier ops! Read on my friends ... another re write awaits ... So, beginning of the year, and idodoyou has an idea. She's gonna take 6 months off and travel a bit. See a little piece of the world that we dwell. Plans are being made. And idodoyou has itchy feet. When she sees this book upon the shelves, 'ah ha', she thinks, 'I'll start my journey now, for I will travel within the pages of this book'! She bought. She read. She travelled. She enjoyed. Published this year by Headline, Backpack is Emily Barr's first novel. I know that cos it tells me so. I also know that Ms Barr has been writing travel pieces and columns for the papers 'Observer' and 'Guardian'. It tells me this too. After spending 1999 and 2000 travelling across various countries, her pen travelling across pages as she went, Ms Barr can now be found in Sussex. Where in Sussex I don't know. It doesn't tell me. Take this to any high street cash desk and they'll charge you £5.99. Spend this money. It is worth it. I haven't seen it anywhere any cheaper. And if cheap books are to be found. I'm usually in the place they are hiding. But then again, I have the book so why would I be looking for a cheaper copy? It's new so I doubt if you will find it much cheaper anywhere? Online maybe? I think that this is the only cover I have ever seen that makes me want to rip my clothes off and dive straight in? I don't mean dive straight into reading it, but straight into the cover. We, the reader, or the casual browser of bookshelves are witness to a beach that does nothing but entice. The sea is a gorgeous turquoise blue that blends with the sky. You can almost
feel the sun on your back, and as I said. You just want to dive straight in. I don't even like beaches. The cover attracts. The blurb .... Well, the blurb does as any self-respecting blurb should do and tells you all you need to know to entice you further. How's it written? Well. Very well actually. Her words are so convincing that she takes you along with her on her travels. You can't help yourself. You're in Southeast Asia before you know it. There is no way that she did not make this journey before writing it up. If she did, well, a liar supreme she must be. As soon as she hits foreign climes, you, me, other readers are smacked right across the kisser with a plethora of adjectives that enable to see the sights, smell the smells and live life right along side her. The plot is full of twists and turns, albeit a little predictable at times. I mean, it's a love story. You know what happens right? The ending was a bit of a surprise. Oh, Ok then, it was a surprise. I didn't see it coming. I should have done, all the clues were there. I'll know next time I read this though. It ain't gonna let it creep up on me again?!!? If I remember rightly, the 'gob' did drop open involuntarily (not a pretty sight!?) and, 'bloody hell, did not see that coming' fell from my mouth, or something to that effect anyway. Yes, the ending was worth it. Although, the story is a mixture of murder, travel, and romance, Ms Barr really doesn't need to introduce any other story lines other than her tales of travelling. I would have been, and will be, happy enough to follow her and her travels with out the aid of death, and the love story. Her next book should be one along the lines of Mr Brysons. Just travel. As the caption on the front says .... Sometimes, travelling alone can be murder?. And for the main character of the story, Tansy Harris, they seem to be following her as she travels Asia. A
fter burying her mother on New Years day, after finding her dead on Christmas Eve (my God, if that's not enough to dampen anybody's Christmas spirit I don't know what is?) Tansy wakes up in Hospital after an extremely ... Oh what word to use here? .... Good (some people would say so) stupid .. I'd probably plump for this one??) .. Typical (I'm sure there are people who have the kind of life Tansy has?) .. Or totally understandable ending to the New Year. Well, she did just bury her Mother, OK so she didn't like her but she was her mother after all. With a chapter of her stomach pumping (the lethal cocktail of drink and drugs) meeting her dysfunctional family and friends, and a falling out with her boyfriend (always customary in this type of story, and essential if the girlfriend is going to walk out on him!!) behind us, we find ourselves with Tansy as she is on a plane about to embark on the biggest adventure of her life. She's gone to find herself! Is it any wonder the woman doesn't know who she is in the first place? She had spent almost the whole of her life (since the age of eight or nine) looking after her Alcoholic mother, and I'm guessing finding out that you have a brother that you knew zip about helps in the 'knowing who you are process' either? This wasn't meant to be a solo trip, the reason for the falling out, but being too proud, too stubborn or just to prove people wrong, Tansy gets on a plane heading to Singapore to try and forget about her life back home in the trendy Soho area of London. One of my favourite parts of the book is how she 'deals' with her annoying flight partner!! This book has you travelling with Tansy! You are there with her when she's scared, when she's alone, when she's happy, her friends are your friends. And, dare I say it, when she's with Max, but its OK, he isn't my type. Well, he wasn't hers to start with! A
typical love story ensues .. they meet, don't like each other much at first, but the travelling throws them together, they spend more and more time together, get closer, she leaves thinking she loves somebody else, realises she doesn't, goes back and they fall in love!! (ahhh thank god for that!!) This is all happening as we go by land, sea and water around exotic and so convincingly described places such as Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, China, ending in Nepal. Murder is with us all the time, either behind or ahead. The climax of the story finishes in the foothills of Mt Everest, very poignant to my way of thinking, she's over come one mountain (she now knew what she wanted out of life) and before the story closes, she has to face another! We have the biggest twist of the tale there, of which, as I said, I never saw it coming. Never the less, the story finishes with Tansy in the same place as she started ... Hospital. I haven't given the ending away, the ending, the real ending concerns the trail of murder that follows her through Asia. The love story thing, well, that's a given that it ends well ain't it? This book caters for all manners of readers. Those that want a love story. Those that want the input of murder and intrigue. Those that like to travel. Those that like a smidgen of all three. Oh, and those, like me, that have got, that had itchy feet (and nothing to do with the lack of washing believe me!) I can't see it disappointing any one of those readers? Even if you just enjoy one of the elements brought to you in this story, you will not be able to stop yourself from enjoying the other main factors. You can't help yourself. Emily Barr' words entice you. Trap you. And make you enjoy. Yep, it has to be said, I enjoyed it. It was good. Better than good. Very good. Can't say it was brilliant though. Dunno why I can't label it with the 'B' word? It just didn't float my boat
THAT much I guess? But still, very good must be worth something right? I will read it again. When I want to escape the mundane task of everyday life. When trawling around Asia in the wake of a murderer seems slightly more interesting than a regular day in the life of idodoyou. When I feel the urge to travel for £5.99 and not leave the confines of my house, my PJ's the ultimate in reading attire don't you think?) and the country in which I dwell. When I have managed to diminish the forever present, forever tall, pile of 'to read books'. Oh how I long for that day .... Publisher: Headline Pages: 472 Price: R.R.P £5.99 (Paperback 2001) ISBN: 0 7472 6735 9 BTW idodoyou's travelling for 6 months did not pan out as she had planned. She did a month, missed her family like mad, and was bored ..... she came home ... and joined dooyoo!!
Funnily enough I bought this book at the airport as I was about to fly long-haul (although not go back-packing this time). Probably a strange choice to read when you're going to a foreign country but I like scaring myself (ha! ha!). Having back-packed through several countries myself I thought I would be able to relate to the characters and situations in this novel. Unfortunately, that was not the case. The book is full of the old cliches about back-packers and there is the old rating-puller twist to the story (which was evident from the start). The book is also full of inaccuracies, which makes me wonder if the author really did travel to the places she mentions. The first inaccuracy was the flight to Singapore. She left from Gatwick on a direct flight, which is most improbable. She also left at 8am, which is also improbable on a direct flight as this would mean landing in Singapore at around 4am. Sorry to get so technical but I work in air travel and I was quite disappointed that the book was so obviously inaccurate. Not really worth a read, unless you're into cliched back-packing tales.
The travelling experience that was meant to answer Tansy's problems brings new ones, including murder.