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Backpack - Emily Barr
Member Name: catsholiday
Backpack - Emily Barr
Date: 27/03/12, updated on 31/03/12 (111 review reads)
Advantages: Easy to read and interesting enough to keep me reading
Disadvantages: Some unbelievable character changes
"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.
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Summary: A light beach read but don't expect anything too deep and meaningful