I have read many books by Emily Barr and really enjoyed most of them so I was really looking forward to this latest offering - The Life You Want. Although, ultimately I did enjoy reading the book, I don't think it is as good as some of her other books and it did take me a long time to get into it. It is actually based on characters that she wrote about in one of her much earlier novels - Backpack. I had read this many years ago but could not remember anything about it. I wished that I had re-read this first as there were quite a few references to things that happened in that book, although it does work as a standalone read too.
The main character in The Life You Want is Tansy. She is a very unsettled thirty something mother of two, married to Max with young sons Toby and Joe. She had met Max in their more carefree backpacking days but since then they have married and have settled into a typical suburban (and some might say mundane) life. Tansy feels trapped and restless so much so that she starts to drink too much and even contemplates starting an affair with Toby's attractive male teacher. In the midst of her unhappiness, she hears from her old backpacking friend Elly, who runs a children's centre in India and could do with some help for a short while. Surprisingly, Max encourages her to go and before long she is caught up in a whole new life in India.
However, the grass is not always greener on the other side and along with missing her family, Tansy discovers that travelling as an almost middle aged woman is not quite the same as being a free and single twenty something. As well as that, when she arrives at the children's centre there are a lot of strange unanswered questions and the possibility that Tansy might get caught up in something quite sinister. It certainly turns out to be not quite the life she wanted!
Although this was potentially an exciting story line, as I mentioned earlier I found it quite hard to get into. It seemed to meander all over the place and took forever to get to what I considered to be the heart of the story. I can judge how much I like a book by the speed it takes me to read it and this one took far longer than I expected, although I did become quite absorbed at the end, and the second half took half the time that the first half took me.
I also hope to warm to characters when I am reading, especially when the book is written in the first person, as this one is, and it feels like you are being talked to directly. I found it very difficult to warm to Tansy and I found her cold, selfish and self centred. As a mother, it is quite hard to warm to a character who would abandon her children in quest of an adventure. I did probably warm to her a bit towards the end as she found herself caught up in events beyond her control and I did start to feel a bit sorry for her too. Also, as all the other characters were seen through Tansy's eyes, I did not really take to any of them either. I felt this was a stark contrast to how I felt reading some of Emily Barr's other books, such as Plan B or The Sisterhood, where I felt the characters were very good.
There is also a diversion throughout the book as every so often there is a chapter devoted to the blog of a woman called Alexa. At first it is hard to work out how this fits into the story, but it does soon become apparent and gives some interesting clues about what it all might be leading to. I liked this aspect of the book.
Overall then this is not a bad book, but I think that I have been spoiled by reading some of Emily Barr's other books which were brilliant and therefore my expectations were very high. It is worth a read but then again, if you were only ever going to read one book by this author, I would not recognise this one.
Many good writers have a signature style and for me, Emily Barr's has always been the utterly authentic travel details all her books have been peppered with, whether it be the lazy life in a lush French farmhouse, or the excitement of backpacking across Asia. Her new title is no exception, and this time the destination is India.
Tansy, who we first met in Barr's first novel, Backpack is no longer footloose and fancy free. She's now a married mother of two, whose main day time companion is a nice bottle of wine or three. With little in the way of career direction and rather too much temptation in the way of her eldest's rather handsome young teacher, her life is on a downward spiral until she receives a mysterious, urgent summons from an old friend who is asking for her help at an orphanage she runs in India. It takes a few chapters to get her there, but Tansy does finally pull together and fly out to help for a month, because quite simply there's nothing keeping her in London, and the boys' father and their grandparents are perfectly capable of looking after them for a few short weeks.
While not her idea, initially, India soon proves to be exactly what she needs. As they say, a change is as good as a rest, and Tansy is soon embracing a simpler life which truly makes her appreciate everything she has at home, that until a few weeks ago she was quite quick to dismiss.
This wouldn't be standard, super Emily Barr without a dark undercurrent though, and this soon emerges when first the reader and then a rather blinkered Tansy herself begin to realise all is not what it seems. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Tansy has to make a fight or flight decision that she can't win either way.
While this book is a sequel of sorts, the time that has elapsed between the two makes this tale quite different from the first, and though readers might like to have a look at Backpack as well, there is no compulsion to do so. This is written as a stand-alone story that requires absolutely no knowledge of what happened previously, and indeed the Tansy here is almost unrecognisable from the Tansy back then.
At times, I felt like I was reading a diary rather than a work of fiction. This book seemed so much more autobiographical than some of the author's other works, and having read some of the articles she's written about her own travel experiences (including those researching this book) there are marked similarities.
This was an excellent book from the start, but I thought the ending came too abruptly. Tansy gets into quite serious trouble towards the end, and after the rather indulgent, leisurely start to her trip, I thought the 'exciting' part was a little too rushed in comparison. The writing is so good, and you lose yourself in it so quickly, that I honestly wouldn't have minded a longer than average text - I just wanted more, more, more.
This niggle aside, this is a book that will not disappoint Barr's many loyal followers. It is just the right mix of family drama, personal crises and travelogues. The many descriptions of India are vivid without being tiresome or tedious, and manage to paint a picture that is intriguing and doesn't seem too glossed over without making it appear so bad you cannot believe Tansy would have stayed.
A perfect book to escape with on a cold winter's day when the heat of India seems a whole world away.
Emily Barr is a well established author, so you should be able to find this title in any book shop, including second hand and charity shops, or online for a little less than the rrp of £6.99 for the mainstream paperback
This review first appeared on www.thebookbag.co.uk
The Life You Want is Emily Barr's eighth novel and the sequel to her first novel Backpack. Now I haven't actually read Backpack because I just couldn't get into it but I wanted to read The Life You Want so went ahead and read it anyway.
We pick up with Tansy a decade after Backpack and find out she's married to Max and has two children Toby and Joe. In her opening sentence she tells us she thinks she's having a breakdown. Not only that but she drinks a lot, forgets to pick up her children and contemplates an affair with her son's teacher. To save herself she heads of to India by herself to help out Elly, an old friend. It seems, though, that Elly isn't all she seems.....
Even though I found Tansy an incredibly irritating character, I loved the book. It wasn't as good as The Sisterhood which was fabulous but it was a really enjoyable read. I loved the descriptions of Indian towns and what it's like to travel in India and, I admit, it sounded nothing like I expected it to sound. Like Tansy when I imagine India I think of poor people begging on the streets the whole time. Emily didn't describe it like that at all.
The book is written in first-person which was enjoyable because we got all of Tansy's thoughts. While I say I found her irritating, at least she admitted she was a rubbish mother and wasn't cut out to live in London forever with a steady job. It still didn't stop me thinking she was selfish though for leaving her husband and children to go off to India.
She kept saying she wasn't like her alcoholic mother but she was. I alternated between liking Tansy and wanting to slap her. She was selfish to leave her kids but I liked her honesty. She's definitely an anti-heroine and is like Marmite - you'll either love her or hate her.
As well as Tansy's point-of-view we regularly read blog posts from a woman called Alexia who is adopting a child from India named Sasika. We follow her on her journey, through her blog posts, all the way - even when everything goes topsy-turvy. I would have liked a few more blog posts from Alexia because it was a great part of the story and helped, also, with the main plot of the story.
All of Emily Barr's books seem to have a dark undercurrent - in The Sisterhood, Helen was so sure Elizabeth Greene was her sister and went to great lengths to ingratiate herself into Elizabeth's life. The dark tone to this book was the CC centre. I figured out what was going on long before Tansy did but it was exciting to read about. The twist didn't come until near the end though, which was disappointing as everything then had to be tied up quickly.
As I said, the ending seemed slightly rushed. Apart from that, I really enjoyed the book. I didn't find it as much of a page-turner as The Sisterhood but it was another great read from Emily and I look forward to her next.
Also posted at http://chicklitreviews.wordpress.com
I'd quickly popped in the library while waiting for my bus and saw that there was an Emily Barr book in the new part so I grabbed it. I hadn't read an Emily Bar book for a while but remembered that I had really enjoyed the ones I had.
The story is about Tansy a married Mum of two living in London who feels like she is missing something in her life. Her and her husband had met travelling and had always said they would return to India but he had got himself a good job in the city and she was busy looking after the kids and working from home part-time. Her friend Elly from travelling who now lives in India emails her and asks her to come out to help at the Children Centre she runs. Tansy is torn as she doesn't want to leave her family and they refuse to come with her. As she starts steadily drinking more and nearing an affair with her childs teacher her husband makes the decision for her and buys her a ticket to India. She goes out to India and begins to find herself again but is everything as it seems and can she realise this before its too late?
I did really enjoy this story and that is what it is. We start with Tansy in London and try to understand her feeling of being trapped in her life which most people would aspire to have. She lives in a nice flat in London and her husband has a good job and she has two bright children, but she has found it hard to adapt to motherhood. The story alludes to post-natal depression and she also has mother issues as her mum was an alcoholic, getting to know this part of her helps you warm to the character and not think what a selfish woman who has run off and left her children when she has a great life.
Throughout the story it was dropped in at points that Tansy and her husband had met whilst travelling but it was cut short because of an incident which had left it mark on her. Now I thought that perhaps this was a kind of follow up to Backpack one of Emily Barr's other books as I could vaguely remember the storyline but not the characters names and I found it frustrating that at no point in the story was it elaborated so you had a brief recap of what this event was and I think that had I not read Backpack and assumed (correctly I found out after having a quick look at a review for Backpack) I would have been left a bit more baffled and annoyed than I was.
The writing gets more descriptive and interesting when Tansy travels to India. She spends the first few days on her own making her way round a city and the author describes scenes really well so you can visualise what is happening and the views and sights around her. Tansy's character also develops here as it is just her and the author is just focusing on how she is coping and so you feel her guilt for leaving her children but also her joy at having complete freedom.
There are other characters written in throughout the story, from her family at the start to people she meets on her travels but as it is told from her eyes you don't really get to know them very well. They do all add to the story and make for interesting developments and interactions showing other sides to Tansy's personality.
Part of the story in India is that Tansy is working in a children's centre where children are taken when they are orphaned or parted from their family. The issue about many children having being orphaned in India due to the tsunami and the poor conditions in which they live is brought up briefly and also the issue of whether they should be kept with Indian families or adopted abroad rears its head. Although this is a main part of the story, and taken from different points view due to a blog interspersed throughout the book by a lady from USA who wishes to adopt from abroad, I felt it could have been further developed.
The story is well paced throughout and I looked forward to picking it up to read but I wouldn't say it was unputdownable. I could see almost all of what was going to happen and where the story was leading to but this didn't really ruin the enjoyment as I wanted to see how Tansy would react to the discovery and find out what would happen to her. Everything is tied up nicely at the end, except for any explanation of her travelling past.
I would recommend this if you like a good, well told story and have enjoyed Emily Barr's other books, it might well help though if you have read Backpack recently so you understand that back plot.
Published by Headline.
Paperback 320 pages.