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Book review: <i>Are You Experienced?</i> by William Sutcliffe

Ah, India. Land of mystery, spices, saris, exotic religions, “travellers” in their late teens looking to find themselves spiritually on their big adventure before university... and of course, the dope’s really cheap.

The story

All of Dave’s friends, between finishing high school and going to uni, are taking the year off and going “travelling”. Dave has no desire to go wandering around some third world pit for eight months, getting ill and filthy. But when Liz, his best friend’s girlfriend who is seriously attractive and lonely without her trekking boyfriend, decides she wants to go to India for the last three months of the year, Dave somehow finds himself in India with her—and totally out of his depth. He doesn’t want to be there, he’s not getting anywhere with Liz, and he just doesn’t understand why everybody keeps raving on with their India theories, acting so superior, and not exhibiting the same fear that Dave is feeling. He reluctantly travels around the country, and manages to: lose Liz to some old school friends and a tantric yoga retreat, fall in with an Indian guy from Putney, get desperately ill, admire some Australians, and work out something about himself after all.

The style

Are You Experienced?, which as far as I can tell isn’t a Jimmy Hendrix reference, is written in the first person and narrated by the cynical and nineteen year old English guy Dave. Dave has just the right amount of cynicism and naivety to work as a character, and his observations of the other characters in the books, while being quite stereotypical, fit with his character. The book is fairly interesting in that it challenges all things “traveller”, and exposes the bizarre attitudes of some of these people. It also examines prejudice, ideas of “What India gave to me” being a teenager, and presents some fairly decent conceptual delvings into the British teen traveller psyche. And the sex scenes are funny.

I enjoyed this little book (two hours reading! Does that even count as a book?), but at times I felt it was a bit cynical. I mean, there will always be preconceived notions about third world countries by first world citizens travelling through, and this is completely unavoidable. Obviously some of the ways people try to deal with such issues are downright stupid, and I think that’s what he was getting at. I’ll admit, some of it had me thinking “bloody hell, that’s not what I think, is it?”. But it was okay because, while Sutcliffe didn’t provide any concrete answers (because really, there aren’t any), he did put some ideas out there. In fact, it was relatively thought provoking for an easy two hour read.

Who is this book for?

Okay, if you are embarking on a journey to India soon, and you are feeling trepidatious, DON’T READ THIS BOOK. Read your Lonely Planet. This is not the kind of book that will soothe you into travelling! If you have travelled, or want to, or enjoy books about teenagers, or all of the above, sure, why not?

If you like this book, you would also like...

Starter For Ten, simply because it’s a British coming of age novel with a similarly personalitied protagonist. The stories are very different, but they are both aimed the same and enjoyable light reads of the genre.

In short

Title: Are You Experienced?
Author: William Sutcliffe
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 0140272658
Year published: 1998
Pages: 235
Genre(s): Fiction, Humour
Review Type: