Top critical review
on 9 January 2015
Tansy Harris is rapidly sliding into an abyss of drink, drugs and general misery. When her alcoholic mother dies - just before Tansy's long-lost illegitimate half-brother turns up - she hits rock bottom, and ends up overdosing on booze and cocaine. When she wakes up in hospital, she realises that things have to change. Leaving behind her manipulative boyfriend Tom and her job (what does she do for money - presumably probate on her Mum's estate hadn't been granted yet?) she takes off on a backpacking adventure, planning to visit Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Tibet, India - and anywhere else that takes her fancy. For a while, all seems to go fairly well. Tansy can't get drugs abroad, and even begins to drink a bit less. She makes friends with Australian backpackers Ed and Ellie, American backpacker Greg and his friend Juliette, and with the enigmatic Max, a bearded wanderer who before long is her lover. But in the background a menace lurks. Women keep dying in countries Tansy's planning on visiting - and are found clutching memorabilia remarkably like some of Tansy's stored at her father's house. And Tansy herself has a dark secret about her mother, which she needs to confront if she is to establish any sort of life for herself.
Barr is great at capturing the atmosphere of the various countries that Tansy visits, and the life of the backpacker - I wasn't surprised to learn that she's done a lot of travel-writing. The various backpackers and locals that Tansy meets are vividly pictured: I particularly liked Juliette, who decided to give Tansy something of a social conscience, and Ellie, who provided her with much needed love and support - Max too was intriguing, though he remained (intentionally?) somewhat of an enigma. As 'tourist-fiction' this was great fun. And Barr also says some wise things about life for the middle-class woman in London today, and the 'rat race' into which so many end up throwing themselves.
My problem with it - as with a lot of other reviewers, I see - was that I wasn't particularly keen on Tansy. Had Barr told us in more detail about her troubled childhood and her problems with her Mum I might have understood her more, but as it was, despite the fact she'd clearly put up with a lot in her time, she came across rather as a rich spoilt brat and - because of her extreme self-preoccupation - ultimately a bit boring. This meant that I didn't get quite as drawn in as I think I should to the whole drama of whether she was going to meet the mysterious serial-killer or not. And the 'serial-killer' element of the novel was also somewhat underdeveloped - it would have been great to learn more, in more detail and earlier, about the murderer's psychology and why they had to kill multiple women, rather than just try to get at Tansy. In the end, the thriller aspect felt rather tacked on to the novel.
Not wholly satisfying then - but Barr's excellent creation of atmosphere and good writing made it still an enjoyable read. I'm looking forward to exploring more works by this author, particularly her later novels - and to reading the sequel to Tansy's adventures.