Backpack is a "chick-lit" psychological thriller telling the story of a young English girl, Tansy, who decides to go travelling after the death of her alcoholic mother. After her boyfriend Tom breaks up with her just prior to leaving, Tansy decides she will travel to exotic South East Asia on her own, in order to prove her independence and win him back. As she begins her travels, though, there are reports of a killer on the loose who is murdering blonde British girls in South East Asia. Will Tansy live long enough to win Tom back, or is there some other mysterious dark-haired, scruffy suitor who will win her affectations. All is about to be revealed.
OK, if you thought that intro was pretty corny and not to your liking, that you might want to give this one a big swerve. The inspiration for Barr's first novel is promising enough and came from a year she spent backpacking the globe for a newspaper column assignment. Whilst this gave her a great feel for the whole backpacking scene, the story itself is wooden, punctuated with deux ex machina moments and spends far too much time handing down ham-fisted warnings on the impact of tourism, drugs and abuse of alcohol.
Despite being a book about backpacking through (mostly) South East Asia there is little actual descriptions of the places that Tansy and her friends visit. Instead, the locations simply serve as a backdrop to the romance and thriller threads that make up the bulk of the story. However, for those who used to communicate extensively through emails back in the late 90's/early 2000's, there is some nostalgic moments as Barr uses these liberally as a writing technique for her story. It's quite amusing to think back to how we used to communicate and Barr has captured this form of communication well.
Backpack certainly isn't going to set the travel literary world on fire. Barr's story about an obnoxious and flawed main character, who detests the whole backpacking scene and those in it, but inevitably finds that she is becoming one herself, albeit on "her terms", is hardly that novel. If you're looking for a book to inspire you as a women to travel alone, there are also plenty of non-fiction accounts that will do a much better job, such as Lauren Juliff's How Not to Travel The World. For some though, this might be the ideal sort of fodder that will entertain whilst on a 10-hour flight or while on a sunlounger next to the pool knocking back Siam Sunrays by the bucket. Just make sure you're not seen with a copy at the next Full Moon Party in Ko Pha Ngan or walking down Khao San Road.
2 stars out of 5
Credit: Banner photo by Andrea Schaffer