September 5, 1999

“Are You Experienced” by William Sutcliffe

Reviewed by Mark Lindquist
Special to The Seattle Times

This cross between a coming-of-age story and a road-trip novel was a best seller in England when it was first published in 1996. Now it makes its American debut in trade paperback, packaged for the backpack.

Dave, the narrator, is a 17-year-old Londoner with a year off before he starts school at the university. He decides to spend three months traveling through India, and not out of any intellectual or spiritual curiosity. His only goal is to bed his traveling companion, Liz.

Dave is immature and cynical, but also smart and funny. “I had heard the old cliche about how when you arrive in India, it’s like stepping into an oven, but this hadn’t prepared me for the fact that when you arrive in India, it is like stepping into an oven.”

Liz, unlike Dave, feels obliged to “give something back to India.” She reveals that she wants to bathe lepers. “It’s always been a dream of mine, actually,” she says. Not for Dave. When Liz begins meditating and saying things like, “My karma really has changed,” Dave responds, “Karma, my arse.” She abandons him.

Dave is forced to go it alone, and he begins mixing with the locals out of necessity. Dave is no Jack Kerouac – this is not a book about the joys and insights of new experiences, but more about the excruciating boredom of bumpy 14-hour bus rides. Still, Dave does start to get into the swing of things. He even hooks up with a native who speaks his language: booze and girls.

This is an enjoyable and occasionally hilarious read for anyone who has ever suffered from the idea that “a long and unpleasant holiday is of crucial importance to one’s development as a human being.”


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