About the book
Are You Experienced? by William Sutcliffe is a travel novel. It was published by Penguin on 4th June 1998.
Nineteen year old Dave lives in London and is about to have a gap year before going away to university. He hasn’t ever really wanted to travel though, his plans being to go to a Swiss ski resort instead of doing what his friends are doing. However, when friend James taunts him about his plans, he decides maybe he should get out of Europe and do something more exciting. It helps, of course, that James’s girlfriend Liz also wants to travel so he wouldn’t be on his own.
Liz only wants to go to India though, and refuses to go anywhere else so Dave is pretty much stuck. Even though Dave and Liz hit it off before the trip, by the time they get on the plane, they’re at each other’s throats. Heading to a country he doesn’t want to go to and with a girl who hates him, Dave is about to have one unique experience.
What I thought
This is the last book I had to read for my Travel Writing class at university and I can’t say I was looking forward to it too much. Most of the other reading we had to do was extremely long and boring.
Are You Experienced? begins with Dave and Liz bickering on their flight. You can instantly tell that nothing is right between them and it made me wonder why they were even travelling together in the first place. Before explaining though, Sutcliffe drops the two characters in Delhi, where they are met with beggar children, the ridiculously hot weather and a world they are unaccustomed to.
Dave is quite the outspoken character, not caring what he says to other people or what they think of him. His narrative is funny, yet very truthful at the same time. His first ideas about India are not good; ‘Delhi airport was… it was just taking the piss.’ While the other books read for this class were written many years ago, this one is very current with a young and exciting narrative to match. Although Dave does come across as arrogant, mean and selfish, I didn’t care. He was travelling and wanted to do what he wanted to do. What’s wrong with that?
For roughly the first half of the book, Dave and Liz are stuck with each other and the bickering doesn’t stop. Each of them disagrees with the other and they clearly don’t want to do the same things while in India. Hell, Dave doesn’t even want to be in India. However, he is too scared of being on his own in a strange country so puts up with Liz and whatever she decides to do. While together, they meet an interesting range of people, including J, who because he has been in India for a while thinks he knows everything there is to know.
Sutcliffe makes Dave a very stereotypical teenager of the late ‘90s. He loves his Western lifestyle and is very quick to judge anything new and different. He would much rather be having a two week holiday on a beach somewhere. While in India, Dave doesn’t want to touch anyone because they seem dirty, he doesn’t want to talk with any locals and he doesn’t really care about seeing the ‘real’ India. Really, he just wanted to get into Liz’s pants.
While Are You Experienced? has its own plot, it can also be taken as a sort of travel guide. Kind of. Dave and Liz do see a fair bit of India and go to some well-known places, thanks to their use of the Lonely Planet guide they carry around with them. There are also parts about being ill due to the different kinds of food in India, how to travel, what the buses and trains are like, etc. Are You Experienced? is a really different way to read about taking a gap year and going somewhere you aren’t exactly sure of. It’s also about new experiences and making the most of what you have.
Are You Experienced? showcases what being a backpacker is about. Sutcliffe takes the very worst of experiences for Dave and puts a humorous twist on them. His writing is extremely witty and sharp and I couldn’t put this book down. Considering I wasn’t looking forward to reading it, I ended up loving it completely. My sister has actually applied to go to India for a while so I might give her this book to read beforehand.