The Life You Want by Emily Barr

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The Life You Want by Emily Barr

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Zoe Morris
Reviewed by Zoe Morris
Summary: Another winner from Emily Barr, this book takes us to the world of Indian orphanages where all may not be what it seems. A great, humid book to lose yourself in when it's cold and frosty outside.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: September 2009
Publisher: Headline Review
ISBN: 978-0755335602

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Many good writers have a signature style and for me, Emily Barr's has always been the utterly authentic travel details all her books have been peppered with, whether it be the lazy life in a lush French farmhouse, or the excitement of backpacking across Asia. Her new title is no exception, and this time the destination is India.

Tansy, who we first met in Barr's first novel, Backpack is no longer footloose and fancy free. She's now a married mother of two, whose main day time companion is a nice bottle of wine or three. With little in the way of career direction and rather too much temptation in the way of her eldest's rather handsome young teacher, her life is on a downward spiral until she receives a mysterious, urgent summons from an old friend who is asking for her help at an orphanage she runs in India. It takes a few chapters to get her there, but Tansy does finally pull together and fly out to help for a month, because quite simply there's nothing keeping her in London, and the boys' father and their grandparents are perfectly capable of looking after them for a few short weeks.

While not her idea, initially, India soon proves to be exactly what she needs. As they say, a change is as good as a rest, and Tansy is soon embracing a simpler life which truly makes her appreciate everything she has at home, that until a few weeks ago she was quite quick to dismiss.

This wouldn't be standard, super Emily Barr without a dark undercurrent though, and this soon emerges when first the reader and then a rather blinkered Tansy herself begin to realise all is not what it seems. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Tansy has to make a fight or flight decision that she can't win either way.

While this book is a sequel of sorts, the time that has elapsed between the two makes this tale quite different from the first, and though readers might like to have a look at Backpack as well, there is no compulsion to do so. This is written as a stand-alone story that requires absolutely no knowledge of what happened previously, and indeed the Tansy here is almost unrecognisable from the Tansy back then.

At times, I felt like I was reading a diary rather than a work of fiction. This book seemed so much more autobiographical than some of the author's other works, and having read some of the articles she's written about her own travel experiences (including those researching this book) there are marked similarities.

This was an excellent book from the start, but I thought the ending came too abruptly. Tansy gets into quite serious trouble towards the end, and after the rather indulgent, leisurely start to her trip, I thought the 'exciting' part was a little too rushed in comparison. The writing is so good, and you lose yourself in it so quickly, that I honestly wouldn't have minded a longer than average text – I just wanted more, more, more.

This niggle aside, this is a book that will not disappoint Barr's many loyal followers. It is just the right mix of family drama, personal crises and travelogues. The many descriptions of India are vivid without being tiresome or tedious, and manage to paint a picture that is intriguing and doesn't seem too glossed over without making it appear so bad you cannot believe Tansy would have stayed.

A perfect book to escape with on a crisp autumn day when the heat of India seems a whole world away.

Thanks, as always, to the publishers for sending us this title.

The Sisterhood by Emily Barr which we also reviewed, similarly scores highly in the eyes of the Bookbag, and takes place a little closer to home, set between London and France. For more on India itself, consider a peek at The Elephanta Suite.

Booklists.jpg The Life You Want by Emily Barr is in the Bookbag's Christmas Gift Recommendations 2009.

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