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Emily Barr, Author . Plume $13 (310p) ISBN 978-0-452-28293-3

Giving the tired single-girl school of fiction a much-needed shot in the arm, Barr concocts a stylish, astringent antidote to the usual sugary fare. Liberated by her alcoholic mother's death, Tansy Harris plans a yearlong tour of Asia with her off-again-on-again boyfriend, Tom. When he backs out, Tansy decides that traveling solo will be fabulous: she will meditate, she will do yoga, she will develop a new cosmopolitan persona. Of course, her journey does not go as planned. The Asia that Tansy finds is impoverished, malodorous and unfashionable—not at all like the Asia she has seen in travel magazines. Disappointed and lonely, she befriends a group of backpackers, a species of traveler she disdains for their lack of style (as the title suggests, this attitude will be dramatically revised). These nomads help Tansy to understand and enjoy her surroundings; they also lead her to a delightful new man named Max, although Tansy regards her tryst with him as a holiday fling. Tom is her true love—never mind that Max is generous and loving while Tom is nasty and self-absorbed. This tangle gives the novel a romantic spin, but it also prods Tansy into some much-needed introspection. There is a murder mystery thrown in, which could be intrusive but is intriguing and deftly woven into the plot. While tragedy never overburdens the story, Tansy's reliance on alcohol and drugs is candidly depicted, as is her unhappy relationship with her mother. Caustically hilarious and very entertaining, the novel carries emotional impact without schmaltz and rises above the usual Britpop fluff. Barr's is a welcome new voice. (Jan.)

Forecast:This debut was a bestseller in Britain, and word of its charms should spread quickly.

Reviewed on: 11/05/2001
Release date: 12/01/2001
Genre: Fiction
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