Cover image for Are you experienced?
Are you experienced?
Sutcliffe, William, 1971-
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Publication Information:
New York : Penguin Books, 1999.

Physical Description:
233 pages ; 20 cm
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The hilarious international bestseller about a young man's misadventures in India.

Liz travels to India because she wants to find herself. Dave travels to India because he wants to get Liz in bed.

Liz loves India, hugs the beggars, and is well on her way to finding her tantric center. Dave, however, realizes that he hates Liz, and has bad karma toward his fellow travelers: Jeremy, whose spiritual journey is aided by checks from Dad; Jonah, who hasn't worn shoes in a decade; and Fee and Caz, fresh from leper-washing in Udaipur. . . .

With refreshing honesty and a healthy dose of cynicism, William Sutcliffe offers a transatlantic, nineties version of On the Road that intrepid travelers and confirmed stay-at-homes will enjoy in equal measure.

"Very, very funny."-- The Times (London)

"A laugh-out-loud novel."-- Marie Claire

"Hilarious . . . Sure to be a favorite with young world-travelers on the road in search of their identity."-- Publishers Weekly

"Raucous, irreverent, and dead-on funny."-- Kirkus Reviews

Author Notes

William Sutcliffe is the author of Concentr8 and two previous English bestsellers, New Boy and Are You Experienced? When he is not working on his novels, Sutcliffe, writes for a number of British newspapers and magazines.

(Publisher Provided) William Sutcliffe was born in 1971 in London, England. He was educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. His novels include Are You Experienced? , New Boy, The Love Hexagon, Bad Influence, Whatever Makes You Happy, Circus of Thieves and the Raffle of Doom, Circus of Thieves on the Rampage, and Concentr8.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

This novel, already a best-seller in England, is an intelligent, funny, and entertaining coming-of-age and road-trip tale. When David Greenford agrees to spend three months backpacking through India with Liz, it's mostly because he's hoping things will progress romantically between them. Once in India, and faced with the intense heat, poor accommodations, questionable food, and Liz's tyrannical personality, Dave begins to wish he had never agreed to go. To make matters worse, Liz meets up with a group of bizarre hippie backpackers and soon runs off with a tantric yoga teacher, abandoning Dave altogether. It turns out, though, that being dumped by Liz is the best thing that could have happened to him. Once free of her, he learns to get by alone, gains an appreciation and understanding of India, and discovers in himself a level of independence and confidence he didn't know he was capable of. A cynical, comical, and candid portrayal of late adolescence, independence, sex, drugs, and backpacking through a Third World country. --Kathleen Hughes

Publisher's Weekly Review

David Greenford, the skeptical British narrator/hero of this breezy novel, just wants to sleep with Liz, his best friend's girlfriend, but winds up spending three harrowing and thrilling months backpacking in India the summer before starting university. The best friend, James, brags about his upcoming arduous trip to various Third World countries and once he departs, David and Liz become uneasy friends and quasi-lovers, planning their own journey to India. Once there, David's charming dorkiness clashes with Liz's hunger for the hip authenticity of tourist culture. Sutcliffe provides a little too much of their repetitive quarreling, but at moments these squabbles are hilarious. When Liz falls for Jeremy, a rich, self-righteous poseur, David is annoyed but takes "J's" advice to travel from Delhi to Manali, where pot is cheap and plentiful. Jeremy shows up there, too, directing everyone to the "real" India, complaining about the "two-week" tourists who ruin India for honest, caring travelers like himself. David finds decent company with an Anglo-Indian named Ranj, who's running away from his wealthy, prominent family. Meanwhile, Liz ditches David to join an ashram, and while David is disgusted by Liz's hypocrisy and fed up with her cultish karma-chasing attitude, he's soon confronted by his own folly. Traveling solo, David meets a journalist whose hostile diatribe pinpoints the theory at the heart of the novel: that David is merely on a "poverty-tourism adventure holiday," willfully ignorant of Indian culture and therefore offensive. The real soul-searching follows, along with David's first bout with dysentery, an extravagant week with Ranj and the grateful return to good green England. Sutcliffe's ruthless and scathing skewering of the cult of slumming teens on their life-defining holiday also rings with the genuine twang of excitable, adventurous, vulnerable youth, and is sure to be a favorite with young world-travelers on the road in search of their identity. (July) FYI: Sutcliffe's first novel, New Boy, not published in the States, was a bestseller in England. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One She's acting differently `This seat doesn't go back properly.'     `Of course it does.'     `It doesn't.'     `Look. Let me show you.' I wrestle with the aeroplane seat. It won't budge. `You're right. It's broken.'     She smirks -- in a half-hidden way, which is the most hostile way she could do it. She's hiding it as if to say, `You're a jerk who can't take the fact that I'm laughing at you.' A few weeks ago, she would have grabbed me by the ears, laughed in my face and called me an impotent chauvinist twat. Now she shows me just enough of a smirk to let me know that she's noticed me being an idiot, but that I'm not allowed to share it with her.     `Can we change seats?'     I don't answer. I arrived at the airport on time, checked in (asking specifically for a window-seat), and waited an hour and a half for Liz, who turned up with minutes to spare, and didn't even have any traveller's cheques on her and had to get the whole lot at the airport and there was only one place open and if that had been closed I don't know what we would have done. I'd ... I'd have been travelling to India alone for three months. Or I'd have had to lend her my money for God's sake -- but we would have run out half-way through -- it wouldn't have been possible -- and it's not my job to lend her money. I wouldn't have done it. She had weeks to get herself organized ...     `Can we change seats? You're reading anyway -- you don't need to lean back. I want to sleep.'     She's lying. We've only just taken off, and it's a clear day. There are still excellent views. I specifically wanted a window-seat so that I could see the views -- and I know it's childish, but I love flying, OK? I'm not ashamed of the fact that I enjoy the view from an aeroplane. So maybe I am a bit old for that, but I don't care. I just happen to be interested in it.     `David ...? Are you l istening?'     She glares at me, her features arranged into a look of absolute scorn which says `I dare you to tell me that you just want to see the view. I dare you. Go on, say it. Then it'll be out in the open -- we won't be able to deny -- either of us -- that you are a twelve-year-old in the body of a nineteen-year-old -- that you have no shame about being an absolute prick.'     I'm not being paranoid -- it's all there, written into the curve of her nostrils and the squint.     The most annoying thing is that I wasn't really reading. I was only glancing at my book, and was really looking out of the window. But now she's caught me in the act I can't tell her that I wasn't really reading, because that's exactly what she wants me to say to make me look selfish.     `All right,' I say. `In a few minutes.'     I close the book and pointedly look out of the window to demonstrate that I'm not selfish, and that switching seats is a significant sacrifice. I hear Liz sigh, and out of the corner of my eye, I can see her shaking her head. She's fixed it so that whatever I do, it confirms what she thinks of me.     She hates me. She thinks I'm immature, selfish, bigoted and arrogant. I'm giving her my seat, for God's sake -- at some point, I'm going to want to sleep, and I won't be able to because I've given her the reclining seat -- and she's sitting there shaking her head because I'm selfish. It's outrageous.     I don't understand why it's happened. I don't know what's changed. A few weeks ago, we were best friends -- we were almost in love. Now we're stuck together, heading to India for three months, and she's treating me like a piece of rotten meat. Maybe I am immature, selfish, bigoted and arrogant, but she used to like me. I haven't changed. So I don't see why I should alter my behaviour now, just because she's acting differently. Pure blind fear I had heard the old cliché 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.     Delhi airport was ... it was just taking the piss. That number of people simply couldn't fit into such a small space and not end up eating each other. It wasn't possible. And no one else even seemed to notice that it was crowded.     After queuing for several hours at immigration, we escaped the airport and discovered that it was even madder outside. The minute we were in the open air, several rugby teams of smelly men launched themselves at us and tried to pull us to bits, so that we could send separate limbs to town on different forms of transport. It was disgusting. I felt like I was being mugged. Mugged while inside an oven. And all the guys who were trying to get us into their taxis looked so poor and desperate that I just wanted to go home straight away.     Liz noticed that the other backpackers from our flight had got on a bus, so we breast-stroked through the crowd and clambered in behind them. The engine was already on, and we took our seats, relieved that we had made it in time. The driver pointed angrily at our bags, then at the roof of the bus. I noticed that no one else on the bus had their bags with them, so we got out of the bus and found ourselves back in a different crowd of people, all of whom seemed to be offering to put our stuff on the roof of the bus. I was convinced that they'd steal our rucksacks the minute I turned my back so I tried to climb up myself, but some guy with a red turban on, which gave him the appearance of being the chief bag-putter-on-roofer, pulled me off the ladder and tugged at my bag. I relented, and let him take our rucksacks. I watched him all the way and saw him lash down the bag with a rope. He looked as if he knew what he was doing, and there were several other bags up there already, so I decided that maybe it was all reasonably legal. When he came back down, he started doing a strange upward nodding gesture and saying `munee -- munee'.     `He wants money,' said Liz.     `Why should I give him money? It's his job. I was quite willing to put it up there myself.'     `Just give him some money, for God's sake. I'll get in and grab some seats.'     `I haven't got any money yet, have I? It doesn't exactly look like he takes traveller's cheques.'     `Just give him anything.'     `Like what? A roll of loo paper? Yesterday's Guardian ?'     She ignored me and got on the bus.     `Munee. Munee.'     `I haven't got any.'     `Munee.'     He was beginning to tug at my clothes now, and the crowd of onlookers was closing in.     `Look, mate -- I haven't got any money yet. I have to go to a bank.'     `MUNEE!'     I turned out my pockets to show him that I didn't have any money, and out fell a whole load of English coins. He gave me an evil stare, then bent over to pick up the coins. There was a mini riot while several people scrabbled for the cash, so I sneaked away and got into the bus, hoping that I'd be out of sight before they realized that it was only English money.     During the bag episode all the seats had gone, and Liz was standing somewhere near the back. I went and joined her.     `Just in time,' I said.     Half an hour later, with the bus jammed full of people, the driver started revving the engine.     Half an hour after that, with the bus containing twice as many people as it had when I'd thought it was full, and with the man in the red turban still shouting at me through the window, we crawled out of the airport.     `This is awful,' I said.     `What's awful?' said Liz.     `This. Everything.'     `What did you expect?' she said, with an unforgiving glare.     `Is this what it's meant to be like?'     `I suppose so.'     `This is what we've come for?'     `Yes. It's India.'     `Jesus. I don't believe this.'     I suddenly felt as if my stomach had been filled with pebbles. This was all wrong. I'd come to the wrong place. I hadn't even eaten anything yet, and I felt sick already -- from the heat, the crowds, the claustrophobia -- and pure blind fear.     What the hell had I done? Why had I come to this awful country? I was going to hate it. I already knew. There was no way I could possibly get used to any of this. And now I was stuck here.     This was bad. This was very bad. J After the bus dropped us off, we went to the Ringo Guest-House, which sounded cool, and was the first place mentioned in the Lonely Planet. It was a short walk from the bus-stop, down a side-street.     Not that our route bore much resemblance to what I'd call a street. There was no Tarmac for a start -- just compacted mud which was thick with dust and dotted with green puddles, piles of rubbish and the odd cow-pat. Amazingly, most people were walking around in flip-flops.     I took a good look at the people, and they didn't look anything like the Indians in England. It wasn't that they looked physically different, or even that they were wearing weird clothes. There was something else I couldn't put my finger on that looked completely alien. Something in the way they moved, and in their facial expressions. Whatever it was, it scared the shit out of me. And wherever I looked there were hundreds of them - shouting at each other, or shouting at me to `Take taxi', `Eat best food' or `Make international best rate telephone call' -- all of them jostling past, laughing, chatting, arguing, and generally swaggering around as if they owned the place. * * * The hotel was up a dark staircase, and consisted of a few double rooms positioned off a cramped roof courtyard. A man with a fleshy golf ball growing out of the side of his neck told us that there were no double rooms available, so we'd have to take beds in the dorm. He then led the way up a ladder to a higher corner of the roof, on which a corrugated-iron hut had been built.     The metal walls and roof turned the dorm into even more of an oven than the rest of the country was anyway. The room was crammed with beds, and as my eyes adjusted from the outside glare to the murky dormitory, I could pick out a few depressed-looking travellers lying around on their beds. They all looked so thin and miserable that you could almost have mistaken the place for a prison. A few of them were reading, one was asleep, and a couple were simply lying on their beds staring into space.     This did not look like a bunch of people having fun. Having escaped the insanely frantic streets, we had somehow stumbled on something worse: a kind of morgue like gloom. Although we stood there for what must have been several minutes, no one so much as turned to look at us. Whatever was going to happen to me, I did not want to end up like those people. I wanted to go home.     Attempting to gauge how long I was stuck in India -- to sense what three months really felt like, I suddenly felt dizzy with despair.     `What d'you reckon?' said Liz.     `Grim.'     `Mmm.'     `Do you think we'll get anywhere better?'     `Maybe.'     `We could always ask someone,' I said.     `The people here are bound to think this is the best place, or they wouldn't be here, would they?'     `I suppose so.'     The thought that this could be anyone's idea of the best place in Delhi was depressing beyond belief. Due to the heat, however, wandering around with our backpacks until we found somewhere we liked simply wasn't an option.     Liz fished the guidebook out of her pack, and we saw that there was one other recommended hotel in the area, called Mrs Colaço's. The book described it as `basic, crowded and rather hard on the nerves,' which didn't sound particularly inviting, but it was the only one nearby that was mentioned, so we hauled ourselves through the hot, soupy air towards Mrs Colaço's.     This had a marginally less spirit-crushing atmosphere than Ringo's, and wasn't quite so full of catatonic hippies. Again, there were no actual rooms available, but we gratefully took dormitory beds, relieved to have at last found somewhere to flop. We flopped.     Lying on my hard bed, staring at the ceiling fan, which was rotating just slowly enough to have absolutely no effect on the surrounding air whatsoever, I realized that I had never really been hot before. I mean, I'd had hot skin, in the sun, and I'd got hot from running around, but I'd never had this strange sensation of feeling like a slab of meat cooking from the inside. I genuinely felt full of heat -- as if my limbs and internal organs were huge, half-cooked lumps that I had to carry around with me. And the breath coming out of my nose felt like a miniature hot-air dryer blowing on the skin of my top lip.     How could people live like this? How could a country function in these conditions? How could so much air possibly reach such a temperature without heating up the entire planet?     We couldn't unpack, since there was nowhere to put anything, so once we'd had a good flop, we didn't really know what to do. I had always wondered what travellers did all day -- and now I was sitting on a bed in Delhi, having just arrived, not knowing what to do. We were both too hot and knackered to move, without the will or the courage to go outside and face the reality of being in India.     There was one other person in the room. He was lying on his back with his elbows on the bed and his hands in the air, staring into space. It looked like he was reading a book, except that his hands were empty.     `Hi,' said Liz.     `Peace,' he said.     `Peace,' she replied.     He sat up and gave her a lecherous look.     `What's your name?' said Liz.     `J.'     `J?' I said, in a tone of voice that somehow communicated the instant dislike I'd already taken to him -- an impressive achievement, given that I only had one letter to play with.     `J -- cool,' said Liz, trying to compensate for me.     `What's your real name?' I said.     `My real name?'     `Yeah.'     He had `Public-School Git' stamped all over him.     `J.'     `That's what your parents call you?'     `No. It's short for Jeremy.'     `Right. Sorry, Jeremy. I mean, J.'     `Where are you from, J?' said Liz.     Jeremy chuckled, and gave her a long, meaningful look. She tried to avoid looking confused.     `You haven't ... been here very long, have you?'     Liz forced out a bashful-young-virgin blush. `No,' she said, fiddling with the bedsheet. `We only just landed.'     `I could tell,' he said.     `Maybe it's the airline tags on our rucksacks?' I offered.     He ignored me. `When you've been here ... a few ... months ... you stop asking that question. You begin to belong as much to India as to your native land.'     `Right,' said Liz. `I can imagine.'     `Where are you from, though?' I said.     He ignored me.     `England?' I said. `We're English.'     Reluctantly, he nodded.     `Whereabouts?' I said.     `Oh ... the south.'     `Excellent. So are we. London?'     `No.'     `Which town?'     He was pissed off now.     `Tunbridge Wells,' he said.     `Nice,' I said. `Must freak you out being here. Coming from a rich area like that, I mean.'     `Not any more. Not any more,' he said, looking deep into Liz's eyes.     `How long have you been here?' she said.     He chuckled. `Ohhh -- long enough. Long enough to love it ... and hate it. Long enough to wonder if I can ever go back.'     `What's that -- a week?' I said.     Neither of them was amused.     `D'you get ill much, then?' I said.     `What do you mean by ill?'     He looked at me as if he'd said something devastatingly intelligent.     I looked at him as if he'd said something devastatingly stupid.     `You know -- ill. Delhi belly. The shits.'     `Look -- if you want to survive in this country -- you've got to redefine your terms. Ill means one thing in the West and another thing in the East. An Indian accepts his fate -- it's the West's constant fight against destiny that has created a nation of hypochondriacs. It's all so fleeting -- to me it hardly matters.'     `I see you don't drink the water, though,' I said, nodding at the bottle of mineral water by his bed.     He scowled at me. Liz scowled at me.     `Do you mind if I have a sip, Jeremy -- I mean, J?'     He nodded.     I realized I didn't want to share his germs, so I tried to drink without touching the mouth of the bottle, but it didn't really work, and most of it went down my front. I don't think they noticed, though.     Prompted by Liz, he started spouting off about all the places he'd been to, while she jotted down all his suggestions, muttering things like `Wow, it sounds amazing!', `I don't know if we're brave enough for that,' and `Where exactly do you find the camel man ... ?' After this had gone on for long enough to make me feel nauseous, I asked Liz to step into the corridor for a word.     `Why do we need to go outside?' she said, reluctantly looking up from Jeremy's maps.     `Because I want a word.'     `But ...'     `In private.'     She exchanged looks with Jeremy, and stepped into the corridor with me. Before I had a chance to say anything, she laid into me.     `Why are you being so rude?'     `The guy's an arsehole.'     `There's no need to talk to him like that.'     `Why shouldn't I? He's a prick.'     `If you bothered to talk to him, you'd know that he's actually very nice.'     `Oh, come on ...'     `He is . He's also been here a long time, and has a lot of information which both of us will find very useful.'     `And that's why you're flirting with him, is it?'     `I'm not flirting with him.'     `You are. He's been giving you the eye since the minute you walked in the room, and you're just lapping it up.'     `Oh, give me a break.'     `It's true. That's why I don't like him.'     `Oh, grow up.'     She spun round and returned to the dormitory.     I followed her in and said, `Well you can stay here as long as you like -- I'm going to take a look at the city.'     `Aren't you even interested in this?' she said. `Don't you care where the good places are?'     `I'm absolutely fascinated, Liz. I really am. But there's a world out there to explore, you know. You can't hide from it much longer.'     I strode out, sensing victory, but feeling like a bit of a sad twat. (Continues...)