Book Review: No Baggage: A Tale of Love and Wandering by Clara Bensen
Travel memoirs aren’t big on my ‘to read’ list, but this one had a cute cover and an interesting premise, so I thought I’d give it a go. Am I happy I did? Well…
Let me start with the premise. Clara’s new boyfriend, Jeff, invites her to go on a vacation to Europe with him. But there’s a catch. He insists they go on this holiday with no firm accommodation bookings, and more alarmingly for Clara, no luggage.
Yep, the idea is they rock up to the airport and jump on a plane to Turkey wearing only the clothes on their backs. Don’t think there’s any cheating with carry-on bags or huge backpacks either. Clara’s allowed only the essentials in one small handbag. And Jeff’s so strict on this rule, even toothpaste isn’t considered essential.
See, sounds interesting! I was thinking endless fun descriptions of foreign countries, enough to give me the travel bug, along with some screwball comedy and a little romance (Jeff and Clara’s relationship is quite new).
I would have loved that book.
I didn’t get that book.
Yay for Bensen finding herself by travelling with Jeff and indulging in some public therapy by writing this memoir, but instead of empowering or inspiring me, it feels like she’s transferred her depression over to me. I did finish the book, but only just. Reading this made me feel like I was stuck in the corner with a ‘me generation’ twenty-something girl who has suffered no real crises during her short life, yet wants to impart upon me her intellectual ideas on the meaning of life (all aided by her brilliant university education) at a party where I’d be just happy to dance and get drunk.
Even the premise isn’t as adventurous as one first imagines. The couple only go for three weeks (not so long without washing your hair! like camping really!) and they do take money, so emergency accommodation, clothes and other essentials can be bought if desired.
Instead of fast paced and fun, I read about the years she was so paralysed with some kind of fear/depression (for no particular explained reason other than being an ex-home schooled high achiever with parents that were madly religious at one time) that she couldn’t even get out of bed.
Going out in the world again does happen though, and she meets Jeff on an internet dating site. I find this odd. You’re just learning to cope with society and life in general, so you throw yourself to the mercy of an internet dating site?
Anyway, I could have perhaps enjoyed this book much more if it wasn’t for Jeff. I really want to slap Jeff (which is awful because he’s a real person). I feel like he would drive me mad in real life. He’d be one of those people I’d need to avoid, should I give in to temptation to tell him he’s an idiot.
Not only does Jeff come across as totally immature on the page, he also reads controlling. (Yes, he’s the survivor of a bad marriage, but that hardly makes him a special snowflake these days.) Everything on this trip has to be done his way, and when it’s not he either walks off in a huff or gives Clara the silent treatment for hours upon end. And I really wish I had never read about his public sex kink (or Clara’s menstrual issues). Still, Clara insists, in length, that Jeff is exactly what she needed after her breakdown. Her seriousness was evened out by his spontaneity, or something or other.
Perhaps this book would have worked for me if Bensen had turned her story into a fictional novel (with that little bit of comedy and romance), because I can’t complain about the way she writes per se. I also think someone younger than I am might love this book with a passion. Most of the time Clara and Jeff’s ‘adventures’ simply made me feel old and staid and I felt like I wasn’t ‘getting it’.
There might be lots of people out there that adore this book, but I am old, and impatient, and cranky, so I’m giving the book a 2/5.