It’s been over a year since my backpacking adventure last Spring but it’s something I think about often. With summer making its slow bloom with longer days, increasing temperatures and occasional sunny spells (this is England after all) I thought this was a great time to read this book. I was drawn in by the travel theme in the hot climes of Australia and that is what I got, with plenty of drama besides.
In Red Dirt, three young Irish people have come to Australia in search of fun, escape and the chance to earn some money. Moving from hostel to hostel and making friends every step of the way, it seems at first glance an ideal way to live.
Simple work, carefree nights filled with easily available drink and drugs and little responsibility are fun at first, but the hedonistic days have consequences for all the young people in the end.
One spoilt young man allows a drunken argument to escalate to fatal violence, another young man is left for dead by those he thought were friends, and a young lady puts herself in a dangerous situation when she runs out of money.
I liked how the book was separated in three to tell the tales of the three main characters but their stories also subtly cross over at times. As the characters all face very different journeys around the harsh landscape of Australia, this novel highlights the darker the side of backpacking. The self-destructiveness of over-indulgence with drugs and alcohol, the shady characters you meet on the road and the people that can so callously take advantage of vulnerable individuals.
There is a lot of drug use in the book and where the stories are told from a first-person perspective, the chaotic feelings from the drug use times a stressful situation were emphasized in the speech which made for a more authentic and gritty story.
This book is far from doom or gloom though. There are characters that show that humanity can be good (I loved Samaritan couple Geoff and Dorothy), a great sense of place with the wild Australian outback and so much potential for all the hopeful travellers living their very own adventure.
Even though some of the characters aren’t inherently likeable, there is a pressing quality to their stories that keeps you engaged and genuinely interested in what happens to them. With forceful dialogue and pages of drama, Red Dirt is a compelling read perfect for the long hot summer days - when they eventually arrive!