Classic travel quest – the pursuit of happiness – explored by a brilliant writer seeking to rediscover the idyllic moment of her student years, its carefree rhapsodies and perfect pleasures.
Decca Aitkenhead was a student at Manchester University in the early 1990s at the birth of Manchester Cool, the club scene, the easy mix of music and sexuality and Ecstasy. Ten years on she wanted to see where that had gone, where clubbing had moved to and whether, years after The Beach had not merely been discovered, written about and filmed, happiness was still to be found. Pursuing a classic traveller’s purpose – the search to rediscover a perfect moment of bliss – she set out on a thoroughly contemporary journey that linked downtown Detroit with the townships outside Cape Town, beatnik San Francisco with Thailand’s New Moon Rave. Her journey in search of the great transcendent moment – the perfect E – is, in turns, touching and comic, full of unintended encounters with trippers of all kind and spiked with genuine drama. When she finds herself staring down the barrel of a pistol in the hands of a dealer who is neither sober nor sane, she recognises that she has travelled a very long way from transcendence indeed. The success of her quest is both sudden and unexpected and fleeting – a testament to her resilience and good-natured endurance. And it comes oddly close to home – a traveller’s irony. Her account is both visionary and full of subtle optimism: It’s a round-the-world account for those jaded by tales of Essex nightclubs transported to Goa. In the tradition of all noble adventurers, she remains faithful to the idea that happiness is out there to be rediscovered.