Author: Helen Dinmore
Published In: Overland
Date: Autumn 2011
Have you ever felt alone? Have you ever felt like you were the only person who could see outside the box, through the glass to what the world was really like? Have you ever felt unplugged?
These are the questions presented in Helen Dinmore’s Unplugged, a short story featured in the March edition of Overland.
It tells the story of a jaded traveller who seeks more in her travels but has reached the grim realization that more, or even a genuinely foreign experience is impossible. The unnamed traveller begins the story with her boyfriend Adam as the pair spend their time in Thailand watching Hollywood movies, in particular The Matrix. As the piece moves on the unnamed traveller has left her boyfriend but is still in Thailand: bored with her experience, but too apathetic to leave, too resigned to the fact she has seen it all and gotten nothing real in return.
It is impossible not to draw comparisons between Unplugged and Alex Garland’s The Beach. Both are set in Thailand and both involved a weary traveller seeking genuine, out of the ordinary experience. The difference is that Dinmore’s piece is more sardonic and more apathetic. Her narrator craves the authentic Thailand but is too weary to find it. If Richard had ever met Dinmore’s unnamed traveller chances are he would never have gone to the beach; he would have packed his things and travelled right on home to England.
Dinmore’s presentation of this apathy is what makes the short story so captivating. For a running inner commentary the piece is seamless, as time and thoughts run from one bland experience to the next. It’s paints a startlingly realistic picture of the drawbacks of experience and the limitations of expecting to buy it, in such a spoilt, western fashion. Even more clever are the segue of The Matrix films which bonds different times of experience together and links it cleverly to reality or being ‘unplugged’ in the movie. It is this ironic idea, of a movie presenting the metaphor for reality, that makes Dinmore’s unnamed traveller so realistic, so like us and her disappointment in her travels so familiar.
Unplugged is not really a haunting story. And at the end of it there is no resounding message to take from it, much like the travels that the narrator has been taking. All that is left is the vague realisation that in this kind of spoilt malaise, you, weary traveller, are not alone.