on 4 January 2005
Jerry Marlow narrates his thoughts and happenings during a bus journey to Strasbourg by Milan-based foreign lecturers and supporting students to air grievances in the European parliament. Marlow is having a bitter, mid-life crisis after marriage
break-up; difficulties with his teenage daughter, and a further break-up with a female student - who is also on the bus-trip.. The undoubted strength of this work is Tim Parks' prose: extremely long sentences set down the cerebral Marlow's jostling and competing thoughts in a challenging, yet highly readable, 'stream of consciousness' narrative.
Aside from Marlow himself, there are a number of other well-drawn and intriguing characters, most notably the trip-organiser, Indian-Welshman Vikram Griffiths. Along the way, Marlow unleashes his criticisms of various issues regarding the new Europe, including the wastefulness and cost of maintaining parliaments in both Brussels and Strasbourg; rivalries and jealousies in the supposed united Europe; the sterility of modern European architecture; communication problems, and pre-Euro currency dramas. Although this material is well-handled and interesting, much of it has been extensively covered in the media and some of the issues already feel a bit dated. Nevertheless, I would strongly recommend this novel primarily for the quality of the writing and the chance to enter the mind of the bitter, troubled and intelligent narrator.
on 3 March 2016
Assuming that you're not put off by the prose style which uses long, rambling, clause-cluttered Proustian sentences, or by the fact that the narrator isn't a particularly likeable fellow, there's an awful lot to enjoy here.
As Marlowe picks over the scabs of his failed relationship with a fellow language teacher, we are treated to a series of perceptive and witty remarks on everything from sex to philosophy to nationality to architecture to language. Wait, I'm making it sound awfully dry and pompous, aren't I? In fact the emotional charge is the book's main strength; the overwhelming sensations of regret and frustration with oneself and the way one behaves in relationships, the way we deceive ourselves about what we see in our partners.
on 5 April 2015
Booker shortlisted, Europa is a ferociously intelligent and witty novel. The brilliantly sustained first-person stream of consciousness narration comes from Jerry Marlow, who – struggling with a mid-life crisis of sorts – finds himself on a coach to Strasbourg with other Milan University staff (including a woman with whom he had recently had an intense affair) to petition the European Parliament about employment rights. Characters are extremely well drawn. You can read this as political satire and/or as a study of excruciating human situations. I was sorry when it ended and am now keen to try out more by this author. Recommendations?