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Tries to be realistic, but is sometimes just cynical
on 25 August 2008
Tim Parks has a habit of writing on subjects I'm fascinated by - Italy, football, education - so it's a bit odd that I tend to find his books hard-going and uninspiring. A Season in Verona seemed to me the work of a man who had no real enthusiasm for football, and Italian Neighbours reads like the diatribe of a bitter foreigner against a Veneto suburb and its inhabitants.
I believe Parks is trying to write an antidote to those travel books that come over all misty-eyed about sunsets in Tuscany, and so on - and I'm all for that. But there's no balance here: the book goes into considerable detail (it is 30-40% overlong) about the numerous petty annoyances of life in Italy, but has very little to say about what makes the Veneto, or its people, interesting. As one reviewer says below, Parks can be quite cruel, and often snobbish, about people who seem to be trying to be friendly towards him - this book is about his friends, but you suspect they're not friends with him now. At the same time, he has almost nothing to say about his wife, which is an odd balance, or lack of it.
Finally, there are a few stylistc quirks that make Parks an occasionally annoying read. He has a thing about starting sentences with verbs, such as 'Starts the author sentences with verbs often in this book', though that's a personal gripe. More importantly, he repeats the same observations time and again, particularly when describing people, so that he reduces them to a caricature. I think it's meant to be funny. So he lives opposite a woman who sweeps her patio with a broom every night? Great, but don't tell me 58 times in 200 pages.
There are some interesting chapters, especially those on cemeteries, bribery and the three types of job in Italy. But ultimately this book is what happens when you aim at realism and hit cynicism instead.