on 4 January 2002
I was recommending this excellent book to my family over Christmas. My mother knew him as the bloke who keeps writing in The Guardian about that Italian football team, and for my sister he was the author who occasionally appears on Radio 4's 'Home Truths' talking about his children who all have cute Italian names. Strange, because I tend to see him in rather more elevated terms as an acclaimed novelist and translator, champion of writers like Thomas Bernhard, Henry Green and Christina Stead... In this collection the down-to-earth and rarefied versions of Tim Parks come together - incidents in his life are the occasion for witty, perceptive and sometimes erudite analysis that would not quite work on Radio 4 (maybe Radio 3?) There's a great essay about translating Calasso, and a lovely one about a walk with his family in the mountains, and yes there is one at the end about going to watch Hellas Verona, but he's more than just the thinking person's Nick Hornby.
Adultery, versus "the long-haul mechanics of marriage" is the subject which tops and tails this very engaging series of short essays. "Literary essays" said one review, "with all the clarity and sensual detail of great fiction." And I would definitely concur. The touch is light, but not without deeper elements. In his essay on Adultery Parks says: "I suppose what fascinates me about divorce is how tied up it is with our loss, our intelligent loss, of any sense of direction, of any supposed system of values that might be worth more than our own immediate apprehension of whether we are happy or not. We are not ignorant enough to live well, too arrogant to let old conventions decide things for us. Put it another way: for many, and especially for men, I think, who do not bear children and do not breast-feed them afterwards, the only thing that is immediately felt to be sacred, the only meaningful intensity, or the last illusion, is passion."
In another essay, entitled "Rancour," Parks looks back on his early writing years when publication was hard to come by and partly through the lens of an encounter with V S Naipaul, he looks back on his hero-worship of Henry Green and Samuel Beckett. Why is it, he asks, that writing is a phenomenon galvanised by anger. "One day I shall bury you all" he thinks as he leaves the scene of yet another gentle but nonetheless unmistakably discouraging critique at the hands of his nice lady tutor. The seat of this rancour is unmistakably self-seeking, yet forgiveable, far more than the divinity which cannot conceive of a world where his genius would remain unrecognised (as Parks remarks re: V S Naipaul's vapid serenity "few divinities bother to go on manifesting themselves once their supremity is established").
But art is coercive - it rearranges our mental space, imposes a vision. Art is liberating - and it periodically frees us from all previous alliances to take up a new preoccupation. But it is not just one man or woman making the world in his/her own image. It is a vast undertaking to add more than the smallest parenthesis to its rancourous, unsettled and unsettling whole. Still - we go on trying, picking over the dung-heap, ever hopeful.
on 12 May 2001
A bit of a curate's egg this one. The first essay 'Adultery' is very good, but then you have to wade through increasing dross until you get to last four essays all of which are superb. It should have been a smaller book - but when it is good, it is very very good. Parks writes best when it is about his adulterous friends or his father (who would not have dreamt of being unfaithful - to woman or to God). The magic of 'Conformity', in which he tries and fails to work out how to explain to his son that it is wrong to hit his classmate, even if he talks so much it prevents him from listening to the teacher. Or 'Analogies', in which he compares a friend's affair and indecision over whether to leave his wife and children to the antics of the lowly football team they go to watch. Or 'destiny' - on the pain of having to choose between things, and thereby being fated to always feel one is missing out. What better analogy for the desire to be adulterous?!
on 30 May 2013
I enjoy reading Tim Parks work in general, I especially like this book and its honesty.
My favourite chapters are: Adultery; Europe; Maturity and Charity.
It is a book I would recommend anyone to read, perhaps more so someone in their teens, purely as it gives an insight into 'the way of things'.
Highly recommended read anyway.