Europa Paperback – 1 Jan. 1998
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Sheer enjoyment... Doffing his hat to Joyce and Beckett, Parks really hits his stride, Mail on Sunday
The best thing about Europa is the voice Tim Parks conjures up: Marlow's wry, defeated reason keeps you turning the pages... A forlorn but seductive voice, reminding us that it is far easier to unite a sprawling continent than the few cubic metres that contain a human soul, Sunday Times
The triumph of the work is its discomforting portrayal of an agile mind hampered by the twin shackles of longing and disgust... Europa is that rare beast, a book which demands and withstands a second reading, Daily Telegraph
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Even though this is brilliantly rendered and reads with perfect and timely pitch, it can feel overwhelming. Many of his books use this relentless internal consciousness and do succeed in pulling off what must be a bit of a writing nightmare (to turn oneself into someone else in successive books!) Parks does it brilliantly - in at least two other fictions I can think of off-hand - the above named Judge Savage, and in Shear (also one of my favourite books).
Also aboard the Eurocoach is the woman with whom Jerry had a recent and torrid affair. (to some extent this relationship balances the sexism since she's largely been the one in charge here) But it's not over for her, and it's not over for him, however hard he tries to fight it. A tragedy lies in wait at the heart of this book. It is deeply involving, unexpectedly sad, discursive, sometimes sharply erotic, at other moments challenging and moving.
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.
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.
Top international reviews
Marlowe, 45, is a Brit and a foreign language translator in Italy. He joins a delegation of foreign language teachers and students from Milan who travel on a bus to Strasbourg to protest against the discrimination against foreign instructors who aren't permitted to be granted tenure. Marlowe could care less about the cause but is pulled to join because of his "Glen Close / Fatal Attraction" pursuit of a former lover who dumps him to have an affair with a colleague. The story takes you on the bus ride and back...
Here's a paragraph that gives you a taste of what's to come:
"Except that this in turn reminds you that her name on the contrary, her Christian name her surname her second name her daughter's name her home phone number her work phone number her address her bra-size her birthday her saint's day her daughter's birthday her necklaces her earrings her bracelets her brooches her ankle-bracelets her shoe-size her complete wardrobe her favorite drinks pastas meats and sweets her brands of perfume of deodorant of cigarettes of tampons of chewing gum, and a thousand other details are things you will never be permitted to forget. You will never be permitted to forget them. So that on more than one occasion, having got the phone down on some nameless tottie, I have found myself dialing her automatically, without even being aware of it. 045, it begins, it began, for Verona, for my age. Then I stop."
If you enjoyed this book, run out and buy Park's fantastic new novel: "Cleaver."
If you open yourself up to the book however, it is quite the reward, especially those interested in different concepts of Europe and are willing to consider different layers. And for me: if you consider how the mind works, not always as rational as we would like it be, I find the first person narrative the most convincing character portrayal I have seen.
In short: the story is about a group of foreign language professors in italy, who travel by means of a modern coach to
Strassbourg to plee for equal treatment and pay by their University (loosely based on a true story). Many will find Her to be a
symbol for Europe, but I feel this is an understatement as she only represents a kind of positive side of Europe, where the book is hardly positive at all which those of you familiar with the name Jeremiah can imagine, so keep an open mind. Also don't think the book will be boring or only about Europe: mainly you will follow an amusing quest for conquering beautifull young women on the surface, as the bus is full with students.
Anyway, "Europa" is a musing on the intellectual superiority of the narrator, Jerry Marlow, a contract lecturer at the university in Milan, and the stupidness of everybody else. At first, his criticism is directed at his wife and just-turning-18-years-old daughter, whom he regards as stupid. Then, he mulls over his affair with a younger, also married, lecturer, and the wild sex they had while discussing Great Philosophy. Marlow regards himself as the daddy figure to this younger woman, guiding her reading and thinking, and providing her a chance to cogitate at his higher level. Then, he discovers, because he has been so clever in giving her a naughty turn of phrase from a historical quotation, that she has been unfaithful to him sexually, as well as intellectually, by passing on the quotation, which he discovers, to a stupider, also married, but less sexually proficient, colleague; so, he hits her; on different occasions; repeatedly. He feels bad about this, but blames his "incorrigible" romanticism. His conscience diverts from examination of hitting the woman he loves and turns to a rumination on the word "incorrigible" and the consolation that she told him he was better in bed. He learnt nothing, except that he feels sorry for himself, because the pattern of abuse is "irremediable", meaning he can no longer enjoy various sexual perversions while lecturing, which is just as well, because, in the end, when he must give a speech to a committee of the European Parliament, despite his hungover and drugged haze, he steals his mistress' idea, which he thinks is stupid, and gives a humdinger of a speech, and the committee members fail to appreciate how stupid the idea is, because they are stupid and he has argued so well, and yet, through this experience, he comes to appreciate that his mistress is stupid, too. Unbelievably, at the end, the mistress throws herself at him again. He is, it turns out, irresistible.
Another reviewer mentioned one of the book's better moments, a dinner party on a hot night with Marlow, his wife and daughter, the alcoholic, womanizing Welsh lecturer with mutton chops, Vikram Griffiths, and Griffith's young son. Marlow is trying to call his mistress to arrange their next assignation, but cannot get through. Griffiths is chatting up Marlow's daughter. Marlow's wife and the boy play Legos together on the floor. The wife is annoyed by the awful Griffiths and is kind to the boy. Marlow has sex with her afterward. Was that her reward? The author believes that Marlow's sexuality, like his professed smarts, is a gift to womankind, Europa.
I read this awful book, because I thought there was a good sex scene in it, somewhere. Boy, was I disappointed. In future, I will stick to supermarket romances or Dostoevsky.
I finished this book, because I could not believe the author meant to take Marlow seriously. I kept expecting a twist that would undermine the hero's conceit. It never came. Instead, in the last chapter, the author allowed that the "perversities of the mind are best not discussed". Too late.
Having written this, I read David Gates' New York Times review. He agrees with me. He must not be stupid.