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VINE VOICEon 31 July 2005
An interesting, if somewhat contrived, look at the interaction of the private, the public, the political and the global.
Parks uses a kayaking holiday in the Alps (his customary descriptive flair and undoubted love of Italy are very much to the fore, even in those passages where arcane, specialised terminoolgy cannot be avoided) to portray a group of disparate characters, several of them coping with various forms of trauma, with the effects of global warming and the anti-globalisation movement thrown in for good measure.
There are occasions when the use of the rapids as a metaphor for the turbulence in life and the need for co-operation among the members of the group seem a little contrived, but the variations in the characters in the group help to carry the plot and the book ends with a faint glimmer of hope in the form of romantic love.
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on 9 September 2009
This is an intriguing read by an adventurous writer, who seems to have his finger on the pulse of the times. A group of people have signed up for a canoeing course in the Tyrolean mountains. Along with a group of teenaged boys and two girls there are assorted instructors and canoeing aficionados of differing abilities. The main instructor is Clive, who is a peace activist and environmentalist, when he's not teaching people how to read the rivers of Europe, along with his attractive Italian girlfriend Michela. Our main narrator is Vince who is on the course with his teenaged daughter, Louise. Vince has only recently taken up white-water canoeing - his wife, Gloria, was an instructor, but she has died and Vince, whose banking career has begun to pall, is still grieving.

The account of white-water canoeing is, at times, hair-raising as the more qualified people take on difficult traverses in swollen rivers, but the main focus is on the relationship of Clive and Michela; Vince watches their love affair falter and is, rather predictably, attracted to the beautiful Michela. Vince's experience on the river, however, is, literally, life-changing as he slowly becomes reconciled to Gloria's death.

Tim Parks handles the large set of characters well and they do come alive on the page. As someone with an extreme aversion to life-threatening sports, I found it surprisingly easy to identify with the characters. This book has satisfying emotional content as well as exciting depictions of the rigours of white-water canoeing.
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on 3 May 2007
This book is probably the single most extraordinary novel I have ever read. Parks deploys English in a completely unique way, creating a gloriously broad canvas of characters embarked on a kayak trip in Northern Italy. They are carried down a ferocious river in a truly splendid torrent of words and images. A widowed banker, a would-be revolutionary, a crippled teenager and half a dozen others, find themselves facing the implacable natural threats of rapids and whirlpools, as well as the challenges of being human in a world whose complexity and disparate demands might well swallow the lot of them whole. More than a mere metaphor, however, Parks brilliantly recreates the river for the reader. He makes you feel what it's like to fight your way through the cold and danger, and the sheer thrill of pitting wits and strength against nature. At the heart of the book a story of love emerges and in the end it is the unstoppable flood of human passions that drives this wonderful book.
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on 30 September 2015
I didn't think I would finish this book. To begin with, it bored me livid. Too many characters, interacting with no apparent reasoning, no plot to speak of ... too many of the younger characters also annoyed me; childish, too similar. Even some of the adults were hard to distinguish against. You often thought to yourself: which is that one again?

It isn't until quite far into the book that you realise there isn't a plot as such, more of an interaction between characters, and what occurs during the rapid rafting week they meet up for. When you can accept that you are just following the tensions of the young and old, the widowed and the problematic relationships, you begin to relax into the story more. Especially when most of the characters bugger off home and you are left with a more central figure to follow.

In hindsight, this isn't a bad novel, just a poorly conceived one. It is difficult to read at first because of the lengthy paragraphs, the lack of speech marks to distinguish dialogue.

I think it deserves another read to truly contemplate what Parks was trying to do. The whole green peace, look after the world, global warming themes are interesting, especially as he covers every base - not siding with any argument.
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on 17 April 2014
I am a kayaker. I've been paddling for about four years, including rivers near where this book was set, in the Alps. I found the jargon contrived, the characters wooden and the lack of punctuation unforgivable. Punctuation is there to SMOOTH our ride through the reading process; to allow the story to appear, not to highlight the act of reading (or writing). In fact, I read nearly a quarter of the book and gave up in exasperation, not caring at all what happened to the characters.
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Interesting story but there were too many superfluous characters (13 in total). This along with the author's total lack of any inverted commas round the conversations made it difficult to say who was saying what to whom. I'm not sure if this is some new trendy style of writing, but it doesn't work for me. I say "Bring back punctuation!"

There were also too many loose ends at the end of the story ( but I appreciate that many people don't mind that).
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