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Can you canoe?
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.