Cleaver, like the fairly similar "Judge Savage" before it, is a wonderful insight into a troubled mind as it tries to evaluate its past. Cleaver, a famous television presenter, escapes into the Italian mountains to live entirely alone for several months after his son releases an "autobiography" of sorts in which he openly criticises every aspect of his father's life before killing him off at the end.
Alone with his thoughts, Cleaver allows his mind to wander through his past, contrasting his son's observations with his own memories and trying to apply his view of life and relationships to the curious family from whom he is renting a dilapidated cottage, high up on a Tyrolese mountain-side.
As he finds the quiet he craved, the noise of his own thoughts become ever more deafening as he dissects his life and tries to come to terms with the death of his daughter, some fifteen years ago, and his own son's apparent hatred of him.
This is a wonderful book. A little unsettling at times. Certainly a difficult read if you have never attempted to read any Tim Parks fiction before; he frequently intersperses dialogue with internal monologue without the punctuation you might expect to help you tell one from the other. It sounds impossible, but it works brilliantly once you get used to it, and helps to maintain the flow and the illusion of seeing into the character's subconscious. Stick with it and you WILL be rewarded.
The subject matter of this novel - a middle-aged famous TV journalist fleeing to a remote Alpine village to escape the pressures of his personal and professional life - sounded so much like a literary luvvy Hampstead set product that I almost put it back on the shelf.
However, I am glad I did not as I found it one of the most interesting books I have read in a long time.
Spoiler. I'm going to mention the plot but as it is not exactly a detective story this should not give too much away.
The main character - fat, bald 55 year-old Harold Cleaver* - is devastated when he reads an autobiographical novel in which his son portrays him as a selfish, phony lecher who never cared about his family and whose callous attitude led to the death of his pregnant daughter.
He is unable to cope with the fallout which occurs at what should have been the highlight of his professional life - an interview with the US President - and he rushes off the South Tyrol area of northern Italy. He aims to cut off all links and isolate himself from the world on top of a mountain.
However, he quickly finds that there is another side to the Alps than Julie Andrews and angelic children singing Edelweiss.
He ends up among the German-speaking community of mountain farmers and forest workers and becomes involved in their complicated Cold Comfort Farm goings-on. He quickly finds himself in a domestic situation that has eerie similarities to the one he has fled.
At first, he keeps wondering how his family and media colleagues are coping with his disappearance back in London but quickly goes to seed, physically and mentally.
This is the best part of the book as he has copes with the harsh environment of blinding snowstorms, freezing cold, plunging gorges with giant icicles hanging from rock faces, while forming new relationships in broken German and reliving his past life through his son's book.
Park obviously knows this part of the world and does a good job of conveying the primitive, pagan element that still exists alongside the Catholicism of Austria, Sud Tyrol and parts of Switzerland.
This is seen in the symbols that reflect the fears of people who have lived for centuries in isolation in a harsh, frightening environment where one wrong turning can lead to being swallowed up by a forest or falling off a cliff - the masks, trolls, grotesque carvings and the underlying mental disorder, incest and alcoholism.
The climax comes when Cleaver confronts his son and has to decide whether to go back or continue with his new life. It is the weakest part of the novel but as it occurs in the last few pages it does not spoil what is otherwise a fine book.
*The cover of my edition presents him as thin with a full head of hair that shows, once again, how publishers' marketing departments seldom actually read the books they are publicizing.
This book follows the journey of a man who at the height of his journalistic career, vilified by his son's newly published semi-autobiographical novel, flees the overwhelming demands of both his public and private lives to find refuge in a remote village in the mountains of the Tyrol. Here he battles with the demons of his past and present while struggling with a semi-hermetic existence on the fringe of a small village community.
This is an engrossing read, the past and present of the main protagonist unravelling before the reader as the characters around him are slowly drawn in more detail. Highly recommend this book; I shall seek out others by Tim Parks.