Magazine article The Spectator

A Good Baker's Dozen

Magazine article The Spectator

A Good Baker's Dozen

Article excerpt


by Tim Parks

Secker. 14.99. DD. 184

Tim Parks is a writer who has earned our careful attention. He is the author of two successful books on his life in Verona, has translated Italo Calvino and has done a couple of thrillers. His latest novel, Europa, was on the Booker short-list. He could clearly, if he chose, write an epic poem, a history, the Chancellor's next budget speech, pretty well anything.

So what is he up to now? He tells us in a prefatory note:

My hope when I began work on these odd hybrids was ... to dramatise an intimate relation between reflections that are timeless and the ongoing stories of our lives.

It was an attempt, he says, `to evade the distinction between narrative and essay'.

The book consists of 13 pieces, with titles such as 'Fidelity' or 'Maturity', and Parks begins and ends with adultery. The first tale reflects on the excitement of destruction and its aftermath:

In a chaos of receding floodwater, Alistair surveys his rearranged landscape. He has the kids alternate weekends, eats regularly with his family. Sometimes it's hard to tell whether they're senarated or not.

In the last piece, 'Analogies', the progress of an affair is compared with that of Verona football club, which Parks and his adulterous friend support. `If Verona could beat Milan, there was always hope. "Perhaps it'll go to penalties," he said.'

The pieces on adultery and another piece called 'Destiny' are effectively short stories and work very well. The remaining pieces are essays attached to events in Parks' life - a walk in the hills with his children, a long car journey, the final illness of his father, tidying a room, and so on. He reflects on ghosts, on Europe, on charity, on reflection - `reflection is not encouraged, I reflect'.

In `Rancour,' Parks meets V. S. Naipaul at a literary lunch and finds him charming but then says:

What was most evident was how much he was revelling in the buzz of recognition, a god listening to the chatter of human worship. …

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