Tim Parks Criticism - Essay

Jo-Ann Goodwin (review date 17 October 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Ordinary Anguish,” in Times Literary Supplement, October 17, 1986, p. 1168.

[In the following review, Goodwin offers a positive assessment of Loving Roger.]

[In Loving Roger] Anna is a typist at TT, remarkable only for her ordinariness. She lives with her parents, who remain deep in mourning for her brother, Brian, killed in a car crash years ago. Anna's feelings are important to no one but herself. She remains cramped into a tiny box room, Brian's spacious bedroom next door maintained by her parents as a shrine. Her boyfriend, Malcolm, whom she has been seeing since the third year at school, digs up worms from her parents’ garden to use for fish...

(The entire section is 528 words.)

Michael J. Carroll (review date 24 January 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Love-Death of a Typesetter,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 24, 1988, p. 3.

[In the following review, Carroll offers a favorable assessment of Loving Roger.]

“Roger lay on my new blue rug in the corner by the television and the lamp that seemed like it always had the funny orange bubbles rising in it that he hated. But I went to work just as usual.”

Thus begins Loving Roger: Anna at work; Roger lying dead back in her bed-sitter. Anna will do no work today; she will tell us of her affair with Roger, her lover of two years, the father of her child.

In telling this story of love to the death,...

(The entire section is 537 words.)

David Teagle (review date Summer 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Loving Roger, in Antioch Review, Vol. 46, No. 3, Summer, 1988, pp. 390–91.

[In the following review, Teagle offers a positive assessment of Loving Roger.]

This second novel [Loving Roger] by British author Tim Parks opens nonchalantly with a domestic murder, and then winds backwards to examine with careful detail the events that led up to this rather passionless crime of passion. Anna, a typical, ordinary woman who works in a mediocre job as an anonymous secretary and lives with her parents in the shadow of her revered dead brother, falls in love with Roger, a gregarious co-worker with aspirations of being a playwright. The two begin a clandestine affair that is wracked with uncertainty and emotional turmoil on both sides and eventually leads to Anna's becoming pregnant. Having the baby only complicates their already fragile relationship, and a second pregnancy leads to the final, deadly confrontation.

Both Anna and Roger hold fast to their opposing visions of reality, each taken from different ends of the literary spectrum. Anna fantasizes a life drawn from television soap operas and pulp novels, while Roger is equally deluded by “high” art and the romantic myth of the misunderstood genius writer (complete with a death before age 30). Their relationship is a doomed maze of silence, miscommunication, and mistrust, reaching common ground only through sex.

Parks has produced a well-crafted novel laced with wry, sardonic humor, and one that succeeds on each of its many thematic levels: the futility of love, the uneasy juxtaposition of fantasy and reality, and the detachment of writers, unable to refrain from dissecting their lives into art. All this is encased in a chatty, informal style, written in the voice of Anna, which is perhaps Parks's ultimate achievement. The personification of a female voice by a male writer is often a risky venture, but one that comes across here in a vivid, fresh, and most importantly, believable manner.

Richard Eder (review date 16 October 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Naked Tea,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 16, 1988, p. 3.

[In the following review, Eder offers a generally positive assessment of Home Thoughts, which he compares to the fiction of Kingsley Amis.]

“Evasion is paid for” is the moral of Tim Parks’ deceptively blithe novel about a gaggle of British expatriates living, scheming, gossiping and partner swapping in Verona.

In a sense, Home Thoughts is a second-generation Kingsley Amis novel. Its characters are seedy and comical; their intellectual poses mask a schoolboy greediness; their civility is a coat tattered by their own prickles.

In his...

(The entire section is 988 words.)

Peter Reading (review date 26 May–1 June 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Embracing Lunacy,” in Times Literary Supplement, May 26–June 1, 1989, p. 592.

[In the following review, Reading offers a favorable evaluation of Family Planning.]

Frank Baldwin has retired from his job as site-manager for a construction company after years of occupational globe-trotting. He and his wife Brenda are flying home from his last assignment in Algiers to their neglected property on the Lancashire coast, where they intend to settle. With them is their son Raymond. But something is amiss. “Smiling and as if addressing a tiny child, she held a finger over her lips in the direction of this hefty young man her eldest son.” Raymond is a maniac....

(The entire section is 632 words.)

Nicholas Clee (review date 30 August 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Murderous Era,” in Times Literary Supplement, August 30, 1991, p. 19.

[In the following review, Clee offers a positive assessment of Goodness.]

Tim Parks's sixth novel [Goodness] (one was written under a pseudonym) returns to a subject he has explored in earlier books: that of mania lurking just below the surface of suburban lives. Goodness is also the second work of fiction published this year, following Michael Dibdin's Dirty Tricks, to suggest that Thatcherite individualism may contain the seeds of murderous ruthlessness.

George Crawley believes himself to be a good man, and his wife, despite having received a...

(The entire section is 499 words.)

Tim Parks with Michele Field (interview date 6 July 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Tim Parks: The Novelist, an English Expatriate in Italy, Takes a Look at His Neighbors in His First Nonfiction Book,” in Publishers Weekly, July 6, 1992, pp. 35–36.

[In the following interview, Field provides an overview of Parks's life, career, his beginnings as a writer, and his experiences in Italy as recounted in Italian Neighbors.]

“I'd always sworn I wouldn't write a corny book about Italy,” declares Tim Parks. “After all, am I a novelist or am I a novelist?”

He is a novelist. However, Parks also belongs to another old and honored breed: that of expatriate author. And this second calling has led him, indirectly, to write...

(The entire section is 2019 words.)

Christopher Bray (review date 4 September 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Sermons in Stones,” in Spectator, September 4, 1993, p. 27.

[In the following review, Bray offers a positive assessment of Shear.]

A novel about an adulterous English geologist doesn't sound much like a sizzler, but just try putting Tim Parks's Shear down. I would have read it at a sitting were it not for part of the North London Electricity Grid going haywire one evening. Middle-brow fiction doesn't come better than this. The book has many of the ingredients of the thriller: the woman on the vengeance trail, the seductively enigmatic foreigner, the fat and overbearing politician (wonderfully sketched in two lines of dialogue), above all the...

(The entire section is 750 words.)

Nicholas Wroe (review date 10 September 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Following the Fault-lines,” in Times Literary Supplement, September 10, 1993, p. 21.

[In the following review, Wroe offers a positive assessment of Shear.]

Tim Parks is a versatile writer. In addition to translations of Calvino, Moravia and Calasso, he writes for the trade journal of the Association of Italian Stone Machine Manufacturers. In Shear, his sixth novel, the strands of his literary career come together in a powerful and impressive work.

Peter Nicholson is a geologist, sent by his London office to investigate a quarry on a Mediterranean island for his Australian clients. There is a dispute with the quarry owners, and...

(The entire section is 601 words.)

Frank Kermode (review date 4 November 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Dangerous Faults,” in London Review of Books, November 4, 1993, p. 24.

[In the following positive review of Shear, Kermode discusses the development of Parks's fiction in Loving Roger and Goodness, as well as praising his gift for “ventriloquy” and his ability to combine genres in Shear.]

This is Tim Parks's sixth novel. He has also done some serious translation—Moravia, Calvino, Calasso's The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony—and written a lively book about his life in Italy. And now, by way of explaining the highly technical lexicon of Shear, he tells us in an Author's Note that he did ‘years of work for the...

(The entire section is 2111 words.)

Jonathan Yardley (review date 10 July 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “When the Earth Moved,” in Washington Post Book World, July 10, 1994, p. 3.

[In the following review, Yardley offers a positive assessment of Shear.]

In the highest and most laudable sense of the term, the British novelist Tim Parks is a professional writer. In less than a decade he has published six novels and one work of nonfiction; he has also translated, from the Italian, Roberto Calasso's The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony. All of this has been done with uncommon skill and most of it has received critical praise, but with the exception of Italian Neighbors, an idiosyncratic travel book, none of it has made much of a dent on the collective...

(The entire section is 1036 words.)

Jonathan Keates (review date 27 January 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Italian Underbelly,” in Times Literary Supplement, January 27, 1995, p. 22.

[In the following review, Keates offers a positive assessment of Mimi's Ghost.]

Most modern English fiction with an Italian setting has tended to opt for Tuscany or Umbria to furnish suitable backdrops, confident that décor and a few authenticating allusions to works of art and the bloodier vicissitudes of medieval history will do the trick when localizing detail is required. Few of the novelists who use this Chianti-and-frescos formula have ever actually spent long periods in Italy themselves, or sought to investigate the infrastructure of social ritual and traditional...

(The entire section is 617 words.)

Albert Read (review date 28 January 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “So He Kissed Her Older Sister,” in Spectator, January 28, 1995, p. 33.

[In the following review, Read offers a mixed assessment of Cara Massimina, stating that it “teeters between artful construction and lively implausibility.” However, Read finds the novel’s sequel, Mimi's Ghost, “muddled and uninvolving.”]

Tim Parks, besides being a writer, is a part-time English teacher in Verona. He has now written two novels about an English teacher in Verona who elopes with an Italian 17-year-old heiress. He pretends to kidnap her; he claims the ransom, murders her and marries her sister. You can almost see Parks slumped in a sweaty classroom,...

(The entire section is 791 words.)

Christopher Merrill (review date 24 March 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Foreigners in the Family,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 24, 1996, p. 6.

[In the following review, Merrill offers a positive assessment of An Italian Education.]

In his first book of nonfiction, Italian Neighbors, the British novelist Tim Parks chronicled his initiation into the Veneto, exploring the lives of a people less celebrated in literature than Tuscans—and no less eccentric. A signal event for this expatriate was the birth of his first child, and in An Italian Education, the delightful sequel to Italian Neighbors, Parks uses his children's upbringing as a way to “understand how it happens that an Italian becomes...

(The entire section is 926 words.)

Nicholas Wroe (review date 19 July 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Honest, No Pidgin,” in Times Literary Supplement, July 19, 1996, p. 7.

[In the following review, Wroe offers a positive assessment of An Italian Education.]

In an illustrative anecdote early in this study of Italy and the Italians, Tim Parks recalls how the representative of a courier company in Verona once told him that a package could not be picked up from him for forty-eight hours because they were too busy. The reason they were too busy was because they were so fast. “It seems pointless arguing with such logic”, writes Parks, and so instead, in An Italian Education, he has tried to explain it.

Parks, a self-confessed...

(The entire section is 846 words.)

Keith Miller (review date 11 April 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “European Unions,” in Times Literary Supplement, April 11, 1997, p. 26.

[In the following review of Europa, Miller commends Parks's shrewd observations concerning European unification and his evocation of the teaching life, but concludes that the novel's “mazy, paratactic style can easily grate.”]

We are presently slouching towards an election in which the issue of Europe, however little discussed, is bound to arouse bitter passions. Those of a sceptical persuasion may take comfort from this interesting if rather tiring novel, which presents the new Europe as simultaneously a tragedy and a farce.

Europa is a fevered,...

(The entire section is 803 words.)

Penelope Lively (review date 12 April 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “A Coach with a Cargo of Sex,” in Spectator, April 12, 1997, pp. 41–42.

[In the following review, Lively offers a positive assessment of Europa.]

The format of Europa is an exotic gloss on the country-house detective novel—a finite group of characters cloistered together over a prescribed period. Six foreign lectors from Milan University, with an accompanying body of students to lend moral support, are taking a coach trip to Strasbourg to present a petition to the European Parliament over their pay and terms of employment: a sober and mundane background to what is in fact a prolonged howl of anguish, self-reproach and sexual reminiscence by the...

(The entire section is 660 words.)

John Derbyshire (review date 20 September 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “When Love Goes Wrong,” in Washington Post Book World, September 20, 1998, p. 4.

[In the following review, Derbyshire offers a generally positive assessment of Europa, despite the novel's “unsatisfactory ending.”]

Tim Parks is an Englishman who has lived most of his adult life in Italy. Since the publication of his first book 13 years ago, he has toiled away in the vineyards of literature, turning out novels (Europa is his ninth), translations, and essays about Italian life. Long residence abroad has freed Parks from the provincialism that afflicts much current British fiction. He has developed a clear and distinctive voice, which he uses...

(The entire section is 840 words.)

Gabriele Annan (review date 5 November 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Pricks and Kicks,” in New York Review of Books, November 5, 1998, pp. 44–46.

[In the following excerpt, Annan offers a favorable assessment of Europa, which she regards as “a virtuoso tragic-comic tour de force.”]

The novels by Louis Begley [Mistler's Exit] and Tim Parks [Europa], one American, the other English, present a violent contrast in tempo, temperament, and tone, and yet they have a lot in common. The half-hidden theme in both is free will: or rather its absence, which both heroes come to recognize and furiously resent. Both are highly cultivated, well-read, self-aware WASP males exercising their considerable...

(The entire section is 1971 words.)

George Walden (review date 11 December 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Prisons of Desire,” in New Statesman, December 11, 1998, pp. 46–47.

[In the following review, Walden offers a positive assessment of Adultery and Other Diversions.]

“One admires those books,” writes Tim Parks, “whose complexity of content and vision gets closest to the grain of experience.” Hardly original, perhaps, yet the sentiment bears repeating. The grain of experience is of necessity irregular, yet a lot of contemporary writing suffers from an excess of self-regulation, as authors do their best to prove themselves regular guys. So the grain of experience is smoothed or polished away, as truth becomes gunged with sentiment, larded with the...

(The entire section is 709 words.)

Antony Rouse (review date 2 January 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “A Good Baker's Dozen,” in Spectator, January 2, 1999, pp. 30–31.

[In the following review of Adultery and Other Diversions, Rouse recommends the collection for readers already familiar with Parks's writing, but suggests that newcomers to his work should start with Europa.]

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.


(The entire section is 656 words.)

Anita Brookner (review date 28 August 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Signposts Pointing the Wrong Way,” in Spectator, August 28, 1999, p. 36.

[In the following review, Brookner offers a positive assessment of Destiny.]

Facts emerge slowly from the matrix of this excellent novel [Destiny], slowly because its unreliable narrator, Christopher Burton, has to cope not only with the critical condition of his marriage but with various ailments of an intransigent nature. He is in the Rembrandt Hotel, Knightsbridge; he has just enjoyed a very large breakfast—unwise, in view of his recent heart bypass operation—when he receives a telephone call from Italy which informs him that his son has died. The death has taken place...

(The entire section is 864 words.)

Nicholas Fearn (review date 13 September 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Lost in Thought,” in New Statesman, September 13, 1999, pp. 53–54.

[In the following review, Fearn offers a favorable assessment of Destiny.]

The English like their great writers to entertain, and when a great writer's work falls short in this way, they demand that it at least be readily comprehensible. They also know by now where they can stick their preferences when they read a book by Tim Parks. In Destiny he has produced another novel that refuses to compromise, another that could certainly not be called an entertainment, although even in this regard it has its moments. Light reading it is not, and if one did not know better it would be easy...

(The entire section is 603 words.)

Jenny Turner (review date 30 September 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Tucked In and Under,” in London Review of Books, September 30, 1999, pp. 62–63.

[In the following review of Destiny, Turner praises the novel as “a tremendously attractive book,” but finds shortcomings in Parks's “static and solipsistic” evocation of personal crises, particularly those involving dysfunctional families.]

‘Can this beautiful young model be thinking?’ Tim Parks asks at one point in this book [Destiny]. ‘One hopes not,’ the argument continues, as Parks's narrator looks through an airline magazine. ‘You do not think, I thought, seeing pictures of people pleasure-making on the beach, perhaps in an...

(The entire section is 2395 words.)

D. J. Enright (review date 10 August 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Speaking in Tongues,” in New York Review of Books, August 10, 2000, pp. 55–57.

[In the following review, Enright offers a positive assessment of Destiny.]

The opening of Tim Parks's Destiny repays study; it sets the scene neatly, and is the only sustained upsurge of clarity and single-mindedness we shall experience for quite a time:

Some three months after returning to England, and having at last completed—with the galling exception of the Andreotti interview—that collection of material that, once assembled in a book, must serve to transform a respectable career into a monument—something so comprehensive...

(The entire section is 3248 words.)