Wednesday, January 19, 2005

tim parks and matthew kneale

I recently read Tim Parks's 'Cara Massimina', which was the kind of book which demanded a one-sitting read, which it got. I started reading it shortly after breakfast on Saturday morning and finished it (some other tasks having necessarily interceded) late that same evening. Most of Parks's books demand a similarly intense burst of concentration, because they are books which need inhabiting, exhibiting such a strong voice that to dip in and out is disorientating.

His later books, notably 'Europa' and 'Destiny' are scrupulously and intimidatingly exact, and all his fiction that I have read ('Goodness' and 'Shear' making up the list) simmers with malice. Not that he is a bloody writer, merely one who has done exceptionally well at voicing thoughts which burrow well below recognition. Which is not to say - I hasten to add - that I feel unduly sympathetic to the psychopathic behaviour of Morris Duckworth, the central character of 'Cara...', who buries himself into Italian life with the ferocity of a surgeon scalpel-ing his way into a ribcage.

Nevertheless, Parks is the most under-rated novelist going, to my mind, and I note ruefully that he is reading from his new novel, 'Rapids' at the Royal Festival Hall on March 2nd. Alas, it is a date which I can't make. I heartily recommend it to any London based readers, however. And anyone who finds Parks's style excessively feverish will be soothed by the fact that Matthew Kneale, who wrote a magnificent, hugely entertaining (and deservedly popular) book, 'English Passengers' in 2001, reads from his new novel there too. Sounds like a brilliant night.

1 comment:

jonathan said...

I should add, if anyone is tempted to get started with Parks, 'Europa' and 'Destiny' are probably the best way in. 'Cara Massiminia', while hugely entertaining, is a much lighter book than he normally writes. If you like the sound of his darker impulses, try 'Goodness', which is, amongst other things, as good a book about the 80s as you'll read. 'Shear' is dense and brilliant, but largely about the Italian stone machine manufacturing industry :-)

He's written plenty of witty and insightful non-fiction about Italy, too, all of which suggests that he is reassuringly free of sociopathic instincts himself.