Con­so­la­tions of

The Server

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Peter Craven

By Tim Parks Harvill Secker, 278pp, $32.95

TIM Parks is one English nov­el­ist who yields noth­ing to the Euro­peans in terms of stylis­tic in­ten­sity and the will­ing­ness to per­sist with a theme or de­sign even if it runs the risk of dis­si­pat­ing read­abil­ity. He was once ac­cused of ape­ing the great Thomas Bern­hard, the Aus­trian nov­el­ist who used a tex­ture of rep­e­ti­tion and pat­tern­ing to Shake­spearean ef­fect.

So rich­ness of the ef­fect, artis­tic se­ri­ous­ness and high am­bi­tion are what we go to Parks for. He is also an English­man who lives in Italy, at home in the vicin­ity of an­cient master­pieces, and he uses the fact he is a writer’s writer to purge him­self of charm school Bri­tish­ness.

He is not Sa­muel Beck­ett’s ghost, nor was meant to be, but Parks some­times seems de­lib­er­ately to write an English that finds the lan­guage’s strengths in its lim­i­ta­tions. The up­shot can be mar­vel­lous caverns of tonal con­sis­tency, po­etic in their very bare­ness, but it’s easy to stop read­ing the sort of Parks novel that beats the one bright idea to a pulp.

This is not true of Teach Us to Sit Still, his re­cent non­fic­tion but un­fal­ter­ingly drama­tised ac­count of how he started out with pains in his balls and ended up in Bud­dhist med­i­ta­tion. It is a lu­mi­nous won­der of a book about a spir­i­tual jour­ney that is a clas­sic of its genre.

His new book, The Server, is Bud­dhist with­out the dazzle. It’s os­ten­si­bly fic­tion and it has God’s plenty of the old Parks re­lent­less­ness so that some­times we want to scream at the veg­eta­bles chopped in the Bud­dhist re­treat to­gether with ev­ery last re­it­er­ated piety about the self as an il­lu­sion, the phan­toms of crav­ing and at­tach­ment, all that lat­ter-day hip­piedom that an ag­nos­tic world aban­dons its mind to.

All of which is un­fair to a great re­li­gion and to Parks’s im­pres­sive and in­ter­mit­tently en­gross­ing ad­ven­ture story about a young girl who goes deep into the enig­mas of the self to find the Lord knows what.

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