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.