A spir­i­tual f lirt

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Peter Craven

She has been in the Das­gupta In­sti­tute, a Bud­dhist re­treat house in the British coun­try­side, for nine months, we grad­u­ally dis­cover, try­ing to find re­lease from the hor­rors of ex­pe­ri­ence. The par­tic­u­lar hell she has be­hind her is re­vealed only grad­u­ally but it in­volves be­ing a rock singer who’s in love with an older, mar­ried man, a pain­ter, while en­joy­ing the love of a younger man, a muso. Up against it, she does some­thing reck­less and an­other life, per­haps two, are im­per­illed by her ac­tion.

The mem­ory skele­tons are slowly and ca­su­ally re­vealed. We know a lot of the story from the out­set but cru­cial de­tails trickle out, per­haps like blood from a wound, per­haps from a nat­u­ral bod­ily flow.

Our pro­tag­o­nist works as a server so she pre­pares the lash­ings of veg­e­tar­ian food that the seek­ers af­ter en­light­en­ment wolf down. The novel there­fore has a hell of an in­ter­est in kitchen work, and on the prepa­ra­tion, con­sump­tion and ex­cre­tion of food.

Thank­fully, it also has a more dra­matic hook whereby our hero­ine, a bad girl ac­cord­ing to strict prac­tice, sneaks into a man’s room (the sexes’ quar­ters are sep­a­rate) and reads the di­ary of a trou­bled pub­lisher: his messed=up mar­riage and fi­nances, his at­tempt to de­lin­eate from in the very act of cap­ti­va­tion.

It’s all rather bril­liantly done and Parks unites the wind­ing stair tech­nique of pro­gres­sive but un­re­li­able reve­la­tion (Ford Ma­dox Ford’s trick in The Good Sol­dier) with the bring­ing to life of a sen­si­bil­ity that is starv­ing it­self for the sake of a spir­i­tual quest, and that finds the curve of ev­ery ap­ple and the touch of any hand like the first brush of sex.

This is a very clever book and, ev­ery so of­ten, a mov­ing, un­pre­dictable one. It com­pels the sharpest sense of what the char­ac­ters are like al­most by a prin­ci­ple of hal­lu­ci­na­tion. And an ap­prox­i­mate min­i­mal­ism is dis­placed on to the Bud­dhist reg­i­men which, as read­ers, we par­take of a bit ex­cru­ci­at­ingly.

So, in the midst of kitchen chores and chants, we see this girl with her mop of rock muso hair, her huge gleam­ing eyes, her sexy bod. And we hear her rough­ened-up vow­els su­per­im­posed on her mid­dle-class English.

It’s adeptly done and niftily com­pat­i­ble with the spir­i­tual sys­tem that is so pas­sion­ately be­ing flirted with and evaded. We see the ma­tronly Amer­i­can lady who has for­saken in­sur­ance for en­light­en­ment and al­most breaks the rules and em­braces our girl when she asks for com­fort. We see the Asian holy woman, like a flame of still­ness, who rep­re­sents the still point our hero­ine must ap­proach.

The trou­ble with this fine prob­ing novel, striv­ing at ev­ery point for one part irony to three parts wis­dom, is that it comes across in the end as flirt­ing with spir­i­tu­al­ity and overly pious about it.

A fic­tion-maker as wily as Parks would see that ob­jec­tion com­ing — it is in fact im­plicit in the para­dox of what he is do­ing. But it re­mains a prob­lem. In the end his hero­ine is some­thing be­tween the sexy tomboy of a reli­gious pam­phlet and the wet dream of a clever bloke half in love with en­light­en­ment and only half com­mit­ted to the art of the novel. where he has come of break­ing the cy­cle

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.