Friday, September 2, 2011

Trying to get justice done and have lots of sex while your life is a train wreck (Books - Europa by Tim Parks)

I've finished Tim Parks's Europa, which I first wrote about here.
Plato did not believe in the realm of pure forms. That much is clear from any reading of The Republic. Nobody saw more plainly than he that the world was a place of change and betrayal, and if he chose to deny that place any ultimate reality and spoke insistently of an ideal, more real realm beyond, it was perhaps his way of expressing his outrage, expressing a mental space, a place of yearning that is in all of us. For things to be still. Like my wife, like the foreign lectors at the University of Milan, like the visionary architects of our United Europe, he longed for the world to declare its final form and be still, or at least for all motion to be neutralized in repetition, in ritual, as the rigidly ordered world of his philosopher-kinds must reflect the eternal harmony of the cosmos. He longed for each man to assume his definitive station, forever, each role to be exactly defined and assigned, forever, authority imposed, balance achieved, justice done. Thus Europe. Thus our final home. Our permanent job. The end of conflict. The end of poverty. The end of history. The shape of an apple defined. The ingredients of an ice-cream defined. Pure form. Ultimate solidarity in a world where perfected technique will remove all suffering. All wrongs righted. By the effective agency of the Petitions Committee...
After figuring out that Jerry's screwed-up relationships are a metaphor for the European Union I was not sure where to go with this novel. Parks forwards the plot with some impressive word-smithery toward one great big "shocking" surprise (as the book cover's blurbs announce, I suppose to keep us reading) while telling us again and again what the novel is about. In the end, I don't know what all of our divorced, philandering, ex-pat English professor in Italy's stream of run-on consciousness amounted to. I never felt a thing for his characters, with the possible exception of Jerry's wife, who was really shit upon by her sex-obsessed ex. All Jerry seems to walk away with is the insight that:
There is generally no point and above all no merit in telling the truth...
The accomplishments of Parks's narrative leaves me with no doubt that he is smart and talented at putting together prose, but I found Europa jaded, sophomoric, and depressing. I suppose there are many people with lives like Jerry's; maybe they will like this novel better than I did.

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