Dreams of Rivers and Seas

Gripping and ambiguous … India provides the gritty, realistic backdrop, a lightning conductor for intelligent Westerners to play out the manufactured anguishes of their fissile lives.

Neel Mukherjee, The Times

Albert James is dead. It’s time for his wife Helen to grieve and move on, time for his son John finally to grow up. Neither seem capable. This troubled, maverick anthropologist left so much unexplained: his decision to live in Delhi, his study of spiders, the adolescent company he kept, above all the strange circumstances leading up to his death. No sooner is he cremated than an American biographer turns up; Helen James denies him permission to write about her husband, but then can’t leave the man alone. Disturbed by his mother’s coolness and distance, John returns to his scientific research in London to find a letter that his father must have written in the days immediately preceding his death. “For some time now,” it begins “I have been plagued, perhaps blessed, by dreams of rivers and seas, dreams of water.” The moment he reads these words John knows he will have to return to Delhi and try to understand.

Well… that would be one way into the plot. There would be many others. As the title suggests, this book is quite a departure for me. It’s my first novel set outside Europe, in the pullulating enigma of India. Instead of a charismatic obsessive consciousness at the centre of the story, the main character is dead, leaving those who knew him, or thought they did, disorientated and confused. The closer they get to the conundrum of his life, the more India imposes its hectic multiplicity, and people start to behave in ways they never imagined they would.

How far is it ever possible really to understand something and then act decisively to change it? That was one of the questions on my mind as I set about unravelling Albert James’s dreams of rivers and seas.

Short takes from reviews

The originality, power and sheer prolificacy of Parks’s production makes the work of his British contemporaries appear trite… His prose can be sparse and lucid, or almost manically convoluted, although beyond the fierce and questioning intelligence are both humour and artfully constructed and invariably gripping plots … Dreams of Rivers and Seas, unlike his previous work, has the bonus of the Delhi backdrop, coupled with accessible prose. In other words it’s a big, easily readable book – though with a solidly intellectual core – more than ripe for big prizes.

Henry Sutton, Independent on Sunday

A brave book … he shows with this novel, he intimately understands the Western condition, its complexity and fragility

Nirpal Dhaliwal, Evening Standard

Dreams of Rivers and Seas is a love story (or rather several love stories), an oblique and engrossing mystery, but above all a story about language and its limitations.

Jane Shilling, Sunday Telegraph