Reviews of ‘Dreams of Rivers and Seas’

Double trouble in Delhi

Indra Sinha acclaims Tim Parks’s haunting study of anthropology and emotion

The Guardian, Saturday, 9th August 2008

By Indra Sinha

Tim Parks prefaces Dreams of Rivers and Seas with a message to his prospective readers: “Those familiar with [the anthropologist and linguist] Gregory Bateson and his work will realise that I have used elements from his life and writings to create the character of Albert James . . . Readers who want to find out about [Bateson’s] remarkable work should certainly not consult these pages, which are entirely fictional.”

Albert is already dead when the story opens, but his character dominates every page. Although he had lived frugally in Delhi with his doctor wife, he was a world-renowned epistemologist, a great mind who thought differently from the rest of us. His conversation was a brilliant melange of concepts and ideas drawn from biology, anthropology, kinesics, proxemics. He conceived “delicate self-correcting cultural ecologies”, but was incapable of speaking or writing a plain word. In the margin of an article on cybernetics and invertebrates, his son finds scribbled: “Drink every evening ceremonial substitute for thing that hasn’t happened – but what thing?”

If this seems to promise a difficult, trying read, let me reassure you at once. The book is a rapidly unfolding mystery that hints at suicide, murder and madness, and builds to a wrenching climax. Parks cleverly limits us to glimpses of Albert’s bizarrely fecund mind through the irritation, incomprehension and admiration respectively of Helen, his cool widow, John, his suffering son, and Paul, his would-be biographer.

Helen and Albert were each other’s lives. They had lived all over the world, in Africa, New Guinea; Helen working long days selflessly without pay in shabby clinics where the poorest came to die, Albert accompanying her everywhere, observing patterns, gestures, rituals. But in Delhi, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

John, on the threshold of adult life yet dependent on parents who treat him as an inconvenience, is a moving mixture of self-assertion and puppyish need. He loves and is proud of his famous father, but hurt by his apparent indifference. John is all confusion. Why, when prostate cancer can be held at bay for years, did his father die so suddenly? Does his girlfriend – or, for that matter, his mother – really love him? What is the meaning of the unfinished letter from his father, posted by a mysterious stranger, which speaks of dreams of rivers and seas? Why was his father studying spiders’ webs when he died? Why did he always speak in riddles? John, assailed by Delhi-belly and attacks of a more sinister kind, must simultaneously cope with his loss and the incomprehensible culture of India.

The riddles are intended for us as well, and the search for answers compels us to confront the pathological nature of the modern world, in which leaders pay lip-service to religious fairytales while the truly sacred is trampled. Certainly this is true of the novel’s portrayal of India. Parks demonstrates a canny knowledge of modern Indian politics: the darkness behind the superpower fantasy, corrupt politicians, violent police, hundreds of thousands of farmer suicides. He notes the media’s obsession with celebrity and trivia, its disparagement of dissident intellectuals such as Arundhati Roy and Pradip Krishen.

Parks’s impressions of India are authentic and unsentimental. Only in the realm of sex does he succumb to the temptation to be exotic; almost everyone in the book either has, or soon will have, slept with almost everyone else. However, the novel’s real territory is the mind. As it moves to its denouement, the straightforward narrative starts to be jarred by odd shifts of tense from past to present and back again, often several times within a page. In a writer as fastidious as Parks, this cannot but be deliberate; he means to unsettle the reader and one soon comes to understand why.

The key is the growing turmoil in John’s mind. When he asks about Albert’s study of spiders’ webs, his mother instead talks of his father’s work on how artificial perfumes mimic and mask natural pheromone signals, causing unease and confusion. “The lady’s smell invites but her behaviour rebuffs.” There could hardly be a better metaphor for their own behaviour towards their son, or a clearer example of the conflict between message and behaviour that Albert’s original, Gregory Bateson, called “double bind” and identified as a cause of schizophrenia in children. Ironically, neither Albert nor Helen recognises the emotional violence they have inflicted on their son, the outsider in their perfect marriage.

The clue at the beginning of the novel constantly nags at us. Readers who don’t know Bateson should not look here for information about his life and work. Where then? Parks often refers to the web, in one place even giving Google results. A search quickly finds John Brockmann’s centennial lecture on Bateson, who is quoted as saying, in the opaque style of his fictional counterpart: “Epistemology itself is becoming a recursive subject, a recursive study of recursiveness. So that anybody encountering the double bind hypothesis has the problem that epistemology was already changed by the double bind hypothesis, and the hypothesis itself therefore has to be approached with the modified way of thinking which the hypothesis had proposed.”

This is exactly the position in which we, as readers, find ourselves. To get the most from this haunting and accomplished novel, we must go back to Bateson before returning to James; after that, it is hard to know where one leaves off and the other begins, but the book begins to shine with previously hidden patterns. The finale, when it comes, is unexpected and terrifying. Dreams of Rivers and Seas is a book that has already repaid a second reading; I am sorry not to see it on the Booker longlist.

164 thoughts on “Reviews of ‘Dreams of Rivers and Seas’

  1. Cleveland Shifrin

    Great post. I used to be checking continuously this blog and I’m inspired!Very useful info specially the ultimate part I maintain such information much.I used to be seeking this certain info for a very lengthy time.Thanks and good luck.

  2. top instagram influencer

    It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d definitely donate to this outstanding blog! I suppose for now i’ll settle for book-marking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account. I look forward to fresh updates and will talk about this site with my Facebook group. Talk soon!

  3. vn hax

    I must say, as a lot as I enjoyed reading what you had to say, I couldnt help but lose interest after a while.

  4. Elijah Smigel

    F*ckin’ remarkable things here. I’m very satisfied to see your article. Thanks so much and i’m looking ahead to contact you. Will you kindly drop me a e-mail?

  5. aimbot free download fortnite

    I’m impressed, I have to admit. Genuinely rarely should i encounter a weblog that’s both educative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you may have hit the nail about the head. Your idea is outstanding; the problem is an element that insufficient persons are speaking intelligently about. I am delighted we came across this during my look for something with this.

  6. gamefly free trial

    I love what you guys are up too. This type of clever
    work and coverage! Keep up the excellent works guys I’ve incorporated you guys to my own blogroll.

  7. gamefly free trial

    I just like the helpful info you provide on your articles.

    I’ll bookmark your blog and check once more here regularly.

    I’m moderately sure I will be informed lots of new stuff right here!
    Good luck for the next!

  8. gamefly free trial

    I got this site from my friend who informed me concerning this web page and at the moment this time I am
    visiting this site and reading very informative posts
    at this time.

  9. gamefly free trial

    Its like you read my thoughts! You seem to know a lot approximately this,
    like you wrote the ebook in it or something.

    I feel that you could do with some p.c. to force the message home a bit, but other than that,
    this is great blog. A great read. I will certainly be

  10. gamefly free trial

    I do trust all of the concepts you’ve introduced for your post.
    They’re really convincing and will certainly work.
    Still, the posts are very quick for starters. May you please lengthen them a little
    from next time? Thank you for the post.

  11. gamefly free trial

    I’ve been surfing online more than 4 hours today, yet I
    never found any interesting article like yours. It is pretty worth enough for me.
    In my view, if all web owners and bloggers made good content as you
    did, the net will be a lot more useful than ever before.

  12. gamefly free trial

    Just desire to say your article is as amazing. The clearness in your
    post is just nice and i could assume you are an expert on this subject.

    Fine with your permission allow me to grab your feed to keep up to date with forthcoming
    post. Thanks a million and please continue the rewarding work.

  13. website marketing

    Your style is unique compared to other folks I’ve read stuff from.
    Many thanks for posting when you’ve got the opportunity, Guess I will just book mark this web site.

  14. gamefly free trial

    Hey there! Would you mind if I share your blog with my twitter group?
    There’s a lot of folks that I think would really appreciate your content.

    Please let me know. Thank you

  15. gamefly free trial

    Hiya very nice blog!! Guy .. Excellent .. Amazing .. I will bookmark your website and take
    the feeds also? I’m satisfied to find a lot of useful info right here in the post, we want work out extra strategies on this regard, thanks for sharing.
    . . . . .

  16. gamefly free trial

    Very good website you have here but I was curious if you knew of any message boards that
    cover the same topics discussed here? I’d really like to
    be a part of group where I can get advice from other knowledgeable individuals that share
    the same interest. If you have any recommendations, please let me know.

  17. playstation 4 best games ever made 2019

    This design is spectacular! You certainly know
    how to keep a reader amused. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost
    moved to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Wonderful job.
    I really enjoyed what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it.
    Too cool!

  18. Matceri

    Cialis 20 Mg Wikipedia Canada Rx Customer Support Amoxicillin Compare Bactrim Ds how to find zoloft Viagra For Men Australia Cheap Price Difference Between Augmentin And Amoxicillin Cialis 20mg Non Generic

  19. plenty of fish dating site

    magnificent put up, very informative. I ponder why the other experts of this sector
    don’t notice this. You should continue your writing. I am sure, you’ve a huge readers’
    base already!

  20. how to get help in windows 10

    Hmm it looks like your site ate my first comment (it was super long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I submitted and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog.
    I too am an aspiring blog blogger but I’m still new to
    the whole thing. Do you have any suggestions for first-time blog writers?
    I’d certainly appreciate it.

  21. synapse x

    I’m impressed, I have to admit. Genuinely rarely should i encounter a weblog that’s both educative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you may have hit the nail about the head. Your idea is outstanding; the problem is an element that insufficient persons are speaking intelligently about. I am delighted we came across this during my look for something with this.

  22. rekordbox torrent download

    I’m impressed, I have to admit. Genuinely rarely should i encounter a weblog that’s both educative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you may have hit the nail about the head. Your idea is outstanding; the problem is an element that insufficient persons are speaking intelligently about. I am delighted we came across this during my look for something with this.

  23. plenty of fish dating site

    This is really interesting, You are a very skilled blogger.
    I’ve joined your rss feed and look forward to seeking more of your wonderful post.
    Also, I’ve shared your site in my social networks!

  24. how to get help in windows 10

    Hi there, i read your blog from time to time and i own a similar one and i was just curious if you get a lot of spam
    remarks? If so how do you stop it, any plugin or anything you can suggest?
    I get so much lately it’s driving me mad so
    any support is very much appreciated.

  25. Cristobal Penfold

    Alex9, this clue is your next bit of information. Please transceive the agency at your earliest convenience. No further information until next transmission. This is broadcast #8867. Do not delete.

  26. plenty of fish dating site

    Hey I know this is off topic but I was wondering if you knew of
    any widgets I could add to my blog that automatically tweet my newest twitter updates.
    I’ve been looking for a plug-in like this for quite some
    time and was hoping maybe you would have some experience with something like this.
    Please let me know if you run into anything. I truly enjoy reading
    your blog and I look forward to your new updates.

  27. natalielise

    It’s very effortless to find out any matter on net as compared to textbooks, as I found
    this piece of writing at this website. natalielise plenty of fish


    Hello, i think that i saw you visited my blog so i came to “return the favor”.I’m attempting to find things to improve my site!I suppose its ok to use some of your ideas!!
    plenty of fish natalielise

  29. plenty of fish

    For hottest news you have to pay a visit world wide web and on the web I
    found this web site as a most excellent web page for most up-to-date updates.

  30. dating site

    Heya i’m for the first time here. I found this board and I in finding It truly helpful
    & it helped me out much. I am hoping to give one thing back
    and aid others such as you helped me.

  31. plenty of fish dating site

    With havin so much content and articles do you ever run into any problems
    of plagorism or copyright violation? My site has a lot of exclusive content I’ve either written myself or outsourced but it looks
    like a lot of it is popping it up all over the web without my permission. Do you know any ways to help protect against content from being stolen? I’d truly appreciate it.

  32. descargar facebook

    Hello, i read your blog from time to time and i own a similar one and i was just
    wondering if you get a lot of spam feedback? If so how do you reduce it, any plugin or anything you can suggest?
    I get so much lately it’s driving me insane so
    any help is very much appreciated.

  33. quest bars cheap

    I am really impressed along with your writing abilities and also with the
    format on your blog. Is this a paid topic or did you customize it yourself?
    Anyway keep up the nice quality writing, it’s rare to peer a nice weblog like this one today..

  34. Dean Grenier

    I intended to send you one little word to help give thanks yet again for all the spectacular thoughts you have featured in this case. It was quite extremely generous with people like you to offer unreservedly all that a number of people could possibly have distributed as an e-book to help with making some cash for their own end, precisely given that you could possibly have done it if you ever desired. These things as well served to be a easy way to be sure that some people have the identical passion like my very own to grasp a whole lot more with respect to this matter. I’m certain there are millions of more enjoyable occasions up front for individuals who read through your blog post.

  35. Jessie Foshay

    I intended to put you a tiny remark so as to say thanks once again on the wonderful opinions you have shared on this page. This has been quite surprisingly open-handed of people like you to deliver unhampered what exactly most of us might have made available as an electronic book to end up making some bucks for themselves, principally given that you might have tried it if you desired. The points as well acted to be the easy way to fully grasp the rest have the same interest much like mine to know lots more when considering this condition. I am certain there are millions of more pleasurable occasions ahead for individuals that look over your blog.

  36. Meagan Litman

    I intended to create you this very small remark just to give thanks yet again for all the pretty strategies you have documented in this case. This is simply remarkably generous of people like you to allow freely all that a number of people could have sold as an ebook to earn some money on their own, notably now that you could have tried it in case you desired. These tactics additionally acted to become a great way to be aware that other individuals have the identical desire really like my very own to see a lot more pertaining to this matter. I think there are many more pleasant situations ahead for individuals that discover your website.

  37. Ashley Horseford

    I wanted to compose you this little bit of note to help say thank you over again just for the magnificent things you’ve documented here. It’s certainly open-handed with people like you to offer without restraint precisely what a few people might have made available as an electronic book to get some bucks on their own, particularly given that you might have done it if you decided. Those creative ideas additionally acted to become good way to understand that other individuals have similar dreams just as my personal own to understand a great deal more with reference to this issue. I’m sure there are millions of more pleasant situations in the future for individuals who examine your site.

  38. minecraft games

    Simply want to say your article is as astounding. The
    clearness in your post is simply excellent and i can assume
    you’re an expert on this subject. Fine with your permission let me to grab your RSS
    feed to keep updated with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please continue the
    rewarding work.

  39. ETIAS

    Hi there! I know this is kind of off topic but I was wondering
    which blog platform are you using for this website? I’m
    getting fed up of WordPress because I’ve had problems with hackers and I’m looking at options for another platform.
    I would be awesome if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.

  40. quest bars cheap

    Hey! Someone in my Myspace group shared this site with us so I came
    to give it a look. I’m definitely loving the information.
    I’m book-marking and will be tweeting this to my followers!
    Fantastic blog and wonderful design and style.

  41. quest bars cheap

    Hi there! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a group of
    volunteers and starting a new initiative in a community in the same niche.
    Your blog provided us valuable information to work on. You have done a wonderful job!

  42. ESTA

    Aw, this was an incredibly good post. Taking the time and actual effort to generate a top notch article… but what can I say… I procrastinate a lot
    and don’t seem to get nearly anything done.

  43. Graham Mooneyham

    Have you ever considered writing an ebook or guest authoring on other websites? I have a blog based upon on the same ideas you discuss and would really like to have you share some stories/information. I know my viewers would value your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to shoot me an e mail.|

  44. minecraft games

    Please let me know if you’re looking for a writer for your site.
    You have some really great posts and I feel I would be a good
    asset. If you ever want to take some of the load off, I’d love to write some material for your blog in exchange for a
    link back to mine. Please shoot me an email if interested.


  45. quest bars cheap

    Hello There. I found your blog using msn. This is an extremely well written article.
    I’ll be sure to bookmark it and return to read more of your
    useful information. Thanks for the post. I’ll definitely return.

  46. Evelina Czysz

    Great post however , I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this subject? I’d be very grateful if you could elaborate a little bit more. Thank you!|

  47. Jefferson Hilmer

    I’d like to thank you for the efforts you have put in writing this site. I am hoping to view the same high-grade content from you in the future as well. In fact, your creative writing abilities has inspired me to get my very own site now ;)|

  48. quest bars cheap

    excellent put up, very informative. I’m wondering why the other specialists of this sector do not understand
    this. You should continue your writing. I’m sure, you have a
    great readers’ base already!

  49. quest bars cheap

    hello!,I like your writing very much! share we be in contact more
    approximately your article on AOL? I need an expert on this house
    to solve my problem. Maybe that is you! Having a look forward to peer you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *