Reviews of ‘Home Thoughts’

Jaded Gentleman of Verona

New York Times Book Review, 23 October, 1988

By Lore Dickstein (quite a name!)

Expatriate communities are among the oddest social groups in today’s societies. Neither immigrants nor tourists, deracinated from the home culture, yet bringing odd, inappropriate bits of it with them, they never quite fit in their adopted country. They seem to belong nowhere. No country has had more experience with this phenomenon than England, and the “ex-pats” in the British writer Tim Parks’s new novel, Home Thoughts, are a vestigial remnant, a disembodied limb, of what was once a vast, dispersed population in the colonial empire.
The English have long had a love affair with Italy, a country with a high tolerance for (or indifference toward) the “other”. Home Thoughts, Mr. Parks’s third novel – his first, Tongues of Flame, won the Somerset Maugham Award for 1986 – is set in fair Verona, where the author himself has lived for the last eight years.

Home Thoughts is a witty set piece on the lives of a motley group of British expatriates, many of whom teach English at the University of Verona. More or less as the center is one Julia Helen Delaforce, a single woman in her 30’s who has fled a dead-end job and a long-term, pointless affair with a married man. Julia’s colleagues and friends claim they are fleeing Thatcher’s England and make bitter comments on English society, for example that England “is an Oxbridge conspiracy,” or that the BBC (where a number of friends at home still work) is not “the voice of the establishment,” but “the voice of inertia.” In fact, these folks are in Italy for personal, idiosyncratic reasons. Boredom, aged and demanding parents, thwarted love affairs or career failures have driven them to seek a safe adventure in a new place. For this group, however, a profound sense of aimlessness, a fatalism verging on catatonia, has made “their exile a kind of limbo,” a time-out from real life. For such a short book – just over 200 pages – (sounds quite long enough to me) Mr. Parks presents an impressive number of characters in full dress. There are well over a dozen, set in a plot of such convoluted intricacy that it could fuel a soap opera for years. He is a highly visual, cinematic writer: events and people flash on and off the screen in quick, short, colourful takes.

Written in a crisp, economical style, Home Thoughts details a round robin of sexual relationships overlaid by a sticky network of friendships, hatreds and jealousies. Everyone is trying to land the one permanent post at the university. Julia, who arrives in Italy in high spirits – who “had imagined the hot Italian sun would turn her sluggish, blind, burrowing caterpillar into a dazzling butterfly” – is fired from her job, floats from one living arrangement to another, and gradually descends into a morass of depression. Sandro, a smarmy, good-looking operator, manages to sleep with almost all the women; he thinks his penis “functions as a kind of catalyst for helping others sort out their lives.” He’s not far wrong. Shot through the novel are improbable coincidences and disasters: fatal auto accidents, birth defects, an abortion, nervous breakdowns and an attempted suicide (it does sound rather a lot, doesn’t it) .

Mr. Parks carries off all this frenzied activity by ingeniously structuring Home Thoughts as an almost (always an ‘almost’) seamless mix of narrative and letters. It is through the letters Julia and others send and receive that we hear a chorus of vivid, highly individualized voices. The range is nothing short of extraordinary. It includes the broken English of Sandro’s Italian aunt, Julia’s bored and whiny Mum’s nagging, her artist brother Mike’s flashy punk messages, her lesbian friend Flossy’s (!) feminist rantings (heavily italicized) and the false, perky optimism of her former flatmate, Diana. Almost everyone in this novel, by virtue of writing letters, becomes a writer, and each comments on his or her own writing style and state of mind. Here Mr. Parks is not only exhibiting a forceful, authorial self-consciousness, but putting on an amusing sideshow for himself, not unlike those Italian Renaissance paintings in which the painter has put himself in the scene and is looking out boldly at the viewer.

Tongues of Flame and another previous novel Loving Roger, both about the disastrous consequences of passion and obsession, show evidence of this kind of self-reflectiveness. While there are moments in this book when Tim Parks becomes a little too entranced with his own cleverness, Home Thoughts is a startlingly sharp and impressive piece of work.

10 thoughts on “Reviews of ‘Home Thoughts’

  1. free fire battlegrouds hack

    I feel that is one of the such a lot important information for me. And i’m satisfied studying your article. However wanna commentary on few basic issues, The web site style is great, the articles is in reality great : D. Just right activity, cheers

  2. hack defender 3

    Howdy would you mind letting me know which web host you’re working with? I’ve loaded your blog in 3 different web browsers and I must say this blog loads a lot faster then most. Can you suggest a good internet hosting provider at a fair price? Many thanks, I appreciate it!

  3. vikings war of clans hack

    obviously like your web-site however you have to check the spelling on quite a few of your posts. Many of them are rife with spelling issues and I to find it very troublesome to tell the reality then again I’ll surely come again again.

  4. mcent point adder script

    The core of your writing whilst appearing reasonable at first, did not really work properly with me personally after some time. Somewhere within the sentences you actually were able to make me a believer but just for a very short while. I nevertheless have a problem with your jumps in assumptions and one would do well to fill in all those gaps. In the event you can accomplish that, I will surely end up being fascinated.

  5. disk drill activation code

    Excellent goods from you, man. I’ve understand your stuff previous to and you are just too great. I really like what you have acquired here, really like what you’re saying and the way in which you say it. You make it entertaining and you still care for to keep it sensible. I can not wait to read much more from you. This is really a great site.

  6. convert paid traffic

    Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to say that I’ve really enjoyed surfing around your blog posts. After all I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again very soon!

  7. pokemon planet hack tool

    Interesting blog post. The things i would like to bring about is that personal computer memory must be purchased should your computer cannot cope with that which you do by using it. One can put in two random access memory boards having 1GB each, for instance, but not certainly one of 1GB and one with 2GB. One should look for the company’s documentation for one’s PC to be sure what type of storage is needed.

Leave a Reply

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