The prolific British author’s 12th novel returns him to Italy (where Parks and his family reside) for an intriguing change of pace.
It’s the story of a four-day “community experience” in which 15 would-be adventurers—six adults and nine teenagers—embark on a white-water kayaking trip along the Aurino River in the Southern Tyrol region of the Italian Alps. They’re a predictably mixed lot, including middle-aged bank executive Vincent, a recent widower, and the daughter (Louise) who’s growing up (and away from him) too quickly to be capable of sharing in his grief; overweight, over-eager Keith, an ardent, ingenuous boy in a swollen man’s body; cold-fish Max, a know-it-all student ruled by a mordant, contemptuous sense of humor; and river guide Clive, an aging ecological activist who does not refrain from delivering lectures on global warming (e.g., melting glaciers are making the waters they’re all traveling far more dangerous than usual) and irresponsible public policies—that is, when he’s not dashing off to earth-friendly conferences or protest demonstrations, or punishing his younger Italian girlfriend Michela by refusing to have sex. Vince’s burgeoning interest in the attractive Michela sparks one helpful complication, as do the cantankerous pronouncements of “canoeing” instructor Adam, whose bitter distrust of the motives of self-declared earth-savers estranges him from his own confused, withdrawn son, Mark. It’s all more than a little contrived and top-heavy—as is an enthusiast’s overabundance of detail about the metaphysics and techniques of braving those all-too-symbolic rapids (they are the meandering and treacherous currents of our lives, dear reader, and you are not to forget it). Nevertheless, Parks writes so knowledgeably and graphically about the exhilaration of engaging the unknown on its own unforgiving terms that it’s impossible not to be swept along the Aurino, despite the narrative’s blustering excesses.
Not for every taste, but it’s another illustration of the range of Tim Parks’s seemingly inexhaustible talents.