BOOK REVIEW / Lava on a shimmering island: 'Shear' - Tim Parks: Heinemann, 13.99

TIM PARKS specialises in psychological extremes: suburbia torn apart by religious fanaticism (Tongues of Flame), a schizophrenic disturbing the settled currents of family life (Family Planning). When social or political satire was added to these nerve- jangling emotional crises, the effect was often startlingly good. In Goodness (1991), which featured a zealous proto-Thatcherite attempting to deal with the problem of a handicapped child, Parks produced a novel which bears comparison with many a more modish assault on Eighties zeitgeist. George Crawley, a fool possessed of an almost Thackerayan conviction of his own rectitude, might not have been John Self or Keith Talent, but at least he was a recognisable human

being.

Despite its saturation in geological jargon and its Mediterranean setting, Shear follows this well-trodden path, for all that its central character seems far too sharp an operator to allow himself to be pushed towards any sort of emotional breaking-point. In fact Parks's hero, a fortysomething geologist and apparent satyromaniac named Peter Nicholson, is a man of conspicuous detachment: in thrall to his profession from an early age, 'he had loved to depersonalise, to find himself and all his actions in the materials whose name he bore'.

Fetched up on a shimmering Greek island with Margaret, his 22-year-old mistress, and booked to inspect a quarry on behalf of an Australian building concern in dispute with its contractors, Nicholson anticipates a routine working holiday.

Almost from the outset, however - and the novel covers a bare five days in Peter Nicholson's life - the personal and the professional intersect. An Australian woman, Mrs Owen, whose husband was killed by a falling slab back at the hotel development in Sydney, tries to enlist his help in the search for reparation. Thea, his glamorous and complaisant interpreter, turns out to be the daughter of the local satrap. Meanwhile, the news from London is that his wife is pregnant and prepared to abort unless treated with a little more consideration, and that the Australian client, mysteriously, would like 'a really damning report'.

These are pressing dilemmas, even to a man of Nicholson's outward coldness. A message that the Australians and the quarry owners have settled out of court - thereby rendering the geologist's report redundant - seems to provide a convenient escape route. But by this time Mrs Owen has disappeared, leaving her seven-year-old daughter in his charge, Nicholson's hotel room has been turned over (presumably in a search for the incriminating slab, which was lent to him by the widow) and the scent of collusion between client and contractor hangs in the air. Nudged by Margaret's prompting and undeterred by the threat of blackmail over some compromising holiday snaps, Nicholson sets out to confirm his suspicions.

Tightly plotted and with all the pace and stripped-down dynamism of a superior thriller, Shear luxuriates in the grasp of geological metaphor, a thraldom which Parks cheerfully acknowledges: his prefatory note descants on the notion that a novel's genesis 'is not unlike the way some rocks form'. Cue a great many fancy analogies about heat, lava and fragments from vast explosions, with female skin-tone routinely described as 'white to pink, perhaps potassium- aluminium silicate'.

While you can admire Parks's determination to establish a coherent architecture, it is hard to believe that these technicalities really sharpen our perception of the object described. They might tell us something about the way in which Nicholson sees, but very little about what he is looking at. Elsewhere, the tagging of domestic turmoil with phrases from the textbooks - 'Erosion of an old uplift. Much the same might be said of his marriage' - sags towards the banal.

These metaphorical tics are a pity, as for the most part Parks stays in control of his material. With its nods in the direction of Greek mythology and the lurking sense of manipulation, Shear occasionally seems a shade too reminiscent of John Fowles's The Magus. However, its set-pieces: the tense denouement, a striking passage in which Nicholson pursues a figure which he imagines to be Mrs Owen along a crowded beach ('a blemish, a wedge of shadow in the painful colour and light') are memorably done and the overall effect never less than impressive. Sadly, though, it seems a safe bet to predict that much more ink in this autumn's books pages will be expended on many a less deserving book.

Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
TV It all goes wrong for Iain's Baked Alaska as 'bingate' ensues
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL are releasing Plectrum Electrum next month

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
    Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

    What is the appeal of Twitch?

    Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
    Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

    How bosses are making us work harder

    As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
    Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

    Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

    As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
    Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

    A tale of two writers

    Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
    Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

    Should pupils get a lie in?

    Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
    Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

    Prepare for Jewish jokes...

    ... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
    SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

    A dream come true for SJ Watson

    Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
    Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

    Paul Scholes column

    Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?