Talking About It. By Tim Parks

Soporific short stories that reek of a glum internationalism

In the title story of Tim Parks's Talking About It, two married men meet regularly to play squash. Then, over a pint, they reveal their sexual situations. One is ashamed by his attraction to a younger female colleague; the other is apparently having a fabulous time with a divorcee.

In "Something Odd", a wife smells strange perfume on her husband and finds blond hairs in bed. Since he is currently innocent, what can have happened? "The Roo" concerns a flat whose rent is apparently shared by two friends with mistresses to entertain. Ho hum. The reader who knows Parks as not only a novelist but an exhilarating observer of life through the lens of Italian football may be disheartened by these glib binarisms.

An entire collection of such stories produces the sedative effect of a film jointly financed by European partners. There is no danger of mistaking the result for life, though there may be admiration of the inexplicable commitment required to produce the neutered result. Parks's characters go through the erotic motions, win, lose, hate and accept each other, adjust and return to the nowhere from which they come.

It's not that Parks can't write. He works with emphatic economy and fluency, moving his people briskly around their property-deals and language schools, their medical work and non-specific spheres of commerce. It's just that there is rarely any friction between language and the world, or between one word and another.

There is the smell of superior men's magazines about the book, as well as that glum internationalism that makes one place sound much like any other. Talking About It is surely not what the recent advocates of the short story have been hoping for - this smug homogeneity, this privileged discontent, this tolerance which reads as bad faith.

Yet two stories threaten to break the mould. "In Defiance of Club Rules" follows a canoeist seeking a dangerous stretch of water under a bridge colonised by illegal immigrants. The task of evoking something other than bedrooms and offices seems to wake Parks up and, while the story is at the last sunk by its uncertainty, the flaw itself is a sign of life.

And in "Lebensraum", three generations of a family set about each other over a boozy lunch. The energy and malice of the dialogue escape the surrounding narcotic stylishness: here are actual people, monstrous and amazing, irrational and hilarious, not to be tidied away or patronised.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in