Tim Parks is the author of many novels, translations, and works of nonfiction, most recently Out of My Head: On the Trail of Consciousness and the novel In Extremis.
 (March 2020)

Follow Tim Parks on Twitter: @TimParksauthor.

IN THE REVIEW

The People’s Clowns

Dario Fo and Franca Rame, Milan, 1962

Dario Fo and Franca Rame: Theatre, Politics, Life

by Joseph Farrell
A biography of Dario Fo and his wife, Franca Rame, is inevitably a history of Italy in their lifetimes and particularly in the decades from 1950 to 1990, when their careers as playwrights, actors, and political activists were at their peak. Play by play, show by show, Fo engaged in …

The Prison of the Past

Fernando Aramburu, Madrid, November 2017

Homeland

by Fernando Aramburu, translated from the Spanish by Alfred MacAdam
Everyone is captive in Fernando Aramburu’s novel Homeland. People yearn for freedom and independence, and find only entrapment and incarceration. It is also a novel packed with accidents and illnesses. One woman is paralyzed by a stroke. One suffers urinary incontinence. Another faces an unwanted pregnancy. Four cancers are reported, …

The Rabelais of Naples

Salma Hayek as a queen eating the heart of a sea dragon in Matteo Garrone’s film Tale of Tales (2015), adapted from a set of stories by Giambattista Basile

The Tale of Tales, or Entertainment for Little Ones

by Giambattista Basile, translated from the Neapolitan and with an introduction by Nancy L. Canepa, with illustrations by Carmelo Lettere and a foreword by Jack Zipes

Tale of Tales

a film directed by Matteo Garrone
It starts with an act of indecent exposure. An old woman, maltreated and insulted outside the king’s palace, lifts her dress to reveal “a woodsy scene.” A series of events is set in motion that ultimately induces the king to call together the best storytellers of the realm to tell …

How Mary Anne Became George

The Transferred Life of George Eliot: The Biography of a Novelist

by Philip Davis
A sonnet sequence is traditionally addressed to a lover and recounts a turbulent, romantic love. Mary Anne Evans, writing under the pseudonym George Eliot, is perhaps unique in having dedicated such a sequence to her brother, Isaac Evans. Published in 1869, when the novelist turned fifty, the poems focus on …

NYR DAILY

The Fiction of Winners & Losers

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Wrestler; Ringer, 1923

Am I being reductive? All of narrative fiction, I’ve suggested, can be sorted into four grand categories. Each presents a rich world of feeling in which any number of stories can be told and positions established, but always in relation to, or rather, driven by, a distinct cluster of values and consequent emotions. My claim is that it really is worth being aware which of these worlds we are being drawn into. We read better. We know where we are. And what the dangers are.

The Novels of Tension Between Freedom and Disaster

Thomas Jones: The Bard, 1774

With all these authors, the imprisoning apprehension of the dangers lurking behind every action only heightens the yearning for a free, full life. “The tiniest misstep can have tragic consequences,” we hear in Philip Roth’s Indignation; “A brief glance in the wrong direction… could toss his existence over a cliff,” we are told in Jhumpa Lahiri’s story “A Choice of Accommodations.” Perhaps this is why these authors are unbeatable for erotic intensity. Nobody hears the sirens sing so sweetly and ruinously.

Indulging with Control in Fiction

Egon Schiele: Lovemaking (detail), 1915

Characters dream of solving their problems by becoming more controlled and many have delusions of “election”—the sense of oneself as “chosen,” “special,” a celebrity perhaps. “For a man of his age, fifty-two, divorced, he has, to his mind, solved the problem of sex rather well,” Coetzee opens his great novel Disgrace. The aspiration is to indulge always with control, without being overwhelmed. The reader knows that is not going to happen.

A Novel Way to Think About Literary Categories

Anton Chekhov in Yalta, 1900; Charles Dickens in daguerreotype by Antoine Francois Jean Claudet, London, circa 1852

I want to propose a different way of categorizing novels, or at least arranging the ones you have read on your shelves: something that came to me after reading Dickens and Chekhov in quick succession. At first glance, it might be hard to think of two writers who are more different. Dickens so expansive; Chekhov so economical—story after story unfolding in a few pages, sometimes only a few paragraphs. Cut, cut, cut, he told friends who showed their unpublished work to him. Yet I was surprised to find myself sensing a deep affinity between the two authors.