Life and Work: Writers, Readers, and the Conversations Between Them

Tim Parks. Yale Univ., $35 (320p) ISBN 978-0-300-21536-6
Parks, a prolific literary critic and celebrated novelist (Painting Death), compiles 20 previously published essays and book reviews (mostly from the New York Review of Books and the London Review of Books) into a smart, engaging collection. His announced intention is to explore the “tensions between competing values” in the works reviewed and the way they “shape the relationship between reader and writer that forms through the work.” To that end, he examines James Joyce’s sense of “belonging and not belonging” to Ireland and the “fear that heightens the desire to live” in Philip Roth’s late novels. Most of the entries center on white male authors (with the exceptions of Muriel Spark, Haruki Murakami, and E.L. James), but Parks’s subjects are varied in other respects, and include a canonical English Victorian (Charles Dickens), a French detective novelist (Georges Simenon), a South African literary darling (J.M. Coetzee), and a recent Swedish publishing powerhouse (Stieg Larsson). His analyses of them are invariably intelligent and complex without being intimidating. Despite the book’s subtitle, Parks never really delves into the conversation between authors and readers; the only conversations on display are between him and the works he surveys, but these exchanges are fascinating to witness. (July)
Reviewed on: 04/11/2016
Release date: 06/01/2016
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