This darkly comic and inherently tragic novel by the versatile Parks (Tongues of Flame; Italian Neighbors) charts the emotional disintegration of a 45-year-old man mourning the end of an affair. In narrator Jeremiah Marlowe, Parks embodies the man of intellect in helpless thrall to his emotions. We meet Jerry on a bus traveling with a polyglot load of colleagues and nubile female students from the Milan university where he teaches to Strasbourg, where they will present a petition to the European Parliament protesting the Italian government's decision to limit the salaries and tenure of foreign professors. Although he doesn't care about his dead-end job, Jerry has come along because she will be there. His former mistress, never identified by name, is a Frenchwoman who casually betrayed Jerry after he had left his wife and teenage daughter for her. Jerry's pain, jealousy and sense of futility rise to the point of frenzy as he obsesses about his ex-mistress's cool repudiation of what he felt was the most meaningful relationship of his life. His headlong interior monologue, frantic with self-loathing and despair, is, for all its rambling rush, tightly controlled. While the book is essentially farcical, it is also profoundly sad to witness a man at the end of his tether willfully subjecting himself to the proximity of the woman who is the source of his anguish. Moreover, Jerry's agitated thoughts encapsule a brilliant meditation about the shallowness of popular culture at the end of the 20th century, made more vivid to Jerry by the bon mots of classical literature that spring to his mind at every turn of events. He mockingly compares the myths of a united Europe and of a perfect love against the realities of self-involved nations and individuals. One aspect of the dramatic denouement seems too pat, but Parks caps it with a fitting ending. Though being trapped in the head of a feverishly loquacious narrator may not be everybody's ideal of a bookish voyage, Parks's portrayal of a cerebral mind preyed upon by unbearable emotions makes a compelling story. (Oct.) FYI: Europa was shortlisted for the 1997 Booker Prize.
Reviewed on: 08/31/1998 Release date: 09/01/1998 Genre: Fiction
During the Covid-19 crisis, Publishers Weekly is providing free digital access to our magazine, archive, and website. To receive the access to the latest issue delivered to your inbox free each week, enter your email below.