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by Tim Parks

From Svevo, Saba and Joyce in Trieste to Borges, Rushdie and psychopathology, Tim Parks new collection of essays confirms his mastery of the essay form. Other subjects include Saramago, Sebald, Seth, Henry Green, Christina Stead, Leopardi, Verga, Montale, Sironi in Fascist Italy, Buzzati, Bateson and Neugeboren.
Download Hell and Back epub
ISBN: 009927485X
ISBN13: 978-0099274858
Category: Literature
Subcategory: Essays & Correspondence
Author: Tim Parks
Language: English
Publisher: Vintage (July 4, 2002)
Pages: 352 pages
ePUB size: 1434 kb
FB2 size: 1611 kb
Rating: 4.2
Votes: 586
Other Formats: mbr lrf azw rtf

This is also a great resource for students of literature. Tim Parks led me back to writers I have enjoyed and introduced many I had yet to meet and did all of this in an entertaining and illuminating fashion. I am wondering about his title. I'm sure it's related to his discussion of Dante's Inferno, but wonder how much it is also related to the experience of visiting Hell through the words of other writers and their particular challenges.

This is a book I will visit again and again, as I am inspired to become acquainted with the work of the other writers Parks presents in this wonderful collection of essays about writers and writing.
Best known for his accounts as an ex-pat in Italy, a prolific novelist, Tim Parks also contributes lengthy essays and book reviews, most often to the New York Review of Books. Twenty entries, most to the NYRB, comprise this 2001 collection. It reflects Parks' incisive mind and his broad range of literary and cultural contexts which enrich his steady eye and his accessible, if learned, prose style. He strives to remain clear while expanding commentary and sharpening criticism.

Starting off with a take on the Robert + Jean Hollander translation of Dante's Inferno, Parks remarks: "If twenty-first century man went to Heaven he would soon be demonstrating to have Hell abolished." (p. 20) Parks finds the "anesthetic" quality of the infernal realms a necessary ingredient, to distance us from the torment. Similarly, Parks argues for the terza rima as a way to keep the reader and the poet-pilgrim and his guide all advancing past the disquieting scenes.

On Borges, he finds the non-fiction better in its collected format than the fiction, which starts to use the same tropes. Rushdie features "fizz" (a quality Parks also attributes to Henry Green and to Eugenio Montale subsequently in these pages) but lacks the sustaining discipline in "The Ground Beneath Her Feet." "His mother rejoiced when her children died in infancy" is a sure-fire attention getter opening his study of a new biography of Giacomo Leopardi. After these, however, some essays start to loose their fizz. I wish there had been an introduction to explain the provenance (beyond footnotes and an overall listing, lacking even the date of each entry) and Parks' rationale for the arrangement of the entries: no idea if it's aleatory or chronological.

Some mentions connect writers; Beckett, for instance, gets a walk-on role in both the end of the Dante and the Borges pieces. But others, like one on a lackluster Vikram Seth saga, seem to end only to begin again. The generous space allotted Parks in NYRB seems to vitiate the energy of some of these reviews, as so many words afford him a chance to elaborate. He makes his points cogently, as in defending D.H. Lawrence's translations of Verga's stories against the attempts of G.H. McWilliam, and his knowledge of Italian here and in the Montale entry, of course, enable Parks to delve much deeper into the way his second language works.

This perspective, as he reflects in "Different Worlds" about his belated refusal to write in or to translate into Italian, complicates many of his analyses. It also gives him a chance to discuss the edition in English of Dino Buzzati's "The Tartar Steppe" or the intricacies of Italo Svevo's Trieste with more insight than most critics could summon for an anglophone audience. So, despite some loose ends, such as why this book's title was chosen, this is a worthwhile book.
Tim Parks is a superb writer, with excellent insight into the works of some of the greatest writers of all time. So why am I awarding this book four stars rather than five?

The book is entitled HELL AND BACK: REFLECTIONS ON WRITERS AND WRITING FROM DANTE TO RUSHDIE. It clearly implies that it is more than just a loose collection of Parks’s published essays. And yet, that’s exactly what it is.

What I—and I suspect many others—would have preferred to see is some attempt (in an introduction or conclusion, perhaps) at examining how everything fits together. Or at least some kind of comparison/contrast piece that would justify the title. Otherwise, this volume would more appropriately be subtitled, COLLECTED ESSAYS OF TIM PARKS.