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Stewing Waters

Tim Parks: Garibaldi

21 July 2005
Rome or Death: The Obsessions of General Garibaldi 
by Daniel Pick.
Cape, 288 pp., £16.99, July 2005, 0 224 07179 3
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... he had spent his life in the remote town of Recanati in the Italian Marche, governed at that time by the pope. He was extremely excited to be going on this first trip. Having read Cicero, Caesar, Livy and Tacitus, Rome was for him both the seat of past glory and the focus of his patriotic dream of a united Italy, a political credo he had assumed in ...

After the Earthquake

Tim Parks: Silone and Silone

9 July 2009
Bitter Spring: A Life of Ignazio Silone 
by Stanislao Pugliese.
Farrar, Straus, 426 pp., $35, June 2009, 978 0 374 11348 3
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... rather oddly delays consideration of evidence about his involvement with the police until the penultimate chapter. Obliged, then, to accept that some of that evidence is hard to refute, Pugliese thinks of every possible reason to doubt the bulk of it, leaving the reader confused and dissatisfied. Interest aroused, one is more or less obliged to turn to Dario ...

Stop It and Act

Tim Parks: Pavese’s Road to Suicide

11 February 2010
This Business of Living: Diaries 1935-50 
by Cesare Pavese, translated by A.E. Murch.
Transaction, 350 pp., £24.50, March 2009, 978 1 4128 1019 7
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... chief editor at Einaudi, was responsible for publishing some of the most important writers of his time. However, readers of the diary expecting an account of life under Fascism and German occupation, or character studies of the many writers Pavese worked with, or merely details of his notoriously unhappy love life, will be disappointed. These 350 pages are ...

Quite a Show

Tim Parks: Georges Simenon

8 October 2014
A Man’s Head 
by Georges Simenon, translated by David Coward.
Penguin, 169 pp., £6.99, July 2014, 978 0 14 139351 3
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A Crime in Holland 
by Georges Simenon, translated by Siân Reynolds.
Penguin, 160 pp., £6.99, May 2014, 978 0 14 139349 0
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... grudge, or that I judge you. I don’t judge anyone. If men have always fought each other since time began, it is out of their failure to understand their neighbours.’ Whether this overcoming of conflict is real, or just a more complete expression of victory over an antagonist who can no longer answer back, is something readers must decide for ...

Keep the ball rolling

Tim Parks: Natalia Ginzburg

28 June 2017
A Family Lexicon 
by Natalia Ginzburg, translated by Jenny McPhee.
NYRB, 224 pp., £9.99, August 2017, 978 1 59017 838 6
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... This may seem a strange preamble to a consideration of the work of Natalia Ginzburg, a writer sometimes criticised in Italy for having restricted her comments on the highly influential, privileged and politicised peer group she lived among to accounts of their domestic foibles. But coming back to Ginzburg now, some 25 years after her death, one appreciates ...

A Most Delicate Invention

Tim Parks: ‘Money and Beauty’

22 September 2011
... only child he recognised as his own. An immensely wealthy workaholic, Datini nevertheless found time to go on a brief pilgrimage with the so-called ‘Bianchi’, one of the many penitential movements of the period. ‘We were all barefoot,’ Datini recalls, ‘and scourging ourselves with a rod.’ He notes that a rosary cost 14 soldi and 8 denari. ‘God ...

In Some Sense True

Tim Parks: Coetzee

21 January 2016
The Good Story: Exchanges on Truth, Fiction and Psychotherapy 
by J.M. Coetzee and Arabella Kurtz.
Harvill Secker, 198 pp., £16.99, May 2015, 978 1 84655 888 7
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J.M. Coetzee and the Life of Writing: Face to Face with Tim
by David Attwell.
Oxford, 272 pp., £19.99, September 2015, 978 0 19 874633 1
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... reality of the past, when others feel free to manipulate their life stories at will? At the same time, speaking of his writing, he acknowledges that ‘it must be evident to you that I don’t have much respect for reality. I think of myself as using rather than reflecting reality in my fiction.’ As if to placate Kurtz, or perhaps the reader, for ...

The Passion of the Bureaucrats

Tim Parks: Skulduggery in the Vatican

18 February 2016
Avarizia: Le Carte che Svelano. Ricchezza, Scandali e Segreti della Chiesa di Francesco 
by Emiliano Fittipaldi.
Feltrinelli, 224 pp., €14, December 2015, 978 88 07 17298 4
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Merchants in the Temple: Inside Pope Francis’s Secret Battle against Corruption in the Vatican 
by Gianluigi Nuzzi, translated by Michael Moore.
Holt, 224 pp., £24.99, December 2015, 978 1 62779 865 5
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... The letter goes on: This lack of clarity makes it impossible to establish a proper estimate of the real financial position of the Vatican, whether as a whole or with regard to the single elements of which it is made up. It also means that no one can really consider themselves responsible for its financial management. All we know is that the data ...

Between the Guelfs and the Ghibellines

Tim Parks: Guelfs v. Ghibellines

13 July 2016
Dante: The Story of His Life 
by Marco Santagata, translated by Richard Dixon.
Harvard, 485 pp., £25, April 2016, 978 0 674 50486 8
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... writings, 11 surviving letters, a scattering of official records and one or two brief personal testimonies, we have so little information about the life of Dante Alighieri that Santagata is obliged to proceed deductively and speculatively, counterpointing the history of Florence and Italy in Dante’s lifetim...

Devils v. Dummies

Tim Parks: George Sand

23 May 2019
La Petite Fadette 
by George Sand, translated by Gretchen van Slyke.
Pennsylvania State, 192 pp., £14.95, November 2017, 978 0 271 07937 0
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George Sand 
by Martine Reid, translated by Gretchen van Slyke.
Pennsylvania State, 280 pp., £21.95, May 2019, 978 0 271 08106 9
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... by Dupin under her pen name George Sand, thinks about drowning himself in the river. By this time Sand’s readers would have been familiar with the suicide option. In her first novel, Indiana (1832), a serving girl drowns herself in a millpond while her mistress, the eponymous heroine, is saved from submerging herself in the Seine by her cousin ...

A Pair of Yellow Gloves

Tim Parks: Stendhal’s ‘Italian Chronicles’

18 October 2017
Italian Chronicles 
by Stendhal, translated by Raymond MacKenzie.
Minnesota, 344 pp., £20.99, May 2017, 978 1 5179 0011 3
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... to shade the lily’. There were so many women in his life, so many incidents with women – the time he hid for days in a cellar to enjoy his beloved, the time he sprang from a cupboard to catch an unfaithful mistress in flagrante – that any Stendhal biography risks becoming a procession of them. From his mother, whose ...

Yuk’s Last Laugh

Tim Parks: Flaubert

15 December 2016
by Michel Winock, translated by Nicholas Elliott.
Harvard, 528 pp., £25, October 2016, 978 0 674 73795 2
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... he desire to be good, yet equate goodness with stupidity? Why did he head for the brothel, but sometimes hang back, sublimating his sex drive in lingering observation of the prostitutes? Above all, in what relation does this behaviour stand to the wonderful books he gave us? Of the first time he had sex, he wrote: ‘A woman ...


Tim Parks: Victor Hugo’s Ego

3 May 2017
The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of ‘Les Misérables’ 
by David Bellos.
Particular, 307 pp., £20, January 2017, 978 1 84614 470 7
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... embarrassing. Hugo’s visit to Bicêtre prison, just south of Paris, in 1828 – he was 26 at the time – doubtless provided him with the knowledge of the way an iron collar is riveted around a convict’s neck (the fate of Les Misérables’s hero, Jean Valjean), and more immediately inspired his campaign against the death penalty as well as his novel The ...

No Company, No Carpets

Tim Parks: Tolstoy v. Tolstaya

25 April 2018
Tolstoy and Tolstaya: A Portrait of a Life in Letters 
by Andrew Donskov, translated by John Woodsworth, Arkadi Klioutchanski and Liudmila Gladkova.
Ottawa, 430 pp., £48, May 2017, 978 0 7766 2471 6
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... of his religious background were hardly less disturbing. Lev was disgusted with himself every time he had sex. All too easily he transferred his self-loathing to the object of his lust. Women were filthy. Yearning for purity, he whored compulsively. He tried to be good, helping the peasants on his country estate, even running a school for them, but in no ...

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