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Adultery and Other Diversions Hardcover – March 5, 1999

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 172 pages
  • Publisher: Arcade Publishing; 1st North American ed edition (March 5, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1559704705
  • ISBN-13: 978-1559704700
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,103,689 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

In his essay "Maturity," Tim Parks, reflecting on that notoriously indecisive prince of Denmark, suggests that Hamlet's problem was "not cowardice, or even thinking too much, but rather that thought is his chief pleasure." Indeed, Parks continues, "It is perhaps this that our culture will have no truck with, the idea that the greatest pleasure might come, not from consumption, or action, or doing good or passion, but merely, wonderfully, from the mind's play with itself." Our culture may not appreciate the mind at play, but Tim Parks most definitely does. In Adultery and Other Diversions, he gives his own intellect free rein to cartwheel and skylark among a variety of subjects from the dangerous allure of adultery to the creative power of rancor.

With each essay, Parks begins by grounding himself and the reader in a concrete experience--a bus ride across Europe, for instance, or cleaning his daughter's room, or translating an Italian novel into English--then lets his mind loose to joyously observe, reflect, and comment on what it all means. In "Glory," for example, Parks recounts an arduous hike through the Italian Alps with his two young children and a family friend. Descriptions of the difficult terrain, his own complicated feelings about climbing a particular peak, his friend's preoccupation with the Tour de France, his children's games--all dovetail gracefully to arrive, eventually, at his real point, the nature of their endeavor:

Being an entirely mental quality, surfacing in nothing more concrete than a word, glory tends to be belittled, or viewed with some embarrassment in a world where technique and her accomplice, information, are assumed to hold sway.... And yet despite her new boots--Gore-Tex lined--and all the chocolate and mineral drinks, the creams for sores and plasters for blisters, young Stefi, I know, would never have climbed Monte Maggio on that third day had it not been for the flavour of certain words--Crest-Strider, Peak-Dancer.
Whether he is discussing the Dionysian nature of affairs, or drawing parallels between the society Plato commented on in his Republic and our own, Parks does so with wit, elegance, and the kind of unself-conscious grace that a natural athlete brings to the game. Adultery and Other Diversions is a delight to read, and even better to think about afterwards--exactly the sort of book a certain prince of Denmark would have loved. --Alix Wilber

From Kirkus Reviews

Mixing meditation and the mundane, this collection of 13 essays (several of which appeared in the New Yorker) looks for philosophical inspiration in the quotidian, but sometimes finds only banality. The self-described task novelist Parks (Europa, 1998, etc.) has set himself here is ``to dramatize an intimate relation between reflections that are timeless and the ongoing stories of our lives.'' In the best pieces, such as ``Adultery'' (the kind of awed and fearful musing on the seductiveness of extremes only an Englishman could write) or ``Ghosts'' (a delicately etched reflection on death and remembrance), Parks is letter-perfect. He combines the sensibility of a poet with a philosophers ratiocination and a novelists awareness of the worlds profusion of exceptions and contradictions. But there are deep traps in mining the ordinary, and in at least a few essays, Parks falls in headfirstfor example, ``Analogies,'' in which he contrasts a faltering Italian soccer teams luckless season with a friends teetering marriage to utterly affectless and contrived effect. Elsewhere, such as in ``Maturity,'' he flounders about desperately in domestic habitudes, trying to grasp at any passing profundity, no matter how little apropos. There is also a certain crimped, European Union smallness and dull homogeneity to some of the material. Parks may be a well-traveled Englishman living in Italy, but his Europe seems quietly dreary and uninflected. In essays such as ``Europe,'' that is perhaps his unspoken point. The ``end'' of history has left us with only our own niggling, unsolvable, eternal problems, which seem almost more picayune now that they can no longer be juxtaposed against great events. But even when Parks is unable to focus or is focused too deeply on his own omphalos, his questing intelligence and humanity shine clearly through. A largely agreeable diversion. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By on July 14, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This is the third book of the author I have read.I run into the Italian Education accidentally,while perusing through the travel section in a bookstore. Later I have read the Italian Neighbours. I recommend these books higly especially for those who are interested in Italian society and who thought that Francis Mayes' Under the Tuscan Sun was a tasteless joke. This last book by Parks which comprises of a set of essays strengthened my conviction that,when it comes to making observations and passing judgments on contemporary institutions and social norms he is as insightful and original as anybody, perhaps he is a modern day Tocqueville. These seemingly disparate essays are held together by some common themes:limits of rationality in guiding behavior,arbitrary nature of language,critique of the historical unlearning process which is underway,etc. What is particularly noteworhy in the author's reasoning is that he can start out with a convention or an assumption that reasonable minds will agree(such as "being charitable is a good thing"),then he debunks the widely held conventions by attacking their inner contradictions before(sometimes)reaching a moral conclusion. Fortunately he does this without a dash of pedanticism and with irony and sincere self-examination. The book also becomes a lot of fun to read under the Campania sun when Parks delivers a beautifully crafted personal attack against a literary"giant" and you understand that the man must have been a force to reckon with when he played football(Soccer)in his youth.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 30, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Having lived in Italy for over 20 yers I am a great fan of Tim Parks. Italian Neighbors, are my neighbors. Down to the barking dog you plan to kill on the first moonless night. Italian Eucation is the story of my beach and my beach club. Down to the juke box mother! Adultery is just such a disappointment. None of the humor. None of laughing outloud. Just dull and overly trying too hard to impress. I have to say I disliked every word of this book. Not vintage Parks
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Jerome Alvin on January 12, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The English have a tradition of great essayists but modern practitioners such as Parks and Theroux do not have the scope or weight of their predecessors.
Parks is clever and he never rambles on. But his subjects--adultery, cleaning his daughter's room, the transforming power of language expressed in a hike--do not carry the weight of an Eliot or Orwell essay. Maybe that's because most of Parks's pieces appeared in the New Yorker, which has pared back noticeably the length of essays it publishes.
You may find that the essays do not compell repeated readings as, say, Eliot's and Orwell's do.
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