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Europa

“The triumph of the work is its discomforting portrayal of an agile mind hampered by the twin shackles of longing and disgust…Europa is that rare beast, a book which demands and withstands a second reading”

The Daily Telegraph

Sometime in the early nineties, can’t remember exactly when, I’d got involved in this trip to the European Parliament in Strasbourg. It was a group affair. A bunch of foreign language teachers at the university of Verona had been embattled for years over their terms of employment. Court case after court case. Now we decided to take a petition to the European Court of Justice. I say ‘we’ but some of us felt our demands were over the top. Never mind, solidarity was the thing. So we all went, perhaps a dozen of us from all the major European countries. For support we enlisted about thirty students, and in Italy language students are all girls. They were charming. Pretty soon someone had christened the coach we travelled in ‘The Shag Wagon’. Alas, it wasn’t. In fact the most interesting thing about this trip was the distance, in every department, between rhetoric and reality. We used exaggerated emotive or bureaucratic language to present our rather insignificant case to newspapers or committees. The guys talked racily about the girls, none of whom was seduced. And all this in English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, you name it… Great frame for a novel, I thought. But only years later did I get the story to fill the frame. Living in Milan, Jerry has left his Italian wife and their eighteen-year-old daughter for a woman, French, with whom he believes he was having a passionate affair – only to discover that she is also engaged in two other relationships. He turns nasty, violent. Both he and the French lady are teachers at the university. Two years later, still in a state of extreme depression, Jerry goes on the coach trip only and exclusively to demonstrate to himself that he can be close to her without becoming violent again, without feeling anything. But the general hypocrisy of the trip only leads him to agonise over the emptiness of all the love-words they used when they were together. It seems pretty likely that before the three days of the trip are up he is going do something absolutely outrageous.

Short takes

For sheer enjoyment, try this trip taken by Jerry Marlow and his fellow pedagogues, pluse their supporting, largely female, student body, from Milan to the European Parliament in Strasbourg…Doffing his hat to Joyce and Beckett, Parks really hits his stride

The Mail on Sunday

Europa is a full and rounded and very disturbing novel…guaranteed to intrigue and more often than not, have you squirming and wincing

The Times