Tim Parks’s latest novel is too, too much. Its characters are adrift, even when they appear most purposeful. Their attempts to read the world are continually muddled, their relationships stumbling and blurred. And the Western principal characters are in Delhi, a city which continually offers a sprawling sensory overload.
Everything takes its tone from the central, if deceased, character, a quixotic anthropologist apparently defeated by his attempts to find patterns in human experience. Albert James has died suddenly in New Delhi. His son, John, flies over from London for the funeral and to join his mother, Helen. She seems distant, the tributes to his father throw up as many questions as answers, and a prospective American biographer buzzes around Helen.
India itself is presented as a country overwhelming the characters with sensation. It’s teeming with noise and smell, klaxons and yellow petals, and Delhi is a city that constantly blurs at the borders. It might be on the edge of liquefaction: ‘The evening simmered with abrupt cries and bright lights