‘Any great and lasting book must be ambiguous,’ wrote André Maurois in the middle of the last century, summarising the view of the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. ‘It is a mirror that makes the reader’s features known, but the author must seem to be unaware of the significance of his own work.’ Such a statement might feel a little too prescriptive these days, but it helps explain why Rapids, while perfectly readable, is not a great novel. There is not much ambiguity in Tim Parks’s rather contrived story of a group of British adolescent and adult canoeists who go to the Italian Alps to learn white-water kayaking, and along the way learn significant things about themselves.
Rapids opens with a note about the perils of turning reality into fiction: ‘the rapids of the river Aurino are not exactly as described. Canoeists beware! This book is not a guide for a safe descent.’ Parks tips us off that, although the novel overflows with vivid, mildly technical white-water