Jerry Marlow is on a coach hurtling from Milan to Strasbourg, even though he loathes coaches and everything they stand for:
...all the contemporary pieties of getting people together and moving them off in one direction or another to have fun together, or to edify themselves, or to show solidarity to some underprivileged minority and everybody, as I said, being of the same mind and of one intent, every individual possessed by the spirit of the group, which is the very spirit apparently of humanity, and indeed that of Europe, come to think of it, which this group is now hurtling off to appeal. Jerry, suffice to say, is not a team player--not even when it comes to saving his own job. Together with a group of colleagues and students from the University of Milan, he's off to the European Parliament to protest new Italian laws against hiring foreigners--a cause which he opposes, appealing to an institution he's not sure should exist.
So why is Jerry on the coach in the first place? Because she is there--the same she for whom Jerry left his wife and daughter and who has since broken his heart. The unnamed she in question is a beautiful French woman (of course), a hellcat in bed (it goes without saying), and an intellect of notable refinement (naturellement). She was also unfaithful, and now they scarcely speak to one another. The rest of this dark and often savagely funny novel (shortlisted for the 1997 Booker Prize) consists of one great Joycean rant, a stream-of-consciousness harangue that circles obsessively around sex, the treachery of she, and Jerry's boundless misanthropy. In between we get glimpses of the bus and its motley cast of characters, including, most vividly, Vikram Griffiths, part Welsh, part Indian, with his nervous tics and his self-consciously Welsh accent and his shaggy mutt, Dafydd. As one might deduce from the title, the dream of the new, unified Europe looms behind this tale like--well, like a big, unwieldy metaphor, given expression in the form of Jerry's affair. As a meditation on the continent's future, the novel works surprisingly well, and though it initially takes some time to sort out the looping rhythms of Parks's prose, the reader's patience is repaid in spades. --Mary Park [via]