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