In Extremis by Tim Parks

Review published on April 7, 2017.

This is the story of a few weeks in the life of Thomas Sanders. We first meet him at a conference in the Netherlands where he is taking part in a demonstration of anal massage with a wand that has helped his chronic pelvic pain syndrome. This pain is probably psychological, but it is very real to Thomas and he is obsessed with measuring his liquid input and output and difficulties with urination.

An email from his sister – ‘Mum going downhill fast, better come now’ – plunges us into a meditation on being middle-aged, remembering childhood and contemplating death.

Thomas is self-obsessed and his family and friends are just an addition to a stream of consciousness that is all about him and tells us nothing about them. Some of it reads like an anxiety dream as he tries to find a location, make a phone call, get somewhere on time. There are musings on the preoccupations of the elderly and the Christian faith as his parents were a vicar and a lay-preacher.

The only chord the book struck with me was when Thomas found himself using phrases his mother had used, most of them cliches, but a reminder that our early life and upbringing resonates with our adult selves.

I am sure the novel is meant to be comical, but I must say I found it tedious.

I have read similarly themed books by Philip Roth and Edward St Aubyn that made me laugh, but Tim Parks just did not do this for me.

I also found the actual writing to be annoying as it veered between very long sentences and very short ones. To me ‘Probably.’ is not a sentence… English teachers everywhere would agree! It added nothing to the book.

Had I not been reading this for review I would have given up after 50 pages. Sorry.

Dorothy Anderson 1/1

In Extremis by Tim Parks
Harvill Secker 9781911215707 hbk Mar 2017

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