Reading Tim Parks’s Destiny (1999) inspired me to explore the entirety of the author’s oeuvre, a varied body of work comprised of fourteen novels, collections of non-fiction, critical essays, and a memoir. Eventually, I had the fortune to meet Parks and initiate a series of discussions about his writing. The conversation below is the most recent installment. It took place at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2012, where the German translation of his latest novel—The Server (2012)—had just been launched.
Jan Wilm: Would you say that your latest novel The Server is a novel about the suffering of the mind?
Tim Parks: Oh dear! All drama leads to suffering and suffering happens, to a very large extent, in the mind. The Server is about a girl who is dealing with a past trauma; a series of events has put her in a very difficult place; and it deals with one man whose diary the girl finds, a man who is going through all kinds of turmoil in his life as well. In the West the normal reaction to this mental suffering is to do something like therapy, or psychoanalysis to reconstruct a self-narrative, to try and understand what is the cause for one’s suffering. The fun of The Server was to present the reader with a girl full of energy, full of obvious narrative potential in terms of her past trauma, and to show how to overcome her mental suffering the girl has gone to a place where the invitation is not to retell your story, but simply to let your story fade away. So she has come to a meditation retreat, the Dasgupta Institute, where she learns just to be in the present moment. This is exactly the opposite to the way the West deals with mental suffering. Without erecting a simplistic binarism between East and West, to a degree the book was a challenge to the way the West deals with mental anguish, and a reminder that there’s another tradition that has a different approach.
JW: In an article in The New York Review of Books you once wrote: “Our 20th century author is simply not interested in a mind that does not suffer.”
TP: In fact, that is obviously true and it’s quite clear in my own work as well. Although, I think what’s happening in the work of some people, and I hope in my own, but certainly when you go back to people like Samuel Beckett or Thomas Bernhard, is that there is an awareness of the problem of being interested in suffering. There is a self-awareness of the tendency, that this is the only thing we’re interested in. Remember Beckett’s Endgame where Hamm says, “Can there be misery . . . loftier than mine?” And Clov says to himself: “Clov, you must learn to suffer better than that if you want them to weary of punishing you.” So, it’s very funny when Beckett already ironizes the whole process. What I’m doing in The Server is actually, provocatively, to launch an attack on the focus on suffering, even though I myself am not free from that in any way. Maybe novels are inevitably about that. Maybe to move out of that tradition is to move away from the novel. But what is depressing about novels is when they’re quite simply exploiting a pathetic and morose engagement with suffering and a self-regarding pleasure in the aestheticization of suffering. Take a writer who I really admire in many ways, Colm Tóibín; well, I think in the end his works are too often about feeling good about having aestheticized sadness, which can be very depressing, even though it’s brilliantly done.
JW: What is remarkable about The Server is the way the novel seems structured along the lines of moving toward revealing Beth’s secret, why she is in the meditation retreat, what are the demons of her past. But while this still happens, it seems there is something that clearly undermines the revelation. It is not the moment of “Behold! This is what it was.”
TP: Absolutely! On the contrary, it’s rather “This is what it was, and so what next?” Obviously, the whole business of withholding the triggering event is partly a simple narrative ploy, but on the other hand, given that Beth has been encouraged in the retreat for over nine months to let that story go, seeing as she is the narrator, it’s understandable that at the beginning of the tale she wouldn’t be telling us her story direct. Her problem is that her story won’t lie down and die, and the question is, is that because meditation does not do what it should do, or is it because Beth actually hasn’t deeply engaged with the tradition that she’s met in the Dasgupta Institute, or that perhaps it’s just impossible for her to do so. We don’t know. I certainly didn’t want the actual revelation of what happened to leave the reader satisfied, to let him relax in the knowledge that that was what the book was about. What happened to her was traumatic mostly in so far as she behaved badly and then exploited what happened to her to try to manipulate somebody else. It’s certainly not a good place for her to go back to in terms of her self-esteem.
JW: I wonder if you could speak about the aspect of guilt in your work as a whole. I wonder if you see it as I see it reading your work. Obviously you have a different view on it.
TP: Maybe not.
JW: Maybe not. But starting from some of your great earlier works, like Goodness, through Destiny, and now The Server, it seems that one running motif is this aspect of guilt, repressed regrets, and I wonder if you’re interested in that in terms of it’s narrative function.
TP: (laughs) How sad! How sad. Well, it’s not that I’m interested in it. How boring that would be to be interested in it. You know, great, I’m interested in stamp collections, I’m interested in guilt. It’s obvious that what happens is that one grows up in a certain environment where one’s whole way of relating to people and positioning yourself around people and in relation to the world is structured in the way that social environment structured it prior to your being there. We know that I grew up in an extremely religious family, my father was a clergyman, my mother very much his server, they were engaged in charismatic religion, and everything was done in a way to create a sense that you were a sinner and that happiness actually lay in the constant confession of guilt and in the transport that comes with being freed from that weight of guilt and so on. Any writer who is really working close to what he cares about, well, the characters across the works will relate to each other. Take for example a scene in Goodness, where the protagonist, George, takes his seriously handicapped child to a faith healer, although he doesn’t believe in faith healing. This is a last attempt before possibly suppressing the child, about which he already feels very guilty, of course. In this scene with the faith healer you see him coming up against a completely different kind of wisdom, which is not, as it turns out, to do with miracles but simply proposes a deep acceptance of a life handicap included. Compare that scene with an apparently slighter dialogue in The Server. Beth confronts the woman running the Dasgupta Institute with the fact that she, Beth, has killed someone, and the woman quite calmly says, “Well, there’s nobody to judge you about this, you know, we’re not here to put you on trial about this and there’s no priest here to punish you or absolve you.” Beth has this constant feeling that she is constrained inside a logic of guilt and innocence and confession, but the actual world doesn’t conform to that logic. So there’s this constant learning experience of her trying to get out of this logic and appreciate that she doesn’t have to think in terms of guilt. What’s problematic to many of my characters is that it is precisely guilt which feeds the self-obsessed ego. To feel cosmically guilty is also to feel cosmically important. One of the interesting things about some Eastern ways of thinking is that the individual is not encouraged to feel so important on the metaphysical level. Christian metaphysics invites the individual to be terribly important. You’re always Lucifer thrown out of paradise. I think this kind of guilt structure is not uncommon among writers, in that writers usually consider themselves terribly important people. Obviously, The Server is trying to do different things at different moments, but one of the things it’s trying to do is simply to undermine the whole self-importance that attaches to guilt.
JW: You once told me about your own experiences with mediation, and you told me that the moment something turns, healing starts is once you acknowledge that you are not important, the moment you accept that you are almost already dead.
TP: Oh, no, that sounds radical. I must have been in quite a mood that day. (laughs) First, let’s say, I have done about five or six of these ten-day meditation retreats. I suppose that’s quite a long time: 60 days of silence altogether. What is interesting about these places is that they are anti-narrative places. In a certain sense setting a novel in a meditation retreat where people are going to be in silence or aren’t allowed to communicate or have fun together, where they certainly can’t have sex—this is all a great challenge to narrative. And when you’re put in that situation, as the days go by and as your mind continues to produce all its usual garbage, there comes a point when you’re starting to realize that actually your thinking is not as important as you thought it was. And because you’re not engaged in relating to others and no one is constantly feeding your sense of self-importance, inevitably you reach a state where you do feel that you’re less important than you thought you were. Your individuality is constantly undermined. Meditating, you turn your mind away from language and turn it simply to your own physical presence in existence, and that is something we think about very little. And you feel terribly alive when you move out of the meditation hall into the world, you feel you have a very immediate contact with the world. One of the things that I find most disturbing is, when you go out on a beautiful day, to the mountains, the sea, whatever, and you just think, this is incredibly beautiful, but I don’t really feel part of it, I’m not really in it. And instead, at the meditation retreat, you begin to get a new awareness of belonging to the physical world perhaps precisely because you’ve lowered the volume of all the other stuff going on in your mind.
JW: That is something very prominent in the novel, this sense that all of a sudden little details become much more important than one’s own thoughts about them. For example, when Beth is working in the kitchen, there is an acute sense of being in it, being part of it anew. Repeatedly, she thinks to herself how much she loves certain vegetables, how she loves touching them, washing them—
TP: —Chopping them in two. (laughs) But yes, she is actually feeling in this, she is actually part of it. The interesting thing is, though, how fragile this state of being is as soon as some major narrative fact clicks back in place. Beth’s been at the retreat for nine months, a gestation period if you like, and yet she only needs to find a diary that talks about somebody’s suffering, a few words only, and immediately everything begins to click back in and there’s this immediate return of anxiety and panic. So, I do wonder what kind of value is to be attributed to those experiences of intensity and engagement with the world, with nature that you get at meditation centres. These intense experiences, these sublime individual moments, are very beautiful, but I really don’t know whether they satisfy the need for narrative. One of the questions of the book is whether one could live without any narrative at all. There are days when I might have wanted that. And I suppose that in a certain sense this might be considered a death wish, but only if you want to attribute the whole of life to a self-narrative. There’s a moment at the end of the book where the man writing the diary, Geoff, asks Beth why she liked it there, at the Dasgupta institute, and she says, she misses the feeling “that it might be possible not to live, . . . Not to have to live. . . . The thought that you could be nothing, . . . You’d be spared.” Well, I think that is a really deep feeling that some of the people have at retreats. It doesn’t sound like a very positive feeling, but just the idea that a certain unhappy way of living out one’s own personal drama could be set aside offers a feeling of hope.
JW: For me, this is one of the key moments, and one of the most moving moments in all of your work. I think the great thing about it is precisely this simultaneity that, on the one hand, it’s very pessimistic that you have a certain desire not to have to live, but on the other hand there is also something very beautiful about it, in the sense that, as an idea, there seems to be the possibility somewhere that one could be spared the business of living.
TP: I am intrigued that you felt that part was so strong. After an intense love, there can be a great sense of dread that one will have to love again, that one will have to talk again to people about one’s life, retell the same past again, negotiate all the stuff that has to be negotiated when a couple comes together, or when a family is formed. There can be a very strong desire that maybe I want to be spared all that yet again. It seemed to me that the beautiful thing about Beth really was that she felt this desire, but she was aware that at this moment in her life this was not an available road to her, that for the time being she could not be spared life, she will have to live and love again.
JW: There is, of course, the old tradition that you will heal yourself by telling of your own life, stemming from a tradition of psychoanalysis, but also the idea that the writer will exorcize his or her demons by writing. For Beth, this certainly does not work, in the sense that, in general, I don’t know if you actually get over your life if you spin a narrative out of it.
TP: You can certainly make it a lot worse if you decide to keep telling a story where you’re the loser and that’s it. We’ve all been in that place, where we say, I did everything wrong, let’s go over it once more and explain to myself how wrong I was, and let’s stay in that place. Of course psychotherapy is not merely attempting a genuine authentic reconstruction of an unhappy past, it’s slowly seducing you to understand where you can go so that you arrive at a feeling about the past that is possible to accept. One of the things that drives me absolutely crazy when I go to festivals and conferences is when everybody says, we need stories, stories will heal us, stories are helpful for us and so on. It’s just so undiscriminating. It’s clear that there are also many stories which are extremely negative and which can be used in a life negatively. I wrote an essay about Thomas Hardy where I put forward an idea that I think D.H. Lawrence had already begun to formulate about Hardy’s stories. It’s the notion that Hardy told a certain kind of story about people who are always punished when they try to take what they want romantically. And I argue that Hardy told himself that story in order to block his own life, because, although he wanted to move away from his marriage, he was terrified of doing so. Now obviously, we don’t need to go into the particulars of that and we don’t even need to know whether that is actually true or not. All I’m saying is that just as stories can be used to facilitate growth by presenting certain things as possibilities, so they can be used as a way of inhibiting growth by presenting certain things as impossibilities. So stories should be looked at with a certain scepticism or at least caution. The other thing is, there are a lot of places in the world that encourage quite different stories and have a different relationship to those stories. It’s not so much that they’re living without stories. There are always foundation stories, how people came to be where they are, or who they are, but there are, of course, people who live without our constant production of stories that are basically feeding the ego: I am a unique individual with a unique story, which I am building up about my life. There are whole cultures that live without this. And, of course, it can be wonderful if the story does coincide to a large degree with reality and things go okay, but it can be deeply, deeply damaging if the story you’ve slowly been constructing about your life just gets blown apart, and you really don’t know how to move on from then.
JW: There’s that moment when Beth is reading in the man’s diary and she says, what a stupid idea that he thinks he will get rid of his story by writing it down.
TP: Yes; the diarist has decided to write down his life in one hundred words, as if it were the blurb for a book, and he’s done about a hundred versions of those hundred words. And every version is more self-punishing than the one before. I think the only thing that can be said for that is that any kind of self-healing there would come, as it were, out of a catharsis of exhaustion, which is the kind of catharsis that Thomas Bernhard offered us, and also Beckett up to a point in the trilogy. I often think D.H. Lawrence in Women in Love was beginning to understand that: if you simply thrash over something endlessly, there will inevitably come the point where your mind tells you, okay I’ve had enough of this. But, of course, it could be a very time-consuming and wasteful way to resolve problems this way.
JW: As a parallel to the Romantic notion that stories can be an agent of healing, there is a tendency among many writers that words are the key to a good life. In a different context, the German writer Herta Müller has said that she believes words can accomplish anything.
TP: Oh, dear! That seems simply stupid to me. With all respect, of course, it’s just not true. I mean, it is terribly interesting to look at the investment we have in words and in this idea that words are all powerful. But let’s be clear about one thing, all transmission and communication in words is, however evocative those words may be, simply nothing like the knowledge communicated by experience. So your experience, even of cutting up vegetables, feeling the cold flesh of a cabbage on your hands, or feeling the resistance when the knife comes down on a carrot or something simple like that—all that is blissfully felt. But all language can say is, can you relate to what I am talking about? Language can say, do you recall that, do you understand that, or it can throw in a couple of details and can say, do you see where I am going with this. Or it can evoke a world you didn’t expect and say, can you relate it to your own experience? For example, when Lawrence wrote, she “was destroyed into perfect consciousness.” Does the reader understand what is meant by that experience? And, of course, the reader may relate it to his or her own sense of being overly conscious and may relate to it. Through this mysterious phrase, Lawrence is taking you to a moment in a sort of electric way. And language can be wonderful and poetic the way it does that, and it might create a powerful complicity between us. But it doesn’t actually change anything to have said something like that.
Let’s just give an incredibly quick description of the evolution of literature. It begins with the oral, where the language is ours and where the things that are named don’t need to be explained because they’re the things we share and we are here now and hearing these words now. Then it begins to be written down, which means it’s going to be for somebody who is not here now, and he could be in a different place, and he could be in a different time entirely, but maybe it’s still our language and it’s still among us. But then you move to a situation where literature is going to be for people who don’t speak my language, and the texts need to be translated, and now a lot of words will need to be paraphrased and explained. I imagine it’s very like the difference when guys are speaking in a local dialect, and then other guys come along and they have to speak in their national language, and then other guys come along and they have to speak in English. And you get the loss of the immediate easiness and everybody has to wonder what the other person is saying. The result of this is that more and more in a globalized literary landscape, what can be put in a book that will then be talked about has to be something that can be talked about in another language. So that you’re moving to a constant slight abstraction of that intensity of the original moment that was there when people sat around and told each other stories orally.
If you think about something like the Nobel Prize, when they give the Nobel Prize they have to justify the prize to a global audience and press. So they have to say what is in this book that can be extracted that we can explain to the world. So if you wrote a book where effectively nothing could be said or summarized about what you had said in terms of ideologies detached from the language you would not win the Nobel Prize, even if it was the most astonishing reading experience that anybody could imagine.
So while I am very interested in how words are integrated into people’s lives, I don’t see words so positively. Language and the word is the area of control and phobia. That is how I see it. Words are constantly creating orthodoxies that are terribly hard to break down. I see words and language in a much more sceptical way.
JW: For Beth, of course, words can be extremely self-destructive, but also very constructive. There are reassurances that she makes to herself, which are, of course, transmitted through language, but at the same time it is language itself that is causing her great pain.
TP: It’s the ability to remember and then castigate yourself with language. But Beth is fairly innocent about language. She is not a thinker. The other guy writing the diary is clearly much closer to somebody with a literary background and he is much more self-punitive than Beth. I’m not saying we should stop using words. Not like Beckett had said, who was really serious when he talked about moving away from words more and more. But we should try to be clear and honest about words and language: the nature of the word is to move into a system which is a map and not a territory. It’s not the area of sensuality and touch. It has its acoustic sensualities, sure, but as a system it is removed from life, and on paper further removed, and in translation further removed. One of the things I did in The Server, because that was very present to me in these retreats, was to put in these various phrases that are frequently repeated for reassurance. Beth repeats to herself things like, “may all creatures be happy, may all creatures be free from all attachment, may all creatures be filled with sympathetic joy,” and so on. These are words used as instruments to control and reassure the mind. Beth becomes obsessed by the repetition of such formulas. They give her a sense of temporary respite from her thoughts. Ultimately, it would be a mistake to formulate a final and conclusive opinion on these matters, but I suppose what I’m doing in the book is to show that the orthodox optimism about words is not credible. Around the liberal arts there is this horrible self-regard and complacency that art is always good and therapeutic. And when you look at literary prizes, what they’re saying is, this is a morally good thing. But in the end, why feel that art and artists are necessarily morally good? It’s ridiculous.
JW: Where does this come from, this notion that art has to be good, that it has to bring about happiness, peace?
TP: Well, what’s funny is that there was a period where they insistently told us that that art didn’t have to be committed to a good cause, it was above causes, but actually they were simply reformulating what they meant by being good. Art didn’t have to be socialist or philanthropic, but it did have to be open and honest about the complexities of life and that made it good. So there was the same piety in the end. I suspect it comes out of Christianity. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe it’s older. Let me say, honestly, that the more I begin to think about these matters, the effects of the novel on people and what you’re feeding into a novel when you’re writing one, the more I feel disorientated about what I want to do in the future with novels. This book, The Server, for example, was an attempt to draw attention to this. At the same time, one could say, I’m just taking pleasure in the dilemma about not really knowing what to do about narrative. I’m pious in my attack on old pieties. I think that was certainly Beckett’s case, to a degree. But I’m not sure where to go with the novel after that. The problem is that there’s a huge inertia in one’s life; I do novels, I do them well enough, I suppose. So I’ll probably go on doing them. (laughs) Of course, it’s a great pleasure to do them. But more and more there is the wish to get out of what I see as profoundly negative in novels. This novel, I feel, is one of the better novels I’ve written. The place I’d simply like to be in is to say, I did some stuff with the novel, tried some things out, and I hope they were interesting. But I doubt if I’ll ever get there.
JW: At the moment, it seems like you’re more prolific than ever before.
TP: I hate that. I do write a lot. But, honestly, I don’t see it in terms such as prolific. Honestly, I don’t know what some of the other people are doing all the time. Maybe they’re having much better lives than I am. (laughs) I don’t know. There have been a couple of projects that have gone on since this book. For example, I have written something that could sound like the lightest work of non-fiction. It’s a book compiled from very old notes I have collected over fifteen years, right up to the present, a book where Italy is understood through dealings with trains. Train journeys, ticketing, the way trains have changed, the history of Italian trains, and my personal and long history of commuting with Italian trains. So that could seem like a very light project. But, of course, trains are places where we meet people we don’t know, and where we see the whole social spectrum. You can’t not be aware of the immigrant situation in train stations, you can’t not be aware of first- and second-class citizens in trains. It’s really a book about my belonging in Italy, or not belonging maybe, and about all the immigrants trying to belong in the country, and this constant movement of modern capitalism to invest everything where people have credit cards and nothing where they don’t. And again it’s also very much about maps and territories, because being on a train is, very much moving into a mental space where you leave the territory behind and you start to zip back and forth between places. There was a Pope in the 1840s when there was first talk of introducing trains in Italy. And he completely banned them immediately in the Papal States, saying the problem with the train would be that people would be able to move rapidly from one place to another. They would start becoming detached from their roots, they would start to have double lives, they wouldn’t be under the control of their priests and wives. (laughs) How right he was! Your first impulse is to laugh and say, how ridiculous, but when you think about it, you realize he had a point. At least he did understand what the consequences would be and how trains are emblematic of a larger change that comes with modernity and mobility. Trains are part of that whole communication movement which is splitting us from where we are. We’re sitting here, but we’re taking a text message from back home, or we’re with a friend who is reading an e-mail on his iPhone from his lover or his wife.
JW: For many years, your writing has included these modern forms of communication and modern forms of travel as ways of splitting us apart.
TP: How can one not include these phenomena? How can they be handing out prizes to historical novels in the UK, which get us all into a costume drama about our past? In the last twenty years the mental state has been totally revolutionised. It’s a change of a rapidity almost beyond anything that has ever happened before. Certainly, the introduction of the written word, the introduction of the printed page, the introduction of the telephone, the radio, the TV—all these were huge shifts. But the introduction, in just a few years, of cell phones, e-mail, Facebook—it’s lunatic! People’s minds are just all over the place. If you have a fifteen or sixteen year old child, you’re lucky to talk to them for just a few seconds with all the text messages they’re sending back and forth. So, it just seems extraordinary to me not to appreciate these vast changes and include them in our fiction. What does the novel do? If I were to get into ideas of duty, I would say at least one thing fiction could do is to try and help us to see, just to observe what vast changes are happening in our lives. And what that whole communications revolution has done, the text message in particular, is just to intensify the dramatic potential of your life. Imagine a guy is left by a woman. In the past, if the woman makes herself scarce and doesn’t talk to him and says, “no you mustn’t come and see me,” and he is halfway intelligent and doesn’t go and see her, then he just sits on his own and moans about it for three months and then hopefully slowly he’ll get over it. But now he can send her thousands of text messages, and she’ll start replying to some of them because she’ll be angry or hurt, and then both of them will go on living out parts of their relationship that has been ended. At least until she changes her number, if she has any sense. There are so many obsessional traps you can fall into today, and I’m talking about this as somebody who came to this stuff late. The text message came when I was around forty. But there are people, especially younger people, of course, where this is just integrated in the way their mind is structured. It’s very easy to get lost.
JW: It seems to me that what the text message does in particular is to turn your life into a workaday narrative.
TP: It’s constant communication, and communication constantly brings energy to drama. The text message affords ordinary people the chance to bring energy to their lives, and drama. One thing they tell you in meditation retreats is the story of the Buddha and the second arrow. The first arrow brings suffering, essential suffering that you can’t avoid. But the second arrow is all the energy that you yourself bring to the suffering. And, of course, that’s a trap easy to fall into nowadays. Modern communication seems to feed into the desire to return to your own suffering again and again and bring drama to it.
JW: Is there a connection to be found between your own experiences of meditation and formal aspects of your texts. The Server, for all its mental suffering, seems calmer, more organic. Especially your novels Destiny and Europa, seem to be so manic in the sense that the characters’ minds are always zipping obsessively circling their own suffering, like carrion birds.
TP: The Server is structured more interestingly, I think. Europa and Destiny follow a pattern of obsession, and there is a constant chronological trick of anticipating something and then arriving at it. In those books you have narrating minds that are trying to tell and at the same time control what they’re telling by using a very sophisticated extended syntax, which is also a self-regarding sense of controlling, as if to say, “Look! I have control over my life because I can articulate it in such a formulated way,” while simultaneously the reader can feel that the pressure on that syntax to break down (and it frequently does), the reader soon sees that the project is not going to work, and that no control has been achieved whatsoever. The Server is very different. Of course, narrative structure has to do with playfulness and with how to engage the reader. The playfulness of the structure of The Server stems from sudden moves forward through the days, sudden switches of narrative attention, and, of course, the reader is momentarily disoriented. But most readers will quickly appreciate what is being done and they might get a deeper engagement with the text because they’ve been energized and able to approach the text in this energetic way.
So has meditation changed my writing? I’m not sure. If you look at a book like Cleaver, what I thought was interesting about Cleaver is that the book manages to leave Cleaver in a completely impossible position. He’s decided to stay up a mountain and it’s clear that he cannot stay up that mountain, but it’s also clear that he’s not going to come down from that mountain. I try to avoid the reader being too frustrated with this non-ending by introducing another story in the last pages of the book, the story of Cleaver’s son, a story so intense that for a moment the reader forgets that we have left Cleaver up the mountain. This sense that the main character has been left in an impossible place is a feeling that takes place in a lot of my books. Even in a comic thriller like Cara Massimina we have a disreputable man who is constantly putting himself in positions from which there is no way out, except by killing someone. What I am talking about in a lot of my books is this process whereby you get yourself into a position from which there is no way out. Which is also a way of saying, the whole way you’ve structured your mental life actually doesn’t fit the nature of reality, because when you carry on in the way your map tells you to, you always end in a place on the territory where there’s nowhere to go. A lot of life feels like that to me. The different thing about The Server—and I was quite surprised about this when I wrote the end of the novel—is that here there is a feeling that, if nothing else, that period in the meditation retreat has helped these two people to avoid one more catastrophe, one more dead end. And that the girl, if not the man, has maybe moved on ever so slightly. She is not stuck, she seems able to move forward. I was quite surprised by my optimism.
Jan Wilm is a lecturer in English literature at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. He is currently editing a volume on Samuel Beckett and German literature to be published later this year. Tim Parks, a novelist, essayist, and translator, is Associate Professor of Literature and Translation at IULM University in Milan. His books include Teach Us to Sit Still: A Skeptic’s Search for Health and Healing and The Server.
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