Review | Juggling the Stars, Tim Parks

16284886Juggling the Stars by Tim Parks has been compared to Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley series, and rightly so. Parks’ protagonist Morris Duckworth has neither Ripley’s skill, nor charm, but he does have Ripley’s aspiration for a better life. An English tutor in Italy, Morris views his wealthy clients with envy and disdain, believing himself more deserving of their wealth and helping himself to some of their possessions.

The story takes off when one of his students falls in love with him and her mother forbids the relationship. The student then runs away with Morris, and Morris concocts a complicated scheme where he pretends to have kidnapped her and sends her family ransom notes. Morris’ lies quickly catch up to him, and he has to keep spinning more and even more convoluted tales just to stay ahead.

Juggling the Stars is a quick, fast-paced thriller. It’s fascinating to see how much more Morris’ plan can go wrong, and to see what new plot he comes up with to extricate himself. And when his plan starts spiralling completely out of his control, the consequences are fatal.

The story isn’t chilling — for all his malice, Morris lacks the skill to be a truly malevolent villain. He’s a Ripley wannabe more than a Ripley character, and to the author’s credit, that seems to have been the author’s intent. Morris’ girlfriend (the student who runs away with him) may have made the stupid decision to go with Morris, but is surprisingly sharp in her assessment of him — he “feels inferior,” she tells her mother, and later on tells Morris he’s sucking up too much just because someone is rich. He’s a rather pathetic figure, yet sympathetic in a way because he’s just trying so hard to get rich and yet so many things are going wrong.

The result is a fun read, a quick page turner that will translate really well to the big screen. There are alternating bursts of humour and of horror, and despite all his crimes, a protagonist you root for.

+

Thank you to Thomas Allen Ltd for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

One thought on “Review | Juggling the Stars, Tim Parks

  1. You deserve REAL credit for drawing the connection between Parks’s novel and “The Talented Mr. Ripley” but you draw some conclusions in defense of Parks which are not warranted. You say that “Morris lacks the skill to be a truly malevolent villain. He’s a Ripley wannabe more than a Ripley character.” There is no connection between skill and malevolence. Malevolence is simply the wish to harm others and the nastiness to carry it off. Morris is not malevolent by this definition. And neither is Tom Ripley. They are both sociopaths. And Ripley, starting out, is only marginally more skilled than Morris who, by the way, murders three people successfully in a very claustrophobic place: Italy. But most importantly, there is NO reference to Ripley in Parks (just a borrowed character and plot) so you shouldn’t ascribe “wannabe” status to him. Morris wants to be rich and live a life of culture like someone else we both know.

    Parks has said in print that he can’t remember where he got the idea for Morris. What do you think of that? Parks’s only literary biographer, Gillian Fenwick in “Understanding Tim Parks” compares Morris Duckworth with Hannibal Lecter. Seriously. This is an absurd comparison, as I’m sure you know. She never mentions Highsmith, whom she must not have read (despite being a Canadian literary academic–modern lit, no less, at a prime university.) She also quotes Parks mumbling about not being certain of where the book or its inspiration came from.

    Parks wrote his novel under a pseudonym when he was just starting out. Why? The answer I suggest is that he wanted to see if Highsmith, a notoriously rough woman, then living in Switzerland and presumably reading, would come across his book and make a stink. Trash his pseudonym. I guess she didn’t. Thanks for your good reading but contain your enthusiasm a bit. Writers are liars, cheats and thieves. Great writers are even more so. But the sin is to be ungrateful.

    Page Nelson

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