There was a till receipt left as a bookmark between page 86 and 87 of my second hand copy of this novel. I cannot help but assuming that page 87 is as far as the former owner of Europa managed to get. And, if so, I don't blame him or her.
Actually I would prefer reviewing the till receipt than this book, at least for a moment. For, believe it or not, the till receipt can tell us something important about this novel.
First of all, it's a French till receipt implying that the former owner of my copy of Europa was either a Frenchmen or someone who spent some time in France. I would pick the French nationality of the owner, though, as the grocery he/she made is a big one and includes a list of items I have never heard about, something that only an authentic Frenchman or Frenchwoman might be familiar with, such as:
- Cidoupeche 2L
- VDP rouge
- Thon Miette X2
- Mir Poudre Coul
- St Hubert
(By the way, any idea on what they could be?)
Not to mention some classic gourmet products like:
- Pate brisee
- Creme fraiche
- Baguette 250g
Secondly, it has to be said that the prices reported in the till receipt are still in French Francs meaning that this huge grocery for a total amount of 671.00 FRF was done before the Euro coming on 1st January 2002. Unfortunately, no date is provided either at the bottom or at the top of the receipt. But this hardly matters.
My deduction is that this 1998 Vintage edition of Tim Parks book was purchased at some point in the three years after its publication, read (or half-read) and then left untouched on a shelf for the following 10 years before its former owner (now relocated in the UK) gave it to the Helen & Douglas charity shop were I bought it on 14th January 2012.
This assumption of mine is based on the fact that the ink on the receipt is still very easy to be read at least 11 years after having been printed. By coincidence I saved some receipts of the little groceries I made in Berlin on 2002 and Oslo on 2005 and in both cases, the ink on the paper has almost faded away because it was sometimes exposed to light and air and breath and the skin of my fingers.
This leads me to think that this French receipt was kept inbetween page 86 and 87 of Europa for no less than 9-10 years without being exposed in the meantime.
Now, let's come back to the book.
Does the fact that the former owner of Europa
a) Left a bookmark at approximately one third of the book;
b) Never re-opened the book at that page;
c) Gave the book to a charity shop in the UK.
suggest you anything?
True, the book could have been brought from UK to France and then again to the UK, or perhaps never left the British isles welcoming a French receipt till as a bookmark between 2000 and 2001 (most likely).
But the very fact that the former owner of this novel decided to get rid of it without even giving it a second chance ten years after being done with it, casts a shadow on the quality of the book itself. Which, I must admit, looked poor to me.
Tim Parks wrote a very disturbing novel about a coach trip from Milan to Strasbourg in the mid 1990s putting himself in the shoes of a British university lecturer in Italy (which is pretty much what Mr Parks did during his long Italian life).
Whereas a few characters are interesting and the exhausting monologue of the protagonist has his pros and cons, where Europa utterly fails is in delivering a convincing plot and a realistic portrait of a bunch of Italian girls in their 20s traveling with their professors to the European Parliament.
There is this awful, awful scene with the girls dancing in their coats in the square below Strasbourg impressive cathedral by night and singing aloud "Sei un mito" by 883 a horrible Italian pop song of the 1990s, which I found deeply embarrassing.
Let's face it. I was 12 years old when that song came out and had it as the soundtrack of many a school trip by coach, but nobody ever sung the song aloud. And we were kids.
I think that Tim Parks failed here. I'm not saying that a bunch of 20 something Italian girls in the mid 1990s attending university was living in an ivory tower, but please Tim don't make them look like half-wit morons in order to remark the intellectual superiority of your alter-ego justifying his soft spot for naughty sex.
I am sorry to say that, but Europa was a very disappointing reading.
Just let me find another till receipt and I will bring the book back to the charity shop where I bought it. I hope someone will enjoy a bit of archaeology as a well-welcomed distraction before reaching page 86.