An Italian Education by Tim Parks

I’m working my way through Tim Parks’ books, this being my third. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as his Italian Life, but the circumstances were invidious as I read the whole thing during several weeks spent at my mother’s bedside in hospital. It’s really hard reading in that environment, it’s all so noisy and there are constant interruptions. Ostensibly it’s about his children growing up in Italy. But is it they, or he, who are receiving the education? Both I suppose. There are some hilarious scenes – when his son takes it upon himself to learn to fish stands out.

On the more sociological side, the extraordinary, and I thought rather repellent, relationship between children and mothers, even adult children and aging mothers is discussed at length. The Madonna statues littering the countryside. Small children refusing homework answers from fathers. ‘I said I wanted mummy to answer’. Fathers might just as well not bother knowing what 7 x 3 equals. And then as adult children sharing beds with mothers. Mothers overprotecting their children in ways that we’d think of as neurotic, but apparently normal there.

There are no families in the way one thinks of Catholic Italy. Apparently one child families are the norm. Tim Parks and his wife are considered crazy by their friends and neighbours as they go ahead with child two.

The portrayals of school life are interesting and funny in a depressing sort of way. There is a nice example of rules, getting around rules, and expanding to how that affects government at a wider level.

I hope I haven’t made this sound dry, it isn’t. I’m looking forward to my next – I still have a few on the shelves.

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