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Hotel Milano‘ by Tim Parks

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From the bestselling, Booker-shortlisted writer of ‘Italian Ways’ and ‘Europa’, a classic novel about a man’s emotional reckoning in a changed world far from home

Frank’s reclusive existence in a leafy part of London is shattered when he is summoned to Milan for the funeral of an old friend. Preoccupied by this sudden intrusion of his past, he flies, oblivious, into the epicentre of a crisis he has barely registered on the news.

It is spring, his luxury hotel offers every imaginable comfort; perhaps he will be able to weather the situation and return home unscathed? What Frank doesn’t know is that he’s about to make a discovery that will change his heart and his mind.

The arresting new novel from Booker Prize-shortlisted Tim Parks, ‘Hotel Milano’ is a universal story from a unique moment in recent history: a book about the kindness of strangers, and about a complicated man who, faced with the possibility of saving a life, must also take stock of his own. (Synopsis courtesy of  

There are some writers who you just come across at an important time. I stumbled upon an American edition of Tim Parks’ autobiographical book, ‘An Italian Education’ on a holiday in Venice in the early 2000s. The weather was hot, the partner I was travelling with was tetchy and the scenario was doomed.

That relationship did not last: the one with Parks the author endured.

Both in his non-fiction and in his novel, as brilliantly exemplified by his latest offering, ‘Hotel Milano’, Tim Parks is a writer of deceptive simplicity.

In this work, the first person narrative of Frank Marriott, see the words carefully chosen: building sentences, sentences carrying the cadence to paragraphs until you have a rhythm which carries the reader through the narrative. “One cannot meet people and talk and remember without paying the price.”

Overlaid on this are the words of Tennyson, quoted as Marriott begins his gallant folly to the funeral of a sort of friend. “All things are taken from us, and become / Portions and parcels of the dreadful past.”

The almost gothic sensibilities of the Victorian poet mesh beautifully with this novel’s meditations on loneliness, the migrant crisis, the role of the media in the narratives of our own lives, grief and the virtue of caring for others.

Marriott muses at once point. “For years, I thought, you have lived alone without the word loneliness so much as crossing your mind.”

As someone with mixed fortunes in the pandemic – a “happy” (mostly) lockdown in a beautiful location on the plus, the death of a relative on the negative – this is a novel which tugs at a number of heartstrings. Incidentally, I also stayed at an hotel not unlike the one around which the book is centred. I’d never encountered accommodation with a pillow menu before. Quite the eye opener.

A truly underrated quality of Parks’ writing is the humour, a quality as an aside all too often missing from “literary” fiction. Marriott has a wry line in observations which do an excellent job of skewering the idiosyncratic tendencies of the modern world, “One must live in a state of outrage. Not to do so was outrageous,” or, “Between the fifth and fourth floors an oriental woman was using the stairs to stretch. With dumbbells in her hands. The Grand Hotel Milano had become a five-star hamster wheel.

A personal favourite aspect of the carefully constructed narration is the way Marriott’s mind jumps between the serious self-involved introspection of the man stranded on a quest he’s not sure he wants to be on and the trivial realities of the every day needs. “I saw all this again, lying on my bed in the Grand Hotel Milano, with the clarity and serenity of a waking dream. You are washed up like a bone on a beach, I thought. And I thought, Time for lunch!

Finally, more characters in serious fiction need the pomposity pricking of the women which Marriott encounters. Picking up his trusty Tennyson, a character reads, “And I, the last, go forth companionless, / And the days darken round me, and the years, / Among new men, strange faces, other minds. Bit over the top, she smiled.” Well, quite…

There is nothing about ‘Hotel Milano‘ which is over the top. It is a quiet triumph of a novel, reflective, moving and contemporary in its reflection of a world we are all still processing.

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Born in Manchester in 1954, Tim Parks grew up in London and studied at Cambridge and Harvard. In 1981 he moved to Italy where he has lived ever since. He has written nineteen novels including Europa (shortlisted for the Booker prize), DestinyCleaverIn Extremis and, most recently, Hotel Milano.

During the nineties he wrote two, personal non-fiction accounts of life in northern Italy, Italian Neighbours and An Italian Education, books that won acclaim and popularity for their anthropological wryness. These were complemented in 2002 by A Season with Verona, a grand overview of Italian life as seen through the business and passion of football, and Italian Ways, on and off the rails from Milan to Palermo. 

A regular contributor to the New York Review of Books and the London Review of Books, in recent years he has been publishing a series of blogs on writing, reading, translation and the like in the New York Review online.

Aside from his own writing, Tim has translated works by Moravia, Pavese, Calvino, Calasso, Machiavelli and Leopardi; his book, Translating Style, which analyses Italian translations of the English modernists, is considered a classic in its field. (Biography adapted from

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