Sex Is Forbidden

Tim Parks. Skyhorse/Arcade (Norton, dist.), $24.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-61145-907-4
Set in a contemporary Buddhist retreat, this sluggish novel by Parks (Europa) reflects on one women’s quest for self-purification, despite her love of trouble. Beth Marriot has escaped to Dasgupta Institute to forget her destructive love affairs, events we learn about through a series of disjointed flashbacks. There was the dependable Carl who adored her, but the unavailable and much older artist Jonathan had more of her heart—through we don’t get to know either well enough to care about this love triangle. As Beth stalls in her decision between these two lovers, her recklessness causes a fatal accident that causes her to flee to Dasgupta. Working as a server at a Buddhist retreat, where contact with the opposite sex is forbidden, Beth is forced to confront the “painful formations of the mind, sankharas.” But even as she’s meditating on how to emulate the stoic retreat leader, Mi Nu Wai, she is sneaking into a male guest’s room to read his diary, finding solace in his hardships and pleasure in the drama of his attention. Beth’s characterization as contrite reformer one minute and seductive troublemaker the next makes for a schizophrenic narrative. While the inner turmoil of someone struggling to achieve mental and spiritual balance is intriguing, the repetitive descriptions of Buddhist practices and an unconvincing character make this a frustrating read. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/19/2013
Release date: 10/01/2013
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