Wednesday, 28 September 2011

An homage to Tony Parker

Earlier this year, I discovered Tony Parker. I was handed his 17th book, Life After Life (1990): twelve monologues by men and women held within the British penal system, each of them convicted of murder. How each person accounted for his or her crime was both a shock (it seemed to just pop out of their story) and deeply moving (as they grappled with the responsibility for what they have done). I couldn't put it down.
The simplicity of Parker's work is that he lends his ears (they were 'a national treasure', according to Anthony Storr, who should know about ears, having been a famous Jungian psychoanalyst in his time) and invited people to tell their story. He sometimes worked with someone for as long as two years to accumulate what he needed and then to find the key to cut the mass of words into a pithy monologue. He taped the conversations and transcribed them, and listened to and read them over and over again. This hard work paid off with lucid, simple, compelling stories, each one touching a truth.
His twenty-two books give truthful glimpses not only of convicts (with whom he began his work), but also lighthouse keepers (Lighthouse, 1975), miners (Redhill, 1986), people living on the Heygate Estate in Elephant & Castle (The People of Providence, 1983), denizens of Kansas (A Place Called Bird, 1989), the people of Russia in a time of cataclysmic transition (Russian Voices, 1991), citizens of Belfast (May the Lord in His Mercy Be Kind to Belfast, 1993), single mothers (In No Man's Land, 1972), and even Studs Terkel (1997). Before he died in 1996, he had begun to interview GPs as his next group and was planning to tackle psychoanalysts after that.
Of course, there were those who criticised Parker's work on the grounds that listening isn’t really work. It was too easy, they said – anyone could do it. His response was to invite them to go ahead and try.