Spotlight: Muriel Spark
Published on 23rd January 2012
Muriel Spark (1918-2006) wrote psychological novels, usually set in respectable, middle-class environments but dealing with the darker side of human nature. Her writing is wonderfully economical, so that, though her novels are mostly short, they manage to convey a lot. Chronology isn’t an important feature: they leap backwards and forwards in time, and you often know the ending at the start, or at least you think you do. Here’s a taster of some of her better-known works.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is probably Spark’s best known work, and one of her best creations. The magnificent and monstrous Miss Brodie teaches her classroom of girls about the art of life and love, while battling against the narrowness of her world, her loneliness, and of course her own prime.
The Public Image. Annabel is an actress with a carefully cultivated public image, aided and abetted in it by both her film company and her husband. Written in the 60s, this sideways look at the shallowness of celebrity culture is probably even more relevant today than at the time.
The driver’s seat. The story of Lise, on holiday in Italy and with a definite purpose in mind. With a serious twist at the end, this is dark, unconventional, and disturbing, but written with empathy, insight and even humour.
Collected Short Stories. While none of Spark’s novels are particularly long, her short stories make a good introduction. Full of black humour, and often with a sinister twist, they’re a condensed form of Spark’s unusual take on human behaviour.