The Driver’s Seat – Muriel Spark

I have been meaning to discuss ‘The Lost Man Booker Prize’ even if just in a small way for some time. So when I noticed that someone had ordered my copy of ‘The Driver’s Seat’ by Muriel Spark and I needed to read it ASAP so it could get back to the library it all seemed perfect timing. So I think before I mention a little something at the end of this post I really, really want to talk about ‘The Driver’s Seat’ a book which I now have every fibre of my being crossed for it to win this new fangled prize.

As the minimal 109 page novel ‘The Driver’s Seat’ by Muriel Spark opened I knew that with a main character like Lise that I, as the reader, was in for quite an unusual treat, mind you Muriel Spark always manages to create something quite special with any book she writes. As we meet her Lise is having a bad moment in a changing room whilst shopping for a dress for her impending holiday. The bad moment in question seems to be tearing of a dress in an offended rage after being told ‘the material doesn’t stain’ leads her to feel the saleswoman is being insulting by insinuating something or some things. As we spend more time with the ever contrary Lise you begin to realise that she is definitely not quite right mentally, yet when we look at her perfect uber-tidy and neat flat and her regular sixteen year job we begin to question ourselves.

In fact it seems that the holiday the dress is for is actually some form of much needed escape for Lise and so she in a way firmly grips the driving wheel of her life and promptly goes completely off the rails into crazy unknown territory, starting at the airport before she has even boarded the plane…

“She says ‘ When you travel as much as I do you have to travel light, and I tell you, I nearly didnt bring any luggage at all, because you can get everything you want at the other end, so the only reason I brought that suitcase there is that the customs get suspiciousif you come in and out without luggage. They think you’re smuggling dope and diamonds under your blouse, so I packed the usual things for a holiday, but it was all quite unnecessary, as you get to understand when you’ve travelled as you might say with the experience in four languages over the years, and you know what your doing -“  

All this from the simple question of if she has any hand luggage. You can see somethings not right as she lies constantly (though she can speak languages) for example she has barely travelled in her life. It’s also one of the only scenes where the book hints at its date of publishing, now if you caused a scene like that in an airport you would be whisked away within seconds. She then carries on regardless and in doing so meets a small quirky cast of characters along the way and heading towards a climatic life event for herself. I can’t give away anymore than that without spoiling the plot. I will say that the opening paragraph of chapter three had me saying ‘what, no, surely not’ and despite a warning I still wasn’t quite prepared for the ending, clever twist indeed. No more shall I say on the subject of plots though.

I will say I think this has almost instantly become my favourite Spark yet. In comparison to some of the other works of hers I have read this has the darkest undertone despite its bright cover and flamboyant lead character. It also packed one of the hardest punches yet, and I will say I thought The Girls of Slender Means had a dark twist; this one hits you early on.  It also see’s Muriel dabble in a genre that I wouldn’t have seen her try and yet she does brilliantly in her own Sparkish way. I realise I sound vague but I do so hate to spoil things and this is a book that should not be spoiled in any way at all and in fact if you haven’t read must be read immediately.

So this wonderful little book with a punch simply needs to win ‘The Lost Man Booker Prize’ no questions asked. It has hurt to give it back to the library it really has. I have probably jinxed it now, but if it doesn’t make the short list then I will be both shocked and appalled and might just kick off like I imagine Lise would. I bet you all thought I‘d have instantly said that any Susan Hill contending novel should win? What does everyone else think of this new Man Booker prize, a good idea or not? And what do we make of the long list? Who else thinks this book simply has to win? Who has indeed read this marvellous Spark novel and what did you think?


Filed under Books of 2010, Muriel Spark, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review

39 responses to “The Driver’s Seat – Muriel Spark

  1. Great review! I haven’t read Spark yet but I’ve been meaning to as I’m sure I’ll love her. It’s just so hard to choose where to start but this might be a good one to pick up because of the Lost Man Booker. I’ve only read one book on that list…A Fairly Honourable Defeat by Iris Murdoch which was excellent so for now that gets my vote.

  2. Oooh, I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed reading that book. I’ve only read a couple of books on the list and am absolutely fascinated to see what the results will be.

  3. I think that this simply must win too, Simon! It is so wonderfully and darkly clever. It is by far my favourite Spark novel but I do tend to hold it apart from the others (in revered hands) because it is so different and say that Loitering With Intent is my favourite of her lighter, quirky novels.

    I’ve read this a couple of times now and it blows me away; it is time for a reread, I think. It is so powerful and yet so slight. It MUST win.

    I like the new prize even if there is no way that Midnight’s Children can win it ;)!

    Did you know that there was a film of The Driver’s Seat with Elizabeth Taylor (aka Identikit)? I haven’t seen it yet.

    • It is darkly clever, its the final twists that did it for me. It just goes to show you cant second guess Spark.

      I do currently want this to win, though I havent read any of the others on the list 9and am not planning to really apart from the Susan Hill of course).

      I have been told by the Polly that Memento Mori is suitably dark!

  4. I didn’t know this award existed…now I have just researched and read up on it I think it is a good idea. I didn’t know they’d missed out like a year’s worth of books. It is a quirky and novel idea to go back and nominate those books for the award, I like quirky.

    Isn’t it a long list?! I’m afraid I haven’t read any of them but the list has helped to add to my TBR list quite a bit lol. I have always looked at Spark’s work and not really known where to begin, would this one be a good on or would you recommend something else of hers?

    • its bizarre that they missed a year isnt it and now the more I think about it the bigger a fan of it I am. i will have everything crossed for this, or Susan Hill – which of course I now need to read.

      Hmmm I would try The Girls of Slender Means as a first Spark I think.

  5. Snap! I read this on Monday night… and am yet to review it.

  6. I think I need to quit my job, get on a plane with a suitcase full of books, and take myself off to a desert island! Now!

    This sounds fantastic and I will have to see if my library has it in. I haven’t read any of the listed books for the Lost Booker but I do think it’s a neat idea.

  7. Fantastic review! I haven’t read this one yet, though I’ve enjoyed all of Spark’s novels that I have read. Definitely something to look forward to.

  8. novelinsights

    You know what I think I might need to give this one a re-read. For some reason I can’t remember what happened at the end but I do rememeber liking it alot. Great review!

    I love the idea of the Lost Man Booker and might have to have a go at the longlist at some point.

    • Oh brave you Polly, I am officially off doing Longlists. I have done this one and own Susan Hill but that will probably be my limit. I do fancy the Joe Orton one though.

      I would be amazed if you didnt like this more on a second read, has shades of Du Maurier I thought.

  9. You know I thought you would absolutely go for the Susan Hill but am thrilled to see you loved this. If I was not snowed in, I would be on my way out for a copy right now.

    As for this special Man Booker contest, I think the public vote will be great PR for the prize in general, and also, anything that prompts people to pick up mid and back list works of merit sounds fantastic to me. I mean, look at all of scrambling to get our hands on these books from 1970. I worry sometimes that my reading is too “of the moment.”

    • I have noticed that I either read books that have come out since 2000 or ones that came out before 1910 on the whole (apart from Christie and Doyle) and think I must expand on this, my TBR would certainly allow me to.

      I am sure I will like the Susan Hill (my mum says its great as she teaches it in english lessons) but this was just an unexpected hit read for me, loved it.

  10. It’s interesting to see who is still well known off the list and I loved the inclusion of popular ‘action’ fiction like ‘Master and Commander’ (the only book I’ve read off the list and it’s grand so I’m afraid it must duel it out with your book).

  11. gaskella

    I haven’t read this one – naturally with everyone speaking up for it, it’s now on the wishlist!
    The Ballad of Peckham Rye was another deliciously dark one of hers which I adored.

  12. adevotedreader

    Spark always has dark undercurrents, but like yourself Simon I was genuinely suprised by just how dark The Driver’s Seat is. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is still my favourite of her novels, but this is certainly up there, as is The Ballad of Peckham Rye which gaskella reccomended.

    The Lost Booker Prize is a bit of a gimmick but the list is interesting so I’m all for it. I haven’t read enough of the nominees to say Spark should win though, especially as wonderul novels by two of my favourite authors (Patrick White and Shirley Hazzard) are included.

    • I agree there is always something going on in the undertone of Sparks work, this one for me simply took it to new heights. I have read neither Patrick White nor Shirley Hazzard so interesting to hear someone big those two up!

  13. Juanita

    Dark and twisty, eh? I’m going to have to put it on my list. Great review.

  14. mee

    Oooh I’m dying to try Muriel Spark. I borrowed Jean Brodie from the library a couple of weeks ago but I’m not sure if I have time to finish it before returning. Oh well, I’ll just borrow it again :). I haven’t read any of the books on the longlist, but am definitely interested in this one now.

    • Do you know what Mee? I think I need to re-read Jean Brodie because I couldnt see what all the fuss was about, maybe I was missing something or just reading my first Spark I wasnt fully ready for her way of writing. Aiding and Abetting was good, I think The Girls of Slender Means really got me into her, this is a slightly left field Spark work.

  15. I agree, this is Spark at her subversive best.

  16. Deb

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned the (really terrible) movie made from the book. Muriel Spark must have been agast. It starred Liz Taylor (yes!), in her florid late-sixties/early-seventies best, as Lise and included a cameo appearance by Andy Warhol. A true time capsule.

    As for Spark, I’ve read and loved most of her work. My favorite is A Far Cry from Kensington.

  17. Deb

    Follow-up on my post about the movie they made from this. If it’s any indication how bad it was, it was renamed “Identikit” and here’s the link the IMdb:

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