Whilst the delightful, yet never ending and un-commutable, reading of ‘The Passage’ continues in the background at Savidge HQ I have been managing to fit in some smaller reads in between parts over the last few weeks. One such book has been ‘The Finishing School’ the final published book by Muriel Spark before she died. You may well be aware I have become rather a fan of Spark over the last few years ever since Novel Insights introduced me to her when she chose ‘Aiding and Abetting’ for a book group we both used to be members of a few years ago.
From the title you might well assume that ‘The Finishing School’ is a Sparkian (does that sound to grand?) tale of a school for young ladies in the vein of ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Broadie’ or ‘The Girls of Slender Means’ but its not. In fact this is the tale of Rowland Mahler, an aspiring author, and his wife Nina Parker who run a writing school ‘College Sunrise’ that travels through Europe (the main reason for that is they can leave debts behind and charge more to the student’s parents) its students coming from here there and everywhere. One such student is Chris who as it turns out can write and well; in fact Chris seems to be flying through writing a historical novel about Mary Queen of Scots and the murder of her husband. Something that Rowland should be pleased about and yet is quite the reverse he becomes obsessively annoyed and frustrated by it leading to tense times and dark doings.
That makes the book sound rather simple and it’s not as there are two main themes underlying the whole story those of jealousy and sexuality, to say too much more would be to give far too much away. Muriel Spark is a genius at writing what goes on in the minds of all sorts of people and with the mixed sexes, backgrounds and mental attitudes of the students in this novel/novella she has free reign to enter the minds of an array of characters. Not that I ever felt I really knew any of them too well other than Chris and Rowland who the book really focuses on.
Its interesting because I had the feeling that Spark had a huge amount to say and had somehow limited herself from spelling everything out by keeping the book so short and yet throwing in random scenes like a College Fashion Show that didn’t move the plot or the characters forward. That’s not a criticism, I just felt in writing something longer this might have felt a little fuller and you really could sink your teeth into it. As it stands it’s an interesting read, just not one of my favourite of Muriel’s so far, I am pleased I read it though. 6/10
Something the book did highlight for me was that I am not so keen on ‘modern Muriel’ as I am going to call this particular novel. What I have loved in the previous books of Sparks I have read is that despite the fact they may be set in a certain era they read timelessly. Here though with her mentioning emails, Nike Trainers etc broke the spell somewhat. It wasn’t her writing though it was me, I couldn’t see Muriel Spark surrounded with these things, isn’t that strange? Have you ever noticed that with an author, they include something or write about something in a book that completely breaks the spell for you in some way, do share?