Loitering With Intent – Muriel Spark

Muriel Spark was an author who seemed perfect for the pile of shorter novels I have on the bedside to read in between The Green Carnation submissions. Every time I read her not only am I delighted by her darkness, I am also always impressed what she can do with so few pages, her wonderful writing and just how clever she is on so many levels. ‘Loitering With Intent’ was Muriel Sparks 16th book, short listed for the Man Booker and many fans claim it is there favourite after ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’.

Fleur Talbot is the narrator of ‘Loitering With Intent’ a wannabe author who is madly involve with books and the world that surrounds them. If that wasn’t instantly going to endear me to a narrator then I don’t know what would. When a job comes up ‘on the grubby edge of the literary world’ working for the Autobiographical Association she takes it and feels like this could be the perfect job in the right industry and could help her get further in her goal to have her debut novel Warrender Chase published.

There are two things however that Fleur doesn’t count on. One is what a strange group of people the Autobiographical Association are and just how difficult, pompous and ruthless her boss Sir Quentin Oliver is. The other is that sometimes life really does imitate art (something I think Muriel Spark was really focused on discussing in this book) as the storylines, character traits and even dialogue of her book start to appear in her work life and then all around her.

I have to admit it’s the last bit that I struggled with. I was really enjoying Fleur’s story, I loved the crazy and egomaniac characters we were meeting within the Autobiographical Association. Characters are Spark’s forte so I knew I would love all of them now matter how vile, in fact sometimes with Spark the crazier the better. I thought the character of ‘Dottie’ a true Sparkian (!?!) English Rose with thorns was brilliant, the fact she was Fleur’s lovers wife and yet they were sort of friends and enemies all at once was written brilliantly and made for some great scenes and devious goings on. I especially loved Sir Quentin’s mother the wickedly funny Lady Edwina who threw herself into every scene which she could and stole the show.

‘Oh please, please, dear Baron, do sit down…’ Sir Quentin in his usual orgasm over a title fussed round unshaven Solly, begging him to sit down, to stay, not to leave.
But Solly, solid and unshaken by his new-found title, said polite good-byes all round and limped off, staggering a little at the door under the unexpected weight of the bag.
‘Suicide while of unsound mind,’ said Sir Quentin when he came back into the room. ‘An overdose of sleeping pills knocked back by a pint of whisky. I really must see that something more seemly goes on the death certificate.’
‘Tell them,’ yelled Edwina, ‘to wipe their arse with the death certificate.’

The problem that I had in the middle was that I just couldn’t keep track of the story within the story of Warrender Chase that Fleur was writing and the real world that was going on around it in parts. It was as if at some point I was introduced to too much and couldn’t get a hold of it all in my head despite reading several pages twice. I even slept on it and still wasn’t quite sure. Eventually though I did get a grasp of it all and the end of the book really picked up for me, Spark almost lost me but never quite enough for me to give up.

There was one quote which to me seemed to be Spark speaking through Fleur “I always hope the readers of my novels are of good quality. I wouldn’t like to think of anyone cheap reading my books.” I have to say I did worry myself that maybe with my slight wobble I was in danger of falling into the latter category.

A book that will: appeal to anyone who has or hasn’t read Spark and wants a bookish heroine, crazy egotistical characters and observational wit. 7/10

I am sure that I am in the minority with this book, which I did like very much just got rather confused in the middle, as I have heard nothing but praise for it. Maybe it requires a re-read in some time for me. I do find it interesting that its compared to ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ which is another of her books I read (before blogging) and didn’t instantly gel with, unlike this one I didn’t have to return it to the library pronto and so can re-read it in the future.

So your thoughts on Spark… do you love her, do you loathe her or have you just not tried her? Which is your favourite if you have read her? Has anyone else read this one?


Filed under Muriel Spark, Review, Virago Books

12 responses to “Loitering With Intent – Muriel Spark

  1. I really liked this one because I thought it was so clever – I admit there was a lot going on, but I thought it gave such a wonderful insight into the world of publishing, and it was completely off the wall. Perhaps one that you have to be in the right mood for…

    • I think its one that I might enjoy more on a second read as I mention, but I do think mood is part of it – yet I was in just the right mood for a Spark when I sat down. I guess not every book by an author you love is always going to do the trick. And of course the more books you love by one author the more and more they have to live up to.

  2. I haven’t read Muriel Spark yet, but I’ve been considering getting my hands on some of her books to read in the near future, when I’ll be busy and novellas will be welcome. I was actually hesitating between this, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and The Driver’s Seat, which Claire recommended to me. Hmm…

    • The Driver’s Seat is my favourite of the Spark novels so far. Naturally I now of course wish I had read it last, hee hee, am saving Memento Mori for last now. I would go with Claires recommendations though as most people say this is a favourite. I think it could be one of mine on a second read, which is what I felt after reading The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie too.

  3. I enjoyed this more than A Far Cry from Kensington, one of her other “publishing” novels for the insight it gave and the high-octane bizarreness! It reminded me a little of The Brontës Went to Woolworths by Rachel Ferguson in its fusion of the real and imaginary and the story-within-the-story.

    Don’t feel “cheap” as I think that you’re spot on that it will offer so much more on a reread.

    • I am a bit cheap I will admit Claire, hahaha.

      I have yet to read A Far Cry from Kensington. My next Spark will either be The Comforters as its due back at the library and I am trying to stop ‘renewing’ and just lessening the loans, or The Only Problem which I think is out of print but my mother lent me.

  4. So far I’ve only read the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which I loved. I’m in the market for some more Spark 🙂

  5. Doulton

    MEMENTO MORI by far is my favorite for many reasons. I’ve reread it at least a half dozen times. I like her mordant humor and the ensemble cast of characters–most of whom are quite unpleasant. She’s created a true community of last resort in several ways here.

  6. I love Spark. This particular title was probably in the lower first tier of Sparks that I have read. And I hate these new covers. I am all for getting more folks to read the brilliant Muriel Spark, but I have a feeling this cover would make here turn over in her grave. And may she rest in peace!

    • I have to say some of the new covers work and some of them really dont. I dont really care for this one (will be on the hunt for lots of old copies of all her books when the book ban finishes next year) it looks a bit like very bad childrens art. Yet the same series cover of The Comforters is quite nice. Maybe its the orange of this one?

      Ha, I wonder what Spark would make of the chat on her covers and not her words hee hee.

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