The Savidge Reads Hall of Fame… Muriel Spark

Time to introduce my third author into, the rather grandly titled, Savidge Reads Hall of Fame. Muriel Spark is an author I have been reading longer than I have been blogging all thanks to the lovely Polly of Novel Insights, who will be doing a series of monthly guest posts here soon, and how much she used to praise Spark’s works and made me finally take the plunge when she chose ‘Aiding and Abetting’ for a book group we had at an old workplace. Since then, with the exception of a few books, which I think I need to re-read as I didn’t ‘get’ on a first read, I have thoroughly enjoyed every Spark novel that I have read, all the more when her wicked wit and wry knowing prose are at their most extreme.

The first book I read by her was‘Aiding and Abetting’ oddly starting with one of Spark’s later books and one that was based on a true tale which she ‘took great liberties with’.

The reason that I initially read her was… As I mentioned above, the lovely Polly of Novel Insights chose Spark’s penultimate book for a book group we had where we both worked. I admired the tale, based on two men thinking they were the infamous Lord Lucan and a fraudulent psychiatrist, because of the fact she did so much in a relatively small book. I also really liked the dark humour and knowing nature her prose had.

The reason that she has become one of my favourite authors, and I would recommend them, is… I really like the fact that I never know what I am going to get with Spark, I think she keeps her readers on their toes and also throws in a twist or element that you were never expecting. I love the fact she can write fully fledged characters, back and splintering stories and create an entire world within very few pages – she isn’t an author who needs to say a paragraph when she can do it in a sentence. I also love the wicked sense of humour she has and the darker levels that always brood in the background of each tale.

My favourite of her novels so far has been… Without question ‘The Driver’s Seat’. One of her shortest novels but one that actually made me gasp at the sting in the tail of it which I never saw coming. It is a book that packs a huge punch for such a short novel and one that I think everyone should read. Though I always like to savor an authors works to the end, hence why ‘Memento Mori’ will have to wait patiently in the TBR as I have heard that it is meant to be one of her best and darkest.

If there was one of her works I had a wobble with, it would have to be… Oddly enough the book I have had the biggest wobble with is probably her most famous. I really didn’t get ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ at all when I read it. It was my second read of hers and I wasn’t sure afterwards if I would give her another whirl. Polly wisely said that I should try another and maybe come back to it at a later point. I did try more and loved them so Polly was wise and I do think I will give ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ another try one day. I am now intrigued what it was about it I didn’t like or didn’t understand.

The most recent one of her novels that I read was… ‘The Abbess of Crewe’ one of the far too many of her books that are no longer in print, which I think is an absolute crying shame. This was a wonderful tale of some rather crazy nuns (the film adaptation is aptly called ‘Nasty Habits’) and is a satire of the Watergate scandal, that said you don’t need to know anything about to enjoy it though – in fact I avoided knowing about it so I didn’t equate the fictional nuns with real politicians. It was Muriel at her sparklingly wickedest and I would highly recommend you try and track down.

The next of Muriel Spark’s works I am planning on reading is… I quite fancy reading some of her short stories, of which there are many, though I don’t own any of them so that would require shopping. Gran, who is also a fan, is always saying that I should read ‘The Mandelbaum Gate’ so that could be a future read, though I have a lovely old hardback of ‘Do Not Disturb’ which I quite fancy. It is alas another of her books that now seems out of print but you can often find her books in many a second hand bookshop and they have some fabulous old kitsch covers.

What I would love her to do next is… Alas Muriel Spark died six years ago. I would have loved to have been able to have had her partake in a Savidge Reads Grills, though I think that would have been something I could only have dreamt of. I have plenty of her books still to read though.

You can see a full list of Muriel Spark’s works on the Savidge Reads Hall of Fame page, a special page on the blog especially for my favourite authors and links to the books of theirs I have read and reviewed and the ones I haven’t as yet. This will encourage me to read all the books by my favourite authors and may lead you to some new authors if you like most of the ones that I like, if that makes sense. There are some rules though, but you can find more of those on the Hall of Fame page too.

So who else is a Muriel Spark fan? Which of her novels have you read and loved? Are you yet to try her?


Filed under Muriel Spark, Savidge Reads Hall of Fame

29 responses to “The Savidge Reads Hall of Fame… Muriel Spark

  1. One of my all-time favourites. The precision of her prose is something that leaves me breathless (and that I can only dream of emulating). I haven’t read ‘The Driver’s Seat’, so that’s something to look forward to.

    • It’s superb! Have you read The Abbess of Crewe? Being my latest read of hers it’s my current fresh favourite read. I highly recommend it. Which has been your favourite of hers so far?

      I wish I had used ‘precision of her prose’ drats 😉

  2. I’ve only read one: A Far Cry from Kensington. That was a few years ago, but I do remember being very impressed and recommending the book to others.

  3. As you know, I adore Muriel Spark, and loved the response to Muriel Spark Reading Week – and have a bunch of bloggers, including yourself, to thank for convincing me to try my third Spark, after not getting on with the first two. I definitely need to revisit those two, though, as I think I’d love them now.

    My favourite is Loitering With Intent, and the only one (since the first two reads) which didn’t really work for me was Not To Disturb – just completely baffling!

    • Oooh interesting that’s the one I am thinking I might try next. She occasionally baffles me with a paragraph here or there in some books but I think it’s just because she was clearly much more clever than me.

      Which two tripped you up originally? I can’t remember… Or the one that convinced you. My memory is terrible. Too many books in my brain.

      • I’d love to hear your thoughts on Not To Disturb! I don’t think I ever blogged about it, because I didn’t know where to start (might just have been me being too tired….)

        The first two I tried were Girls of Slender Means and Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – but I just didn’t ‘get’ Spark. The third – partly after seeing a review here, I think – was The Driver’s Seat. Sadly I did guess the ending almost immediately, because the title gave it away for me, but I was still impressed enough to want to read many, many more!

      • Interesting that we both didn’t quite get her initially or with the first few. I wonder if Ivy Compton Burnett is like this 😉

        I think I need to re-read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie again. Actually I might listen to the abridged version on iPlayer while its available.

  4. Col

    I’d never read beyond Jean Brodie till a Muriel Spark reading week last year. Then I read several novels and some short stories. And loved them. I think the two words in your review that most sum them up for me are ‘wicked wit’. I’ve not read Drivers Seat so I will definitely give that a go!

    • Oh I hope you do Col, I think it’s her darkest and starkest also. It’s wicked but without the wit. That’s all I will say!

      I might see if the library has her Complete Short Stories!

  5. Delyn

    I haven’t read a Muriel Spark book for years but you’ve really whetted my appetite for further reading. A great review, so much appreciated.

    • Awww thank you. Always nice to know if you’ve sent someone to, or back to, one of your favourites. You’ll have to let me know how you get on with her again on your next read of her.

  6. Sarah Cubitt

    I was introduced to her at a primary school age as my mum adores The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie. I remember liking it at the time & my mum bought me a copy a few years ago, which I re-read & treasured ever since.
    I haven’t heard about or read any of her other works, but this post has made me intrigued to do so! I’d give MJB another try & see if you like it more.

  7. novelinsights

    I think it’s interesting that novels of Spark’s that you like the most are the really dark ones and I wonder if the reason you didn’t like The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is because maybe it didn’t seem so much in comparison or you were just getting used to her style? It actually has got some pretty grim themes. I picked up on some but oddly it took the Maggie Smith film to make me see some of the more subtle ones! She is fabulous in it as always… Or maybe it just actually isn’t your cup of tea – you don’t have to love every book by an author 🙂 So delighted that you became a convert!

    • And it’s all because of you!

      I think what I have come to appreciate with Spark more over time is that, as you mention, there are the big twists and turns and then the small subtler things. Maybe I missed the latter as I was getting to know her style.

      I might have to watch the film for Maggie Smith alone!

  8. Delyn

    Thanks to you I have discovered that I have 5 of her books, including “The Driver’s Seat”, all read in the 70s! Time to reread. But, you have introduced me to some ‘new’ ones which will take some time to catch up with you. You’ll be on to some other project by then!

  9. I m a late comer to her but have like what I have read and hope to read more of her books over time ,all the best stu

  10. The Driver’s Seat is my favorite as well. I need to re-read it one of these days. I also enjoyed The Mandelbaum Gate, but it is definitely the more conventional side of Muriel Spark.

    • Gran has been going on and on about me reading The Mandlebaum Gate, there is just something about the premise that puts me off. I will get to it though as I plan to read all of them eventually, saving Memento Mori till the last.

      Oddly I dont own a copy of The Drivers Seat. I need to rectify that I think.

  11. A Far Cry from Kensington is really remarkable, and rare among Spark’s books in being written in the first person. I’d recommend The Bachelors, which is chilling and Memento Mori, which lampoons the Bloomsbury set in extreme old age beautifully. The passage about sandwiches in Aiding and Abetting remains one of the funniest and cleverest set-pieces I’ve read.

  12. I think it’s always good to have a ready answer for someone looking for a good read so my go-to recommendation is Muriel Spark. Not only because it makes me sound well read (although I admit that’s a bonus) but because I do think there is something for everyone in her catalog. My favorite (so far) is Memento Mori so I hope that when you finally get there, it lives up to the hype.
    And I laughed at your Ivy Compton-Burnett comment above, Simon, since I’m currently struggling through Pastors and Masters wondering what the heck is going on there….

    • Hello Jennifer, long time no speak, how are you? I owe you an email I am sure. Anyhoo, yes Muriel is a great author to recommed to people, in part as you say because it makes you sound literary and also as a lot of people will not have tried her and when they do will inevitably love her, with the right book.

      I have been put off by ICB and I really wish I wasnt. Simon of the blog Stuck in a Book is a huge advocate of hers, he even sent me a book (which I have still not read, oops) but she seems a daunting prospect to me.

  13. q

    thank UUU simon for placing muriel spark in my path…u have never steered me wrong … far only read ‘kensington’ and ‘brodie’…loved loved kensington…i was just living in her world…she set such a place setting of people and setting…now after brodie..i was dumbstruck by the thought that muriel was soooo subtle, crafty….i could look at brodie and think..well she’s a lonely, deluded nutjob, a liar (was there ever any WW1 lover etc) of devoted to her students…and whatever label i cast her in..that changed the labels of everyone else in the book..then i could just as easily switch my label on brodie and see bk in totally different light…and switch back again…muriel never prejudiced me totally to seeing characters in one light…how delicate…find muriel astounding…many thanks simon…
    big fan in arizona, q

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