Category Archives: Muriel Spark

Rounding Up The Reviews #2; Drivers Seats, Seas of Stories, Days of Deer and Wavewalkers

Both in preparation and as a teaser for the change in Savidge Reads next week, I thought I would round up some of books I have failed to review so far this year and start a new occasional series of posts where I give you a more succinct selection of books you might want to need. The good, the bad and the ugly! Before you think that they are all just going to be books I didn’t really like I can say that two of these books I really liked a lot. Such a tease, anyway, I am in danger of falling into my usual waffle territory so let’s get on with it…

The Driver’s Seat – Muriel Spark

Penguin Modern Classics, paperback, 1970 (2006 edition), fiction, 128 pages, bought by my good self

You know I love Muriel Spark, I know I love Muriel Spark so why would I put her in a round up post? Well my lovelies it is because I have read this book before and told you all about it then. But should you not be in the mood to pop and check that link, which would be frightfully mean of you, I will give you a little summary. I loved it as much as I did the first time.

Oh ok, that isn’t quite enough. Lise has pretty much lived the same day of her life every day for the last sixteen years. Yet she has decided to change all that by going away on holiday and leaving everything behind, in short she is going to transform herself and yet the transformation might not be the sort of thing we would go in for. As we follow her story though we soon learn that the adventure and journey Lise has in mind might not be the sort of thing we would go for either! It has been called a dark nasty little book; I think it is a dark little work of genius. Read it, then read it again. You can hear it discussed further here but beware of spoilers!

Haroun and the Sea of Stories – Salman Rushdie

Penguin Books, paperback, 1991, fiction, 224 pages, borrowed from the library

When Haroun’s mother leaves him and his father for her lover, who happens to be their neighbour (which I found all a bit grown up for a kids book but clearly I am a prude) everything changes. Not only for the family and the loss of a mother and wife but also as Haroun’s father changes almost overnight. Before his wife left he was one of the most witty and charming people around who made his living as a story teller, the Shah of Blah. Now the stories are gone and when he opens his mouth all that comes out of it is ‘Ark, ark, ark…’ Haroun must find the sea of stories and save them all. Which sounds very grand but is the purpose of the adventure that follows.

I think if I had read this when I was about 10 or 11 I would have looooooved it. As it was I kind of liked it. I think the problem really is me. I I like magical realism in general but for some reason in a kids book magic just tends to get a bit silly for me (with the exception of Mildred Hubble and Harry Potter) and it breaks the spell, pun intended. I had tried Rushdie’s other young adult/childrens book Luka and the Fire of Life and had the same issues there but Rob chose it for for Hear… Read This, so I blame him as I wouldn’t have read it otherwise, ha! It has made me want to read Rushdie’s adult works again though, not a complete loss for me, and many of you will love it – in fact on Hear… Read This most of them did.

The Days of The Deer – Liliana Bodoc

Corvus Books, paperback, 2014, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

It is known that the strangers will sail from some part of the Ancient Lands and will cross the Yentru Sea. All our predictions and sacred books clearly say the same thing. The rest is all shadows. Shadows that prevent us from seeing the faces of those who are coming. In the House of Stars, the Astronomers of the Open Air read contradictory omens. A fleet is coming to the shores of the Remote Realm. But are these the long-awaited Northmen, returned triumphant from the war in the Ancient Lands? Or the emissaries of the Son of Death come to wage a last battle against life itself? From every village of the seven tribes, a representative is called to a Great Council. One representative will not survive the journey. Some will be willing to sacrifice their lives, others their people, but one thing is certain: the era of light is at an end.

No I didn’t write that, Waterstones did. I had the most weird reading experience with this book. Firstly the writing style is at once completely wooden and clunky, though this may be the translation. Secondly, the author doesn’t feel like she is in control and as she goes will invent some magical/fantastical happenstance or monster or something to keep it all going. Thirdly, I don’t think she knows where its going. Fourthly, it is fantasy and I am not renowned for liking that genre. Well I read it. I just got on with it, I didn’t understand much of it, I didn’t really like it but oddly I was completely unoffended by it. I just read it, without rhyme, reason or any real reaction. It was a really odd experience, pure inoffensive nonchalance. Have any of you had that? Oh and if you can’t take my word for it even Gav, of Gav Reads, who chose it for Hear… Read This wasn’t a fan.

Wavewalker – Stella Duffy

Serpents Tail, paperback, 1996, fiction, 261 pages, bought by my good self

As with Muriel; you know I love Stella’s writing, I know I love Stella’s writing, so why pop it in a round up post. Well the honest answer is I just guzzled this down, like a chocolate bar you devour and enjoy but should have maybe let the flavour of linger longer. (This is by the way highly flattering; I never joke about great chocolate or great books or waste them.) To carry that analogy further and possibly to its limit, it is like when you finish inhaling a Crunchie (or Violet Crumble if you will) and you just loved it so much you just want another one. Well I have held off reading the bext Saz Martin because I should have dwelt on this one longer. I am pacing myself with her recently published short story collection at the moment.

To give you a brief synopsis, the second in the Saz Martin series (the first Calendar Girl, which I shockingly read six years ago, I also really recommend) sees Saz investigating a new craze therapy that has come over from America, San Francisco to be precise, employed by the mysterious Wavewalker who thinks Dr North’s practice may link with a cult group and an unusual spate of suicides in the seventies. As I mentioned I just ate this book up. It has great plotting, Saz Martin is a brilliant quirky lead character and there is quite a lot of lesbian sex to titillate you, pun not intended, as you read on. I am seeing Stella tonight and she may kill me for that, ha! All in all it is a great thriller and I would love Stella to bring Saz back!


So that is your lot for now, one more round up on Saturday when we have a right old mix from Fairytales to Sex Criminals. If that doesn’t tempt you back nothing will. In the interim do let me know if you have read any of these and what you made of them! Also let me know if you have ever had the same instance as I did with The Days of the Deer where a book just leaves you utterly nonchalant, not good, not bad, just nonchalant.


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Filed under Liliana Bodoc, Muriel Spark, Review, Rounding Up The Reviews, Salman Rushdie, Stella Duffy

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

The Abbess of Crewe – Muriel Spark

As I mentioned last week whilst visiting Gran’s I always pack far too many books for the length of time I am there. I also have to plan which ones to take which sort of defeats my aim of reading by whim on the whole this year. However Gran has a vast selection of books in her house and perusing this actual gave me some short treats to read while I was there, one of which was ‘The Abbess of Crewe’ by the wonderful Muriel Spark, subtitled ‘a wicked satire on Watergate’. How could I not read this when it so explicitly mixed Muriel Spark and wickedness?

**** Penguin Books, paperback, 1975, fiction, 104 pages, nabbed from Gran’s bookshelves

‘The Abbess of Crewe’ is told in a rather strange way, as the book opens we find the Abbess and one of her nuns Sister Winifrede deep in a hinted discussion that they may have done something untoward which, as we read on, might relate to the reason that policemen and police dogs are patrolling the grounds of the abbey. You aren’t sure what is going on but then you flit back between now and the repercussions and what actually happened.

As we read on, though I don’t want to give too much away, it turns out that the whole abbey has been under observations with phones tapped along with hidden video cameras and microphones (even in the fur trees in the grounds) and which have been discovered around the recent election of the new abbess herself against her rival Sister Felicity.

‘What is wrong, Sister Winifrede,’ says the Abbess, clear and loud to the receptive air, ‘with the traditional keyhole method?’
Sister Winifrede says, in her whine of bewilderment, that voice of the very stupid, the mind where no dawn breaks, ‘But, Lady Abbess, we discussed right from the start –‘
‘Silence!’ says the Abbess.  ‘We observe silence, now, and meditate.’ She looks at the tall poplars of the avenue where they walk, as if the trees are listening.’

Here I am sure a more intellectual blogger might allude to, or indeed inform you of, how this all relates to the Watergate Scandal. I admit, partly because I felt that I should, I did go and read a bit about the whole affair though I then decided against it as I found myself trying to work out which characters in the book were in the real political scandal, and it started to take the fun out of reading about these barmy nuns instead. So I stopped. This does show that you don’t need to know of the Watergate Scandal to enjoy the book as Spark creates one of her most Machiavellian female leads in ‘The Abbess of Crewe’ and a wonderful cast of cloaked characters around her.

I thought Felicity, the Abbesses main rival initially, was a wonderful character. Some people would say she was a ‘new nun’ in the fact that she is devoted in depth to God and also to free love, the latter of which she is having with a Jesuit monk called Thomas around the grounds as often as she can. This of course causes talk, I laughed very loudly when one of the nuns said she didn’t understand why on earth she didn’t do it in the linen closet where it’s warmer, and threatens to change the vision of the convent and abbey that many people, mainly the abbess, have for it. If one nun turns bad and gets away with it surely others may to and there could be a revolt.

‘Nobody knows where Felicity has been all day and half the night, for she was not present at Matins at midnight nor Lauds at three in the morning, nor at breakfast at five, Prime at six, Terce at nine; nor was she present in the refectory at eleven for lunch, which comprised barley broth and a perfectly nourishing and tasty, although uncommon, dish of something unnamed on toast, that something being in fact a cat-food by the name of Mew, bought cheaply and in bulk. Felicity had not been there to partake of it, nor was she in the chapel singing the Hour of Sext at noon.’

I also loved Mildred and Winifrede who remain hard done by and a little bit ditzy throughout. There was also the wonderful Sister Gertrude who phoned often from one of her many missions around the world, such as trying to unite cannibals and vegetarian tribes on either side of a Himalayan mountain, to talk philosophical gibberish which never made sense and yet seemed to make the other sisters suddenly do very rash things. There are also some wonderful set pieces like a meeting of a nun to pay a bribe in a Selfridge’s toilet and much, much more.

It seems a shame then that ‘The Abbess of Crewe’ is out of print. I do wonder if it is because people might think it has aged or will seem aged being a satire of Watergate. It seems a real same if that is the case as for a little book, at just 104 pages, it gives a lot, I ended up wishing it was a lot longer though. There was a lot of very wicked laughter for me throughout ‘The Abbess of Crewe’ and it had some of my most favourite characters Spark has created so far in my reading of her. I also think it is one where her wicked sense of humour, which I love so much, shines through most devilishly.

Who else has read ‘The Abbess of Crewe’ and if so what did you think? Did you find you had to read all about Watergate or like me did you just enjoy it regardless? Which of Sparks’s books have you read and enjoyed? Oh and if you haven’t as yet one of her most famous ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ (which oddly isn’t my favourite though it is deemed her classic) is current Book at Bedtime on Radio 4.


Filed under Muriel Spark, Penguin Books, Review

Reality and Dreams – Muriel Spark

If ever I am in a slight reading funk my two rules for getting me back in the swing of reading are that the book should be short and the author one I know and trust. So after falling into a general funk with so many hospital appointments and procedures of late I turned to the ever trustworthy, to my mind anyway, Muriel Spark and her now out of print 1996 novel  ‘Reality and Dreams’. With my two Book Group choices and deadlines (please note I was looking forward to reading them I just wasn’t in a reading mood) looming I was hoping that it would be the perfect tonic to get me back in the swing of reading.

Tom Richards is lying on his hospital bed ‘wondering if we were all characters in one of God’s dreams’ as Muriel Spark’s 20th novel ‘Reality and Dreams’ opens. Though of course Tom does believe in many ways that he plays the part of God in his own life and merely watches the people around him and occasionally helping them or not. We meet these people be they simply the nurses who tend to him, his second wife, daughters from both marriages, and his solicitor as they visit his bedside after an accident falling from a crane whilst directing his latest movie.

Making Tom a bedridden character Muriel Spark has created the perfect way of observing all the family dramas which start to unfold as we read on. In particular the lives of his two daughters, Cora the perfect ideal daughter in every way from his first marriage, and Marigold the more rogue and uncontrollable daughter of his second become the focus of Tom’s thoughts and therefore the novels, as Cora’s marriage fails and Marigold goes missing. Throw into the mix, as Tom recovers and goes back to work, the actress Rose with whom Tom has been having an affair with in his very open marriage and her suggestion that maybe the accident on the crane wasn’t quite so accidental and you have two more sinister strands which Spark is so good at.

The title of the book comes into play in many ways as you soon realise that Tom might not be quite the trustworthy narrator you initially assume. Not only does he believe, both on and off the directors chair, that he is really in charge of all that goes on (something he soon needs to question) he merges the real with the world he has created, especially the one of ‘The Hamburger Girl’ his latest movie project and one he seems unnaturally controlling about.

Spark sets stories and characters up that wouldn’t normally ring true and makes them vivid, comical and dark – all in all fully fleshed creations in a world where the real and the dreamlike often merge and separate leaving the reader to decide which they believe in and which reality they indeed find themselves. It also looks at individual people’s hopes and dreams and how they can be ascertained or not.

‘Reality and Dreams’ might sound like rather a hotch potch novel (and it’s a bit of a swine to try and encapsulate and write about) being so small it’s also a book which has a heck of a lot to discuss yet it all works together in Spark’s more than capable hands. This though is the genius of Muriel Spark and something she manages in every novel I have read of hers so far. I do like books that are dark. With sinister undertones here and there and a nasty little twist at the end whilst this isn’t my favourite of her books it’s certainly another Muriel
Spark novel that I would highly recommend. 8/10

I picked this book up myself for 50p a few years ago, a bargain it would seem.

I do think it’s rather a crime that this is no longer in print, well in the UK at least. Spark is definitely an author who should be much more widely read. In fact I don’t think all of her books are readily available thinking about it, maybe its time for a campaign? Who else has read this or anything else by Spark and what did you think?


Filed under Muriel Spark, Out of Print Novels, Penguin Books, Review

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

The Finishing School – Muriel Spark

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?


Filed under Muriel Spark, Penguin Books, Review

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

Library Loot & Temptation Test

I was unsure how to use the library with my book buying ban as it doesn’t really stick to my ‘reading through the books I own’ goal. However after some thought I decided that not only would this be helpful for book group choices if I didn’t own them, it also promotes libraries and that is also a good thing. I can only take out a certain number of books out at a time and read them all by the time they are due back. So what books did I get from the library, just a select five;

The Finishing School – Muriel Spark
Myself and Novel Insights have been plotting a little Spark-ish something for the spring and so I am hoarding up as many Sparks as I can just for that, more on that in due course.

Memories of a Novelist – Virginia Woolf
Though my initial reading experience may not have been a favourite book of mine there is no denying that Woolf is an amazing writer and so I thought I would give this selection of short stories a whirl, and they are Hesperus Press what more could you want?

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
I can’t work out if I actually want to read this or if its like bloggers peer pressure and because I have seen so many of you raving about it a book I wouldn’t normally be interested in has been niggling at me for a read, it was this or Eclipse so I thought I would try this out. I didn’t get the sequel as have heard it’s not great. We will see how I get on with this I don’t want to read it when am not in just the right mood.

After Dark – Haruki Murakami
After loving my second journey into the fictional world of Murakami I spied this on the shelves and decided that I couldn’t not. Its one of his most recent and also its one of his shortest so thought would give it a whirl. I have some of his here but isn’t it funny how when you own an authors work it’s the other ones you want to read?

The Rehearsal – Eleanor Catton
I have seen a few bloggers mentioning this and I feel it could be on the Orange list, I have no reason for that at all I just do, I think this will be getting a lot more attention when it comes out in paper back it also sounds quite fascinating and slightly provocative with its tale of a high school sex scandal which is then put on as a play in schools.

So that’s my lot from the library. I should add that you should be extremely proud of me as my visit to the library proved to be very tempting. Not because I could have come away with many more loans but because of this…

A Bloody Book Sale

Typical isn’t it? I go somewhere which I deem ‘book binge safe’ and there is a huge table or three of 10p and 20p bargains. I did have a browse and you would be even more impressed as some of the titles were very me, but I walked away with nothing so I have survived my first big temptation and feel quite pleased. I will add that I didn’t dare walk in any second hand shops on the way or on the way back though, they don’t have library stickers or those crinkly see through covers on.


Filed under Book Thoughts, Haruki Murakami, Muriel Spark, Virginia Woolf

The Girls of Slender Means – Muriel Spark

After I was looking for novella’s the other day I was quite shocked to note that I hadn’t read a book by Muriel Spark since 2007 and my pre-blogging days in fact I was introduced to her by Novel Insights in both or pre-blogging days and Aiding & Abetting was a choice for our old book group. It surprised me I had left it this long as I really enjoy her writing and so after having read a few larger books thought I would go for a short Spark next.

The Girls of Slender Means tells the stories of several young women in the year of 1945 living in The May of Teck Club (pretty much a hostel) near Kensington Gardens. The girls are all working as clerks or secretaries and living on rations, clothing coupons and hand outs from admiring men. Through each on of the girls in the book Spark looks at the morals and plotting of such a group of women in both a comic and sometimes shocking way.

We have Joanna a rectors daughter who shockingly fell for a rector herself before coming to London and teaching elocution lessons, Greggie, Jarvie and Collie the old maids of the building, Pauline Fox a mad young lady who believes she dines with the actor Jack Buchanan every night, Jane Wright who works in a publisher and gets authors to write letters signed she can sell on the black market and yet who doesn’t know Henry James is dead and Selina a woman of loose morals who sleeps with weak men but pursues strong ones for marriage partners she wont sleep with yet. All of them will become more unified and torn apart though not only when Nicholas Farringdon a charming author turns up, but when a shocking (I gasped) event leads to one girls fatal end (I gasped again).

I must mention one of my favourite characters who doesn’t actually appear in the book very often but whom every time I saw her name on the page I knew I would smile. This was Dorothy Markham who was a wonderful character, and shows how even small background characters are incredibly well drawn in Spark’s world, a debutante who came out with lines like ‘Filthy lunch’, ‘I’m absolutely filthington’, ‘I’m desperately well thanks, how are you?’ and the one which made me laugh out loud ‘Filthy luck. I’m preggers. Come to the wedding.’

This was my first read in the November Novella challenge I decided to take on and what a fabulous one.Showing an interesting insight into women of a certain class during the late stages of the war this book would make for a wonderful part in women studies, fictional women of course though with characters this alive you wonder if Spark may well have known them in her lifetime. The writing is sparse yet punchy and full of life and a delightful hour or two whizzed by in the company of the girls of slender means.

I am now wondering which Spark I should bump up my reading list. I have already enjoyed ‘Aiding and Abetting’ and ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ so where to next. I think that ‘Memento Mori’ may well be my next port of call on the Spark Trail. What would you recommend? Are you a Muriel Spark fan?


Filed under Muriel Spark, Penguin Books, Review