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?