Paris Review on Muriel Spark.
Dame Muriel Spark was the most slight and sly of the great twentieth-century novelists. All of her books, including The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie most famously, but also The Girls of Slender Means, Memento Mori, The Ballad of Peckham Rye, and more than a dozen others, are immaculately off-kilter, with plots that feel carefully controlled and at the same time subject to any whim that might take the author — because Spark’s authorship is never invisible in her novels. She inhabits any character’s subjectivity that she wants, whenever she wants, and moves liberally forward and backward in time. In The Comforters, her first novel, published in 1957, she takes this self-consciousness to the extreme, when one of the main characters, a critic who is writing a history of the novel-as-art form, begins to hear the disembodied voice of the author narrating The Comforters as she lives it. The presence of a writer so skilled and daring and strange is what makes Spark’s novels so delightful, and also what edges them in something sharp, something that might be danger.
Hidden in Spark’s very weird and unsettling oeuvre is The Driver’s Seat, which might be her weirdest and most unsettling book of all. It follows Lise, a thirty-four-year-old Danish office worker, as she travels to Italy for vacation. The third of the book’s short chapters begins: “She will be found tomorrow morning dead from multiple stab-wounds, her wrists bound with a silk scarf and her ankles bound with a man’s necktie.” With this alarming revelation, we are aware that for the rest of the book we will be working back to the moment of Lise’s murder, discovering whodunit and why.