Monday, July 30, 2012

The Spark

I'm not sure why I first read Muriel Spark--I think it was because James Wood, in an excerpt from  How Fiction Works, kept praising Jean Brodie as a character and Muriel Spark as her author. In a chapter about praising the best characters, he devoted what seemed to me, as someone who had never even heard of Muriel Spark, an inordinate amount of space to a minor character in the "Western Canon."

But even though I never read the rest of Wood's book, I'm so glad that I read Spark's (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Incidentally, Maggie Smith stars as the title character in the movie, though I've not seen it).

I'm reading another book by Muriel Spark now (my fifth, I believe), The Girls of Slender Means. Here are five things I like about it so far (and that are illustrative of what I like about the author in general):

  • The book has a fantastic opening line: "Long ago in 1945 all the nice people in England were poor, allowing for exceptions."
  • Muriel Spark is the queen of dry wit. Her prose is very skeletal, and thus dry: the humor comes almost more in what she doesn't say than it what she does.
  • She is also adept at running gags, but without making them feel like running gags. Hard to imagine and describe, but it's true.
  • Spark is a master of showing, not telling. This keeps the writing interesting all the way through.
  • There is a hint, a tease, right at the beginning that all is not right. Something is happening, but it's uncertain what exactly that is.
Another thing to like: her books are generally very short and very readable. Makes a book like this easy to squeeze in when you're reading for prizes.

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