Saturday, 28 April 2012

Discussion, discussion...



Harriet will be doing a proper round-up of reviews on her blog tomorrow, and I might well do something after that, so I have a record here too - but I wanted to throw today's post over for discussion in the comments.  This is especially for those of you participating who don't have blogs, but of course everyone is welcome.

1.) How have you found Muriel Spark Reading Week?  What did you read - and was it your first time reading Spark?

2.) Which novel/novels have you been inspired to read next in Spark's canon?

3.) What themes do you identify across Spark's novels?

4.) Which other authors would you recommend to the Spark fan?

I'll answer this one myself, first - I would first and foremost tell people to read Jane Bowles' only novel, Two Serious Ladies, which is very much in Spark territory.  I'd also recommend anything by Barbara Comyns, if you love Spark's detached, surreal-but-matter-of-fact style.  And, perhaps controversially, I'd recommend Ivy Compton-Burnett - because I think Spark learnt a lot about dialogue from reading her.  And Spark does write in her autobiography, Curriculum Vitae, that she loved ICB before writing her own novels, saying ICB 'resembled the Greek dramatists in her stark themes, and [...] her art was surrealistic.'  Remind you of anyone?

EDIT: Annabel has now suggested a Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week - more here.  Exciting!

5.) Just, well, discuss!  Anything you want to bring up...

Thanks for making this week so fun - maybe we'll come back next year, or maybe the work has been done in getting everyone excited about one of Britain's foremost authors.  Is there an author you think would be great material for a Reading Week?  If there is, don't just tell me - feel free to organise one yourself!

41 comments:

  1. Thank you for bringing attention back to this wonderful author. My only wish would be I had more time during this busy part of the year to devote to the pure pleasure of reading. I chose to reread "The Prime...." and have enjoyed it immensely. I have also enjoyed reading Curriculum Vitae concurrently. At times it seemed I might be simply switching between editions. I look forward to reading other's comments and reading other works by Ms. Spark. Bonnie

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  2. I've read quite a few Spark novels over the years, but have never read 'The Prime...' which ought to be next for me. I'd like to re-read 'A far cry from Kensington' too.

    I've been championing Beryl Bainbridge as a British author who came shortly after Spark, coming into her own in the mid 1970s. I've been considering a Beryl week for a while actually! Must get my act together and organise it...

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    1. Oo, I've been intending to try Beryl Bainbridge for years... so I'd definitely be on board, Annabel!

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    2. Me too, when do we start! ;-)

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    3. I was going to mention Bainbridge here - I've read a few and The Bottle Factory Outing and Master Georgie are both brilliant. I've blogged on both http://theknockingshop.blogspot.com/search/label/Beryl%20Bainbridge
      I'd certainly be on for a reading week.

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    4. This is a great idea - I've wanted to read Beryl Bainbridge's books for ages but have lacked the necessary motivation! And a BIG THANKS to Simon and Harriet for hosting this week - I have so many more Sparks to read now, but, even better, a really good idea of which ones will be more my cup of tea.

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    5. I've only read one Bainbridge, her last (Girl in a Polka Dot Dress) which I liked enormously. I would really welcome a chance to read some more so go for it! And do read A Far Cry and Miss JB -- you'll be in for two real treats.

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  3. Just wanted to add that Muriel Spark fans may also like Beryl Bainbridge.

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  4. I haven't actually heard of this author but am intrigued... I may have to look into this series.

    Megan @ Storybook Love Affair

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  6. What books did Spark pen while on diet pills and which books were written when the pills were most noticeably influencing her mental state?

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  7. Firstly, thanks to you and Harriet for hosting this reading week - it's spurred me on to reading more Spark and I'm really enjoying her work. Specifically:

    1.) The reading week was excellent and informative and I enjoying hopping about the various blogs and picking up info and ideas. I read a nice old Penguin copy of Memento Mori, which I wasn't sure about at first but in retrospect I got a lot out of it. This wasn't my first time reading Spark - I read Brodie and Peckham Rye longer ago than I'd care to admit, and MM had been on my want-to-read list for that long! But I don't think I would have necessarily embarked on it now without the impetus from the reading week.

    2.) After reading other blogs, I have now moved on to Loitering with Intent, which I'm enjoying immensely. I have also just succumbed to sending off for The Comforters as it sounds as though the themes may be similar.

    3.) Spark's themes - well, so far, I'm enjoying the surreality of her work. Also, I very much enjoy books which play with the boundaries between the book, its author and the reader - life imitating art in and out of the book so to speak. I'm very fond of Edmund Crispin's Gervase Fenn crime books for similar reasons as he often blurs the lines between character and author. (I'd highly recommend these to anyone who liked Golden Age crime fiction with an extra quirk).

    4.) Recommending authors - well I guess I just did that! This is a hard one,though, because I'm finding Spark quite unique. Isobel English's Every Eye, maybe (and perhaps it's relevant that they are both Catholic?)

    5.) I've spent a fair amount of time recently reading 20th century novelists after joining Librarything's Virago Modern Classics group which is how I found this blog and the reading week. And reading all these wonderful books has made me even more convinced than I was that it was a golden age for fiction. I find so many modern novels badly written and trite and as I get older I just don't have the time or the patience for them. So I'm happy to celebrate the greats like MS and read books that entertain and stimulate.

    Sorry if this is rather long as I don't have my own blog yet! And thanks again for hosting the reading week! Karen

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    1. Karen, you are a woman after my own (and Simon's) heart! Loitering with Intent is probably my favourite, or fighting for that position with Miss Jean Brodie - you are right about the Comforters being similar in theme but I liked it slightly less. Yes I have read Crispin and I see just what you mean -- I read The Moving Toyshop quite recently and it is very playful in just that way. I've never even heard of Isobel English so will be one to look out for. And I so agree about 20th century novels -- they are virtually all I read now and for exactly the same reasons. Clearly it's time you had a blog as your comments are so interesting -- many thanks!

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    2. Every Eye is one of the few Persephone titles I gave up on, but mostly because I misplaced it - so I'll definitely have to give it another try.

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    3. Oh, do persevere with Every Eye - I thought it was wonderful and *don't* be tempted to skip to the end - the last line is a killer and I agreee very much with the review that said you'll want to go back and read the book again when you read the last line!

      I finished Loitering with Intendtlast night and I *loved* it - Edwina in particular was such a wonderful character. So I have ordered The Comforters and can see myself making my way through all of MS's works! :)

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  8. hi simon ,thank for making me try Spark ,i found here drly comic on my first book a far cry .I will be trying her again hope you host abother week next year ,all the best stu

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  9. I had never read Spark before this reading week - I read The Driver's Seat, which incidentally was in the Lost Man Booker list! A new writer to read more from, I believe she captures the essence of her time very vividly!

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  10. I read A Far Cry From Kensington, first Spark book, last week. Just posted a brief review @ http://laviconmtesse.blospot.com. Now I am into Loitering with Intent which seems similar. Both protagonist, formidable, unwavering in self confidence, and controlling. I think Spark likes to delve into the darker side of personalities.

    I started Abbess of Crewe but will not finish it. Too strange, like being in an episode of The Twilight Zone, an American sci-fi TV series from the early 60s.

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  11. 1.) The reading has been very enjoyable! I like reading others' perspectives on Muriel Spark. She's one of my favorites, so it's always nice to hear of other people discovering (and hopefully loving!) her work. I read The Comforters, and it was my twelfth. I'd planned to write a proper review...but unfortunately final exams week has deadened my desire to do, well, anything.

    2.) The autobiography sounds very interesting - I'd like to check that one out.

    3.) Religion, particularly Catholicism, is a big theme. Many of Spark's characters are religious, whether they're converts, born-and-raised Catholics, or nuns. I think someone could (should!) write an entire book on religion within her work. Crime is another one: it seems like just about every one of her novels I've read features some kind of crime. And the act of writing is another.

    4.) I don't know how apt a comparison this is, but Diane Williams is an American writer of short stories (well, actually, mostly flash fiction). The surreal element is significant in both, and something about the distinctive phrasing of the dialogue - weird, off-putting, awkward if it were attempted by anyone else (if that makes sense) in both Spark and Williams. I would also recommend Hilary Mantel: she, too, deals frequently with religion, and many of her novels display a similar dark wit. Specifically, Beyond Black is hilarious and all-around excellent.

    I apologize for the length!

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    1. So glad you have enjoyed it Dan. Yes, religion, crime, act of writing -- what a set of disparate themes but obviously all of interest to her. I agree about the wit in Beyond Black - anexcellent novel. Good luck with the finals!

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  12. I read A Far Cry and two of Spark's short stories for the Reading Week. Just posted on them at http://inkyfoot.wordpress.com/2012/04/29/the-long-and-the-short-of-muriel-spark/

    Thanks to you and Harriet for hosting this event, and Thomas's button. Will definitely be reading more of Spark in time to come. Maybe this will be a yearly event? ;)

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  13. My rather feeble review of "Territorial Rights" is available here:

    http://morganas-cat.tumblr.com/post/21993989112/sparky

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  14. Can I recommend Alice Thomas Ellis to Spark fans, especially The 27th Kingdom. Others may not agree, but there are similarities - a concern with religion, especially the nature of good and evil;some wonderful dialogue; a spare writing style; a blurring of reality, with an almost fairy tale quality in places. Like Spark she's a very witty writer, and very humorous, but there is a dark edge to her work and her novels are really rather macabre.

    A huge thank you to you and Harriet for organising MSRW - it has been interesting reading what other people have to say, and I only wish I had managed to get hold of her autobiography and some of the novels I haven't read.

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    1. I've heard many good things about Alice Thomas Ellis but never read her -- time to change that, I think. Thanks for the thanks! we have enjoyed it hugely too and I certainly have learned a great deal.

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    2. Like Harriet, I have heard good things of ATE - I even own three of her novels - but I have yet to read anything by her.

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    3. I was going to suggest Alice Thomas Ellis too - they have a lot in common, both have a dark side, both enjoy exploiting that darkness in their fiction - particularly with their narrators, both where committed Catholics. For Spark fans I would recommend 'The Sin Eater' and the summer house trilogy.

      I would also suggest later Molly Keane - she too does slightly grotesque and unsympathetic characters that challange the reader.

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    4. I have been thinking the same about Alice Thomas Ellis. I prefer her writing to Spark's.

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  15. I read the Girls of Slender Means and Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - both have similar elements and luckly I loved those elements. I also read a short story which was so random I had a 'eh' moment.

    Mary Wesley sprang to mind when reading the Girls of Slender Means for some reason.

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    1. And I have never read Mary Wesley - although I have seen The Camomile Lawn! I love the idea of an 'eh' moment ;)

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  16. I second Alice Thomas Ellis as a writer in the Spark camp. I loved The Summerhouse Trilogy and The Inn at the End of the World, and really should read her again. It's been a lot of fun returning to Muriel Spark after years of not reading her. I'd like to try some of her better known novels that I haven't yet read - Loitering With Intent and Memento Mori in particular. And I know what you mean about The Only Problem continuing to revolve and unravel in my mind. When you have such a show-not-tell author like Spark, I guess that her books do live on while the boys in the backroom of the mind play with speculative interpretations! A BIG thank you to you and Harriet, Simon, for having organised this wonderful week.

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    1. It's been such fun! I'm delighted that it's given you the opportunity to return to Spark after years - and you definitely should try Loitering With Intent, which Harriet and I both like most. I want to re-read it, to see how a Spark novel develops the second time around.

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    2. Thank you to Simon and Harriet for organising this. Reading the short stories has been particularly rewarding in that it's been a quick way to get an overview of Sparks range as a writer. It's also made me feel that the books chosen for reprinting, specifically those from Virago, have been curated in a way that concentrates on particular themes within Spark. I imagine the penguin modern classics do something similar - what this week has done is demonstrate that I'm not nearly as familiar with Spark as I thought and that's quite an exciting thing to know.

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  17. I managed 6 Sparks this week - The Public Image, The Driver's Seat, Loitering with Intent, The Abbess of Crewe,The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Bachelors. I'd never read any Spark before, but felt I'd got a pretty good crash course by the end! I'd like to read them all eventually, but definitely preferred her darker novels, particularly The Driver's Seat.

    As for similar authors, I would suggest Fay Weldon as another feminist author with a wicked sense of humour and an eye for the macabre.

    I have had a fantastic week exploring all these wonderful novels, reading everybody's posts and joning in on blogs and Twitter. Thank you so much for organising MSRW, and if you decide to do it again, either with more Spark or another author, please consider me already sighned up!

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    1. Six! well done. I think the Driver's Seat is excellent and so thought-provoking. Thanks so much for this nice comment.

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    2. I've so much enjoyed your participation this week, Sophia, and the amazing number you managed to read! I'll sign you up to read the other 16 next time ;)

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  18. As I am reading early on in Loitering With Intent Graham Greene's Doctor Fischer of Geneva comes to mind...

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  19. Excellent idea Simon to invite all these comments -- very good to know we have got so many people interested. I am still collecting reviews and miscellania so my round-up post will appear later in the day.

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  20. I've enjoyed this week getting to know about the work of an author I've heard so much about but didn't know what books to try. I'm two thirds through the Finishing School and enjoying the humor, the way she slaps out her characters names and events and how things begin to connect. I'd only read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie many years ago, but now have some ideas...Loitering with Intent, The Drivers Seat and the book with the scholar researching the book of Job...thank you for an interesting week! Susan E

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  21. Hi I have really enjoyed the challenge this week having read Far cry from Kensington and The Finishing School. It might have been nice to have a list up somewhere of people participating then I could have gone round and visited, as it was I have relied on coming to the comments and following people back to their blogs (A bit of bloggy stalking that I do regularly when I read an interesting comment). I have got Girls of Slender Means added to my TBR list now.
    I have never read any Beryl Bainbridge but am definitely up for the challenge
    thanks to everyone for joining in
    martine

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    1. Fear not Martine, the full list of reviews will be up at Harriet's today (harrietdevine.typepad.com) and at mine tomorrow!

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  22. I started Loitering With Intent earlier in the week and got about halfway. Then I had to be out of town this weekend and haven't gotten back to it. :( Isn't "quirky" the word you MS veterans use for her work? I'm finding it definitely quirky, almost odd, and I'm not sure I'm completely following her. I hope to get back to it tonight and finish it. I'm feeling "behind." :)

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