Saturday, May 24, 2008

Muriel Spark Sparks

I've been re-reading Muriel Spark's Loitering with Intent and discovering (after an interval of perhaps 20 years), that it's not at all the sweet confection I remember it. Or rather, it is full of all those sharp edges Spark is known for, odd word choices and original (or just plain odd) ideas.

First, an example of odd word choice. The narrator, speaking about her name, "Fleur," says:

"Not that I looked bad, it was only that Fleur wasn't the right name, and yet it was mine as are the names of those melancholy Joys, those timid Victors, the inglorious Glorias and materialistic Angelas one is bound to meet in the course of a long life of change and infiltration; and once I met a Lancelot who, I assure you, had nothing to do with chivalry."
Um, a long life of ... infiltration? This reveals, I believe, the narrator's view of herself with regard to others. Like Spark, she is a writer, and seems to view others solely as exhibits, opportunities to plunder for her art. Still, it's a bizarre word to see in this context, and it takes a while for it to make any sense.

And here's an example of an idea I found striking:
... [W]hat I found common to the members of Sir Quentin's remianing group was their weakness of character. To my mind this is no more to be despised than is physical weakness. We are not all born heroes and athletes.
I've never decided on an attitude about people's flaws, whereas Fleur appears to have considered the question and come to a point of view. True to life or not, I find it fascinating whenever I encounter a character or author who seems to have consciously arrived at an opinion about something which I've left unexamined. (Since I leave a lot unexamined, this isn't difficult.)

UPDATE: Here's a couple more instances where Spark inserts material into her story that, well, stands out:
He gave me what he said was the usual form of contract, on a printed sheet, and it wasn't such a bad contract nor was it a good one. Only, I found later by personal espionage that his firm ... had a private printing press on which they produced "the usual form of contract" to suit whatever they could get away with for each individual author.
"Personal espionage" is an odd phrase to begin with (one must take a moment to decide that "espionage" alone wouldn't have done, because it would have connoted a shadowy network of hirelings, but it's a pause a reader shouldn't need to make use of), but what's odder about the phrase is what it says about the narrator. In the course of the story, it becomes clear (or seems to) that the narrator's publisher and several other people are conspiring to suppress her first novel. In these circumstances, one can imagine why she might be driven to "espionage," though it's never made clear when she might have done this, or why she bothered. One is left with the suspicion that our narrator is paranoid and sneaky, and Spark intended this. What she seems to have had in mind was a roman à clef in which she modeled the ruthlessness that had been necessary to her own development as a writer.

Here's a short passage that hints at this:
When people say that nothing happens in their lives I believe them. But you must understand that everything happens to an artist; time is always redeemed, nothing is lost and wonders never cease.
At a minimum, it seems to reveal her narrator's self-centeredness; it's a tempting leap to assume the same was true of Spark herself.

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