As part of relaunching my blog I took some time to look at the various projects and challenges I’ve been involved in this year, and realised that not only had I not kept on top of writing up my thoughts on re-reading Muriel Spark, I had actually basically stopped taking part.
Thinking about it I realised that although I’ve been reading so much more this year (I’m now only one book away from my 2018 target) I’ve been feeling increasingly overwhelmed where I’m reading to a plan. This has been partly my own fault – instead of selecting one or two books from each phase of the project, I tried to read them all. And now I don’t want to read any more of them, at least for the foreseeable future.
I also wanted to close things off properly, so here are my thoughts on Phase 3
The Driver’s Seat (1970)
My edition is from 1974 (with Elizabeth Taylor on the cover); I first read this in 1981 and this is my third time of reading.
This is undoubtedly one of the strangest books I have read, focussing as it does on Lise, who (spoiler alert – not really, we find out what happens quite early on in the novel) heads off to an unnamed southern city to effect her own murder. It’s all presented matter-of-factly and we are given no idea as to why she is doing this, just that it seems to be what she wants, and all of her actions up to the point of her death are deliberate and designed to get her noticed. I found it more compelling on this third go round, and would love to see how they filmed it.
Not to Disturb (1971)
My copy is the 1981 Granada edition with a beautiful Atkinson Grimshaw cover. I bought this to complete my collection, given that I had first read this in a library copy back in (I think) 1978. This makes it the fourth time I’ve read the book, and you can tell by the fact I’ve included a quote above that it’s one of my favourites.
I think this is sort of a companion piece to The Driver’s Seat, inasmuch as it once again focuses on the steps leading up to a violent act, but this time from the perspective of onlookers. The staff of a wealthy family are busily preparing themselves for an event they know is coming but hasn’t happened yet, and they expect to do very well out of it having arranged interviews and film deals and new positions once the crime is discovered. How they knew this was all going to happen is of course a mystery – even if you could predict how events are likely to unfold, how would you know exactly when it was going to happen? once of her creepiest books, but in a good way.
The Hothouse by the East River (1973)
Again, read this for the first time in 1981, I have the 1977 edition and this was the third read.
I’ve always been slightly ambivalent about Hothouse, largely because I haven’t ever settled in my own mind what was actually going on. Still not sure, though i enjoyed reading it again.
The Abbess of Crewe (1974)
This is the fifth time I’ve read this book, and I read it first in the late seventies (before I started keeping records of my reading – yes I have a spreadsheet, no I’m not at all ashamed).
The Abbess is up there with Miss Brodie as a wonderful creation, mistress of her own fate. The novel is of course Watergate in a convent and it’s great fun (if you’re mildly obsessed with Watergate as I confess I am) trying to spot which nun/priest is based on which Nixon associate. It’s very funny and extremely sharp and again made into a film – I think with Glenda Jackson? One of the novels I keep coming back to because I enjoy it so much.
The Takeover (1976)
My copy is from 1978, this is the second time I read it.
It’s not one of my favourites though of course it’s beautifully written, I just didn’t really like any of the characters but didn’t dislike them enough to want to watch everything fall apart. If I’m honest I’m not likely to return to this again.
Not only did I not finish the last book in Phase 3 (Territorial Rights, if you are interested), I didn’t even start it…….
So this was fun while it lasted but I don’t feel sad about putting the remaining books aside for now; it feels the right thing to do.
Still love her though 🙂