Muriel Spark is the kind of novelist around whom myths and legends abound. My favourite is that Mrs Spark was convinced T S Eliot was communicating with her from beyond the grave, via the clues in the Times crossword puzzle. An alternative version of this, found in the memoirs of her former lover, Derek Stanford, was that the communications were being made through the blurbs on Faber dust jackets.
If there is one living author whom Eliot might indeed so honour, it would be the dazzling Mrs Spark; but the truth behind both these anecdotes is to be found in her fascinating autobiography, Curriculum Vitae. Impoverished, undernourished and overworked, she was taking dexedrine as an appetite suppressant. This caused her to suffer hallucinations in which Eliot’s texts formed anagrams and crosswords, suggestive of a code. Happily, the delusions stopped with the dexedrine, but the experience was the inspiration for her first novel, The Comforters, in which a young woman hears a Job-like chorus commenting on her thoughts, effectively writing her into a novel. As Mrs Spark says at the start of her autobiography, ‘In my case, the truth is often less flattering, less romantic, but often more interesting than the false story.’