Pamela Norris

Writers’ War

The Finishing School

By

Viking 156pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

MURIEL SPARK STARTED her writing life as a poet and literary biographer, and was only reluctantly persuaded to try her hand at fiction. As she describes in her autobiography, Curriculum Vitae, she had first ‘to work out a novel-writing process peculiar to [herself]’, a method that would take into account her belief that a good novel was ‘essentially an extension of poetry’. In her first novel, The Comforters, she tackled the problem of fiction head on, exploring the relationship between a writer and her characters through the dilemma of Caroline Rose, a young woman haunted by the tapping of typewriter keys. The Comforters, published in 1957, was an immediate success, introducing Spark as a dazzlingly original and entertaining writer. It also established the parameters within which she was to develop her unique vision of the world in a stream of novels and short stories: the interplay between good and evil, often worked out w i t h the confines of a small community; the possibility of mental or emotional breakdown for one or more of the characters; a suggestion of menace, which keeps the reader in agreeable suspense; and an authorial voice which is typically prescient, sceptical and ironic. Spark’s novels are generally rather short, composed of telling detail, pared-down dialogue, and startling events which hold the reader’s attention from the very first page. The economy and elegance of this approach have won her a well-deserved reputation as a stylist, but, as she explained in a recent interview, her primary aim is ‘to give pleasure and experience . . . to open windows and doors’ for the reader.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Something of an 'eccentric billionaire’s hobby': reviews 'The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and… ,
    • "At the age of fifteen, drunk on stolen Chardonnay or stoned on pot at a swimming party, the thoughts that come imm… ,
    • For the latest Bookends, here's Alan Taylor musing on his stint as an assistant librarian. ,
    • A ‘pretentious ass and impotent arriviste’ who surrounded himself with ‘degenerates, hooligans, childish layabouts,… ,
    • . reviews 'Aristotle’s Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life' by ,
    • "As Beevor shows, it was one of the most daring, dangerous and fiercely fought operations of the whole war. It was… ,
    • "The characters are very rich and very male, with astronomical ambitions. The potted biographies in this book sugge… ,