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Muriel's sparky prose is the best way to start your day. Reading a blast of her prose every morning is a far more restorative way to start a day than a shot of espresso.

The Telegraph (London)

Muriel Spark

20th century Scottish novelist, poet and essayist

Muriel Spark (1918–2006) began a prolific forty year career as a poet, essayist and novelist some time after marrying and living in Rhodesia, divorcing, moving to London, working for UK intelligence during World War II, and editing The Poetry Review. Of Scottish origin, Spark is remembered for the rare artistry of her audacious and often self-reflective fictions (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Memento Mori, The Comforters, etc). In 1965, she received the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and in 1965 for The Mendelbaum Gate. In 1992, she won the US Ingersoll Foundation TS Eliot Award, and in 1997, the David Cohen Prize. Muriel Spark became Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1993.

"I aim to startle as well as please." – Muriel Spark

 

Articles:

Bookslut on the novels of Muriel Spark


Loitering with Intent

Fiction by Muriel Spark


Happily loitering in London with the intent of gathering material for her writing, Fleur Talbot finds a job “on the grubby edge of the literary world” at the very peculiar Autobiographical Association. Mad egomaniacs writing their memoirs in advance — or poor fools ensnared by a blackmailer? When the association’s pompous director steals Fleur’s manuscript, fiction begins to appropriate life in this darkly comedic delight.



The Bachelors

Fiction by Muriel Spark


First found contentedly chatting in their London clubs, the cozy bachelors (as any Spark reader might guess) are not set to stay cozy for long. Soon enough, the men are variously tormented — defrauded or stolen from; blackmailed or pressed to attend horrid séances; plunged into the nastiest of lawsuits. And every horror delights: each is lit up by Spark’s uncanny wit, at once funny and deadly serious.



A Far Cry from Kensington

Fiction by Muriel Spark


Nancy Hawkins, the majestic narrator of A Far Cry From Kensington, takes us by the hand and leads us back to her threadbare years in postwar London, where she spent her days working for a mad, near-bankrupt publisher (“of very good books”) and her nights dispensing advice at her small South Kensington boarding house. She found evil everywhere: shady literary doings and a deadly enemy; anonymous letters; blackmail; and suicide.

Looking back on those years from her new perch in Italy, Mrs. Hawkins recounts how that time changed her life forever, using the novel as a platform for advice. "It’s easy to get thin," she says. "You eat and drink the same as always, only half... I offer this advice without fee; it is included in the price of this book."



The Ballad of Peckham Rye

Fiction by Muriel Spark


The Ballad of Peckham Rye is the wickedly farcical tale of an English factory turned upside-down by a Scot who may or may not be in league with the Devil. Hired to do “human research” into the lives of the workers, Dougal Douglas stirs up mayhem.



Memento Mori

Fiction by Muriel Spark


In late 1950s London, something uncanny besets a group of elderly friends: an insinuating voice on the telephone reminds each: Remember you must die. Their geriatric feathers are soon thoroughly ruffled, and many an old unsavory secret is dusted off.



The Informed Air

Nonfiction by Muriel Spark

Edited by Penelope Jardin

In this monumental collection, the inimitable Muriel Spark addresses all of her favorite subjects: the writing life; love; cats; favorite writers (T. S. Eliot, Robert Burns, the Brontës, Mary Shelley); Piero della Francesca; life in wartime London and in glamorous “Hollywood-on-the-Tiber” 1960s Rome; faith; and parties (of course). 

Spark’s scope is amazing, and her striking, glancing insights are precise and unforgettable. From the mysteries of Job’s sufferings, she glides to Dame Edith Sitwell’s cocktail-party advice on how to handle a nasty publisher, and on to the joys of success.



Territorial Rights

Fiction by Muriel Spark


Layers of intrigue; overlapping and triangulating love affairs; old but not-yet-forgotten murders; international spy-craft; adultery; parental interference; the sweet careless rapture of youth; unmarked graves — Territorial Rights claims much ground and Muriel Spark enjoys a wicked dance on it.

Little is what it seems at first when young Robert Curran is "taken through the sunny waters of palaces, domes and ferries" to the Pensione Sofia, on his first visit to Venice...



The Driver’s Seat

Fiction by Muriel Spark


Driven mad by an office job, Lise leaves everything and flies south on holiday in search of passionate adventure. In this metaphysical shocker, infinity and eternity attend Lise’s last terrible day in the unnamed southern city that is her final destination.



The Comforters

Fiction by Muriel Spark


With her now-signature air of easy, sunny eeriness, Spark lights up the darkest things: blackmail; a drowning; nervous breakdowns; a loathsome busybody; a diabolist bookseller; human evil. These—along with a ring of smugglers and a metaphysical trap to be sprung—are Spark’s meat, served up here in dazzling and rigorous fashion.



Curriculum Vitae: A Volume Of Autobiography

Nonfiction by Muriel Spark


It is no surprise that one of Muriel Spark’s most lively and entertaining works would be her own memoir, Curriculum Vitae. Born to a Scottish Jewish father and an English Presbyterian mother, Spark describes her childhood in 1930s Edinburgh in brief, dazzling anecdotes. In one she recalls a cherished schoolteacher, Christina Kay, who would later be used as the prototype for Miss Jean Brodie. Spark boldly details her disastrous first marriage to Sydney Oswald Spark (S.O.S.) – himself thirty-two, she just nineteen – whom she followed to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and left behind to return to England. In the midst of WWII, Spark took a bizarre position working in the disinformation campaign of the British Secret Service, eliciting information from German POWs to combat Nazi propoganda. She later moved to the Poetry Society of London, where she mingled with literati and other intellectuals, befriended by some (such as Graham Greene, an early supporter of her work) and sparring with others. We experience Spark’s joy with the publication of her first novel, The Comforters, her trials with other writers’ envy, and her emergence as the most brilliant femme fatale of 20th-century English literature.



Not to Disturb

Fiction by Muriel Spark


A winter’s night; a luxurious mansion near Geneva; a lucrative scandal. The first to arrive is the secretary dressed in furs with a bundle of cash, then the Baron, and finally the Baroness. They lock themselves in the library with specific instructions not to be disturbed for any reason. Soon, shouts and screams emerge from the library; the Baron’s lunatic brother starts madly howling in the attic; two of the secretary’s friends are left waiting in a car; a reverend’s services are needed for an impromptu wedding—and despite all that the servants obey their orders as they pass the time playing records, preparing dinner, and documenting false testimonies while a twisted murder plot unfolds upstairs.



Symposium

Fiction by Muriel Spark


One October evening five posh London couples gather for a dinner party, enjoying "the pheasant (flambé in cognac as it is)" and waiting for the imminent arrival of the late-coming guest Hilda Damien, who has been unavoidably detained due to the fact that she is being murdered at this very moment... Symposium was applauded by Time magazine for the "sinister elegance" of Muriel Spark’s "medium of light but lethal comedy." Mixed in are a Monet, a mad uncle, some unconventional nuns, and a burglary ring run by a rent-a-butler. Symposium stars a perfectly evil young woman (a classic sweet-faced hair-raising Sparkian horror) who has married rich Hilda’s son by hook or by crook, hooking him at the fruit counter of Harrod’s. There is also spiritual conversation — and the Bordeaux is superb. "The prevailing mood is urbane: the wine is poured, the talk continues, and all the time the ice on which the protagonists’ world rests is being thinned from beneath, by boiling emotions and ugly motives... No living writer handles the tension between formality of expression and subversiveness of thought more elegantly" (The Independent on Sunday).



All The Poems of Muriel Spark

Poetry by Muriel Spark


In the seventy-three poems collected here Muriel Spark works in open forms as well as villanelles, rondels, epigrams, and even the tour de force of a twenty-one page ballad. She also shows herself a master of unforgettable short poems. Before attaining fame as a novelist (Memento Mori, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie), Muriel Spark was already an acclaimed poet. The "power and control" of her poetry, as Publishers Weekly remarked, "is almost startling." With the vitality and wit typical of all her work, Dame Muriel has never stopped writing poems, which frequently appear in The New Yorker. As with all her creations, the poems show Spark to be "astonishingly talented and truly inimitable" (The San Francisco Chronicle).



Ghost Stories

Fiction by Muriel Spark


"I aim to startle as well as please," Muriel Spark has said, and in these eight marvelous ghost stories she manages to do both to the highest degree. As with all matters in the hands of Dame Muriel, her spooks are entirely original. A ghost in her pantheon can be plaintive or a bit vengeful, or perhaps may not even be aware of being a ghost at all. Spark has a flair for confiding ghosts: "I must explain that I departed this life nearly five years ago. But I did not altogether depart this world. There were those odd things still to be done which one’s executors can never do properly." In her case the odd things include cheerily hailing her murderer, "Hallo George!" and driving him mad. Regarding this ghost story ("The Portobello Road"), Stephen Schiff said in The New Yorker: "Muriel Spark has written some of the best sentences in English. For instance, ’He looked as if he would murder me and he did.’ It’s a nasty piece of work, that sentence." Included here are some of her most wicked and famous stories — "The Seraph and the Zambesi," "The Hanging Judge," and "The Portobello Road" — and they all gleam with that special Spark sheen, the quality The Times Literary Supplement hailed as "gloriously witty and polished."



Robinson

Fiction by Muriel Spark


January Marlow, our unsentimental heroine, is one of three survivors out of twenty-nine souls when her plane crashes, blazing, on Robinson’s island. Presumed dead for months, the three survivors must wait for the annual return of the pomegranate boat. Robinson, a determined loner, proves a fair if misanthropic host to his uninvited guests; he encourages January to keep a journal: as "an occupation for my mind, and I fancied that I might later dress it up for a novel. That was most peculiar, as things transpired, for I did not then anticipate how the journal would turn upon me, so that having survived the plane disaster, I should nearly meet my death through it." In Robinson, Spark’s supreme second novel, under the tropical glare and strange fogs of the tiny island, we find a volcano, a ping-pong playing cat, a dealer in occult as well as lucky charms, flying ants, sexual tension, a disappearance, blackmail, and — perhaps — murder. Everything astounds, confounds, and convinces, frighteningly. "She is," as Charles Alva Hoyt once put it, "the Jane Austen of the Surrealists." "To read Spark," as The Georgia Review noted, "is to encounter delight after delight," and this marvelous novel is another display of the powers of our "most gifted and innovative British novelist" (The New York Times). She has been called “completely, searingly original" (Independent) and "wickedly funny... astonishingly talented... and truly inimitable" (San Francisco Examiner-Chronicle). In the work of Dame Muriel — in the last words of Robinson — "immediately all things are possible."



All the Stories of Muriel Spark

Fiction by Muriel Spark


Spanning her entire career to date, All the Stories of Muriel Spark contains four brand new tales. Now in hand is every single one of her forty-one marvelous stories. "To read Spark," as the Georgia Review put it, "is to encounter delight after delight." Ranging from South Africa to the West End, her dazzling stories feature hanging judges, fortune-tellers, shy girls, psychiatrists, dress designers, pensive ghosts, never-departing guests, and imaginary chauffeurs. Regarding one story ("The Portobello Road"), Stephen Schiff said in The New Yorker: "Muriel Spark has written some of the best sentences in English. For instance: ’He looked as if he would murder me, and he did.’ It’s a nasty piece of work, that sentence."



The Girls of Slender Means

Fiction by Muriel Spark


“Long ago in 1945 all the nice people in England were poor, allowing for exceptions," begins The Girls of Slender Means, Dame Muriel Spark’s tragic and rapier-witted portrait of a London ladies’ hostel just emerging from the shadow of World War II. Like the May of Teck Club itself — "three times window-shattered since 1940 but never directly hit" — its lady inhabitants do their best to act as if the world were back to normal: practicing elocution, and jostling over suitors and a single Schiaparelli gown. The novel’s harrowing ending reveals that the girls’ giddy literary and amorous peregrinations are hiding some tragically painful war wounds. Chosen by Anthony Burgess as one of the Best Modern Novels in The London Sunday Times Review, The Girls of Slender Means is a taut and eerily perfect novel by an author The New York Times has called "one of this century’s finest creators of comic-metaphysical entertainment."


Available: April 01 1998


Open to the Public

Fiction by Muriel Spark


The thirty-seven marvelous stories of Open to the Public include ten which have never before been published in an American collection. The stories span Dame Muriel Spark’s entire career to date and display her lion’s share of literary gifts: beauty, stealth, originality, elegance, wit, and shock value. And with the élan of one of Muriel Spark’s own plot developments, this volume of a lifetime’s work coincides with her having just won England’s most prestigious literary award, the 1997 David Cohen British Literature Prize for Lifetime Achievement. Announcing the prize, the chairman of the judges, Professor Andrew Motion, said of Dame Muriel: "Her writing has become part of our life. Yet one of her greatest gifts is to make things we know seem new and strange and wonderful. She richly deserves this prize. She is the most independent and consistent and technically brilliant writer of her day. She defies fashion and is extraordinarily prolific. She is a wholly original presence in modern literature." No writer commands so exhilarating a style playful and rigorous, cheerful and venomous, hilariously acute and coolly supernatural. Ranging from South Africa to the West End, her dazzling stories feature hanging judges, fortune-tellers, shy girls, psychiatrists, dress designers, pensive ghosts. Regarding one story ("The Portobello Road"), Stephen Schiff said in The New Yorker: "Muriel Spark has written some of the best sentences in English. For instance: ’He looked as if he would murder me, and he did.’ It’s a nasty piece of work, that sentence." A treat for her fans, this definitive collection bears out John Updike’s opinion that "Muriel Spark’s writing always gives delight.... She is one of the few authors on either side of the Atlantic with enough resources, daring, and stamina to be altering as well as feeding the fiction machine.


Available: September 01 1997


Abbess of Crewe

Fiction by Muriel Spark


"The short dirk in the hands of Muriel Spark has always been a deadly weapon." said The New York Times, and "never more so than in The Abbess of Crewe." An elegant little fable about intrigue, corruption, and electronic surveillance, The Abbess of Crewe (1974) is set in an English Benedictine convent. Steely and silky Abbess Alexandra (whose aristocratic tastes run to pâté, fine wine, English poetry, and carpets of "amorous green") has bugged the convent, and rigged her election. But the cat gets out of the bag, and — plunged into scandal — the serene Abbess faces a Vatican inquiry.


Available: May 01 1995


The Public Image

Fiction by Muriel Spark


"All homage to Muriel Spark, the coolest writer ever to scald your liver and your lights" (The Washington Post). The Public Image, which the author has called "an ethical shocker," provides a scalding the reader is unlikely to forget, particularly, as it is so enjoyable. Spark chooses Rome, "the motherland of sensation," for the setting of her story about movie star Annabel Christopher (known to her adoring fans as "The English Lady-Tiger"), who has made the fatal mistake of believing in her public image. This error and her embittered husband, an unsuccessful actor, catch up with her. His final act is only the first shocking climax — further surprises await. Neatly savaging our celebrity culture, Spark rejoices in one of her favorite subjects — the clash between sham and genuine identity — and provides Annabel with an unexpected triumph. The Public Image is a wickedly funny and beautiful masterwork by a writer who is herself the crème de la crème.


Available: April 01 1993