Book #72: The Driver’s Seat

The introduction to my copy of Muriel Spark’s The Driver’s Seat says that Spark “doesn’t tell us a single thing we want to hear.” I think this is accurate.

Spark’s The Driver’s Seat is a chilling story about one woman’s last day alive (it’s not a spoiler, you know she’s going to die within about 20 pages). We follow her as she makes decisions that the author never fails to point out will ultimately lead to her death.

Lise, the protagonist, is a hysterical woman who wants to be noticed. First, she causes a scene in a department store, then on an airplane. She always wants to be noticed, and she is constantly on the lookout for the man who is “her type,” whom she is apparently going to meet on her trip to an unnamed southern European city, though he may or may not know that she is planning to meet him.

The Driver’s Seat is more of a novella than a novel, clocking in at just over 100 pages. It’s very short and to the point, and because if this there was not one moment when I was reading it that I didn’t feel unsettled. Knowing Lise’s fate in the beginning created tension, but Spark as the narrator steps in often to remind readers that this fate is sealed – that cab ride she took will lead to her death; those people she talked to on the airplane will remember her when questioned about her. Spark herself is constantly breaking up the narrative, reminding us that there is nothing Lise can do to prevent her fate.

Who, then, really is in “the driver’s seat?” Is it Lise, who wants to be remembered and the author of her own fate, or Spark, who knows what is going to happen and makes sure the reader knows that at all costs.

At this point it gets a little hard to say more, because I don’t want to give anything away. For now, I’ll just say that the ending might be one of the most unsettling things I’ve read in a long time. It was just as chilling and disturbing as the rest of the novella, and it left me shuddering.

Give it a try, but be prepared for a read that’s uncomfortable in the best way possible.

Rating: ****

Up Next: The Spy Who Came In From The Cold

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