Posts Tagged ‘Muriel Spark’

11th Decade Roundup!

It’s that time of my reading life again, where I review the last ten books I read, pretend I can remember them all, and then take stock of what happened. It’s also that time of my blogging life where I’m incredibly frustrated because WordPress has eaten three of my blog posts in the last two days. C’mon, guys, get it together.

This was a pretty good batch of books. It was a good mix of books I knew I’d enjoy, books that were just enough of a digression from my usual taste to be a challenge without being annoying, and books that I really liked but never would have read otherwise. It’s pretty much what you’d want in a book grouping.

I started out with What I Loved, which was fine while I was reading it, but very much on the “meh” portion of the scale. It wasn’t awful but I didn’t love it. I’m glad I read it, I suppose, but I doubt I’ll read it again. Another book in the category of, “glad I read it, now let’s move on” was The Girls of Slender Means. It was more enjoyable than I expected it to be, but I’d be surprised if I ever revisited it.

Then there were the books about two very different boys who were actually pretty similar, in some ways. Huck Finn is always a classic, and if you dialed up Huck’s delinquency and sense of adventure and combined it with a bit of crazy, you’d have Francie Brady of The Butcher Boy

Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye was a bit of an emotional read, but it was okay because it was followed by two zany books by Douglas Adams. It’s always fun to revisit Dirk Gently and his friends, and it’s even more fun to try and explain what you’re reading to people who don’t know Douglas Adams.

Finally, I was thoroughly sickened and shocked by Lolitabefore being captivated by some Murakami magic in Kafka on the ShoreI rounded out the bunch with the amazing Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions. I think Vonnegut is swiftly becoming one of my favorite authors.

My favorite book out the batch was definitely Breakfast of Champions. Vonnegut knows how to spin a phrase and play with language at least as well as Douglas Adams does, but there’s something about the way he weaves chaos through order and brings crazy insights into his work that I adore.

The reward for biggest shock goes to Lolita. I went in with bravado thinking that I was prepared and certainly wouldn’t be shocked like all those prudes who are sickened by books about sex. I was wrong.

And the book I liked the least was probably What I Loved. Like I said, it’s not that I didn’t like it, it’s just that it didn’t do anything for me. Not every book can.

Now I’m off to (hopefully) catch up on my post for the next book, House of Leaves, assuming WordPress stops eating my posts.

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Book #106: The Girls of Slender Means

Let me preface this by saying that I think just about any book I read after my wild and crazy romp with Douglas Adams was bound to be a bit of a letdown.

I had a hard time taking Muriel Spark’s The Girls of Slender Means seriously at first. I kept wanting it to be funny and assuming that everything she said was meant to be sarcastic or witty. I was kind of in the Douglas Adams “this is supposed to be silly” mindset, which wasn’t great for this book.

The Girls of Slender Means is a postwar story about a rooming house in London where literary, smart young women live. They’re pretty much all twenty-somethings, and they all are trying to find husbands and make their way in the world. And that’s pretty much it.

I will say this for Spark – she’s great at creating vivid, believable characters. We meet several girls who live in the hostel, and they are all real and believable, with interesting quirks, flaws, and ideas. They all come to life very well. I felt like I could know or encounter any of them in the real world and not be surprised at all. Almost all of them are fully developed and three-dimensional.

Overall, however, The Girls of Slender Means was a bit “meh” for me. I think I’ll chalk it up to the stark reality of Spark’s novel immediately following the colorful, clever, and zany world Adams created, because I did find myself enjoying it more by the end. I’d even recommend it to people who want a quick, relatively interesting read.

Rating: ***
Up Next: The Butcher Boy

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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