Heartlessness is not enough

Graham Hough

  • Loitering with Intent by Muriel Spark
    Bodley Head, 221 pp, £6.50, May 1981, ISBN 0 370 30900 6
  • Burnt Water by Carlos Fuentes, translated by Margaret Peden
    Secker, 231 pp, £6.50, January 1981, ISBN 0 436 16763 8
  • The Leaves on Grey by Desmond Hogan
    Picador, 119 pp, £1.50, April 1981, ISBN 0 330 26287 4
  • Children of Lir by Desmond Hogan
    Hamish Hamilton, 136 pp, £6.95, April 1981, ISBN 0 241 10608 7
  • Walking naked by Nina Bawden
    Macmillan, 220 pp, £5.95, April 1981, ISBN 0 333 31304 6

Critical reactions to Muriel Spark puzzle me a good deal. The general consensus among reviewers seems to find her riotously funny; and in the midst of this open-hearted merriment I am a skeleton at the feast. Or rather, I can’t find the feast; I feel that I have been at a picnic with people I don’t really know; the sandwiches are made with margerine, the thermos is full of cold tea, there is a nasty east wind; and just as the unluscious viands are spread out, dead on cue, it starts to rain. Perhaps this is the proper response: for fully paid-up members of the fan club assure us that to think of Muriel Spark as an entertaining writer, an amusing writer, is quite wrong; and there are veiled hints of metaphysical depths or spiritual heights, which my blunted sensibilities are rarely able to discern. But all are agreed that she is strikingly original; her writing is not at all like anyone else’s. And here I rejoice to concur with the common reader: for this is surely the case.

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