Can this be what happened to Lord Lucan after the night of 7 November 1974?

James Wood

  • Aiding and Abetting by Muriel Spark
    Viking, 182 pp, £12.99, September 2000, ISBN 0 670 89428 1

The novel must be both very efficient and very wasteful; it thinks like parable but moves like life. Without efficiency – not necessarily concision or compactness, so much as a high degree of chosenness – a story may seem gratuitous; but without a lining of gratuity, a story may seem too necessary, may not seem like a story at all. Muriel Spark, a novelist drawn to the parable, to the ballad, the short form, has negotiated – or wrestled with – this balance of the necessary and the random throughout her career. Her best novels, which also happen to be those that appeal most to her readers – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Girls of Slender Means and A Far Cry from Kensington – moisten the stringency of her vision with what one might call the wetness of life. They are books which, while highly composed, tolerate an apparent abundance of ‘unnecessary’ social and human detail, and whose characters have the unclean inconsistencies and contradictions which we find in life.

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