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6 August 1992
Curriculum Vitae 
by Muriel Spark.
Constable, 213 pp., £14.95, July 1992, 0 09 469650 0
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... At the end of Curriculum Vitae, MurielSpark has just published her first novel, The Comforters. It is 1957 and she is 39 years old. After happening on Spark’s novel in proof while working on his own Gilbert Pinfold, Evelyn Waugh has decided to write it a glowing testimonial, which he publishes in the Spectator: ‘It so happens that The Comforters came ...


Susannah Clapp

2 June 1988
A Far Cry from Kensington 
by Muriel Spark.
Constable, 189 pp., £9.95, March 1988, 0 09 468290 9
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... Twenty years ago MurielSpark described a principle on which ‘much of my literary composition is based’. This was ‘the nevertheless idea’. Mrs Spark was writing about Edinburgh, about her exile from and her attachment to that city, a city in which, she explained, ‘nevertheless’ becomes ‘niverthelace’: ‘I can see the lips of tough ...
21 May 1981
Loitering with Intent 
by Muriel Spark.
Bodley Head, 221 pp., £6.50, May 1981, 0 370 30900 6
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Burnt Water 
by Carlos Fuentes, translated by Margaret Peden.
Secker, 231 pp., £6.50, January 1981, 0 436 16763 8
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The Leaves on Grey 
by Desmond Hogan.
Picador, 119 pp., £1.50, April 1981, 0 330 26287 4
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Children of Lir 
by Desmond Hogan.
Hamish Hamilton, 136 pp., £6.95, April 1981, 0 241 10608 7
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Walking naked 
by Nina Bawden.
Macmillan, 220 pp., £5.95, April 1981, 0 333 31304 6
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... Critical reactions to MurielSpark 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 ...
7 September 2000
Aiding and Abetting 
by Muriel Spark.
Viking, 182 pp., £12.99, September 2000, 0 670 89428 1
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... 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. MurielSpark, 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 ...

A Turn of Events

Frank Kermode

14 November 1996
Reality and Dreams 
by Muriel Spark.
Constable, 160 pp., £14.95, September 1996, 0 09 469670 5
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... Despite her obvious liking for complicated plots, MurielSpark usually seems happiest when writing very short novels (which, it is true, often have complicated plots). Among her earlier novels it is The Public Image that Reality and Dreams most resembles, though ...

Mistress of Disappearances

Frank Kermode: Eluding Muriel Spark

10 September 2009
Muriel SparkThe Biography 
by Martin Stannard.
Weidenfeld, 627 pp., £25, July 2009, 978 0 297 81592 1
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... Martin Stannard, the author of an immense biography of Evelyn Waugh, now publishes this excellent and far from brief life of MurielSpark. The book was well under way while the novelist was still alive, and he expresses his gratitude for her ‘consent, encouragement and active assistance . . . She patiently answered my questions ...


Jonathan Coe

13 September 1990
by Muriel Spark.
Constable, 192 pp., £11.95, September 1990, 0 09 469660 8
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TheInn at the Edge of the World 
by Alice Thomas Ellis.
Viking, 184 pp., £12.99, September 1990, 9780670832743
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... by critics to make their own lives easier, at the cost, no doubt, of making the lives of certain authors more exasperating. They are dangerous terms because they tempt us to lump writers like MurielSpark and Alice Thomas Ellis together, especially when there are other alluring points of comparison, such as a characteristic tone which at first can seem no more than coolly ironic, and even – in these ...
20 September 1984
The Only Problem 
by Muriel Spark.
Bodley Head, 189 pp., £7.95, September 1984, 0 370 30605 8
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... Three years ago, in Loitering with Intent, MurielSpark returned to the scene of her extraordinary first novel, The Comforters, published in 1957. In The Only Problem she is once again looking back: the new book has much to say about Job and comforters, a ...

Complacent Bounty

Susan Eilenberg: The Detachment of Muriel Spark

15 December 2005
All the Poems 
by Muriel Spark.
Carcanet, 130 pp., £9.95, October 2004, 9781857547733
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The Finishing School 
by Muriel Spark.
Penguin, 156 pp., £6.99, April 2005, 9780141005980
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... For the past half-century MurielSpark has been the recognised master of detachment. The closer she approaches matters of terror or outrage or betrayal or shame the more controlled her voice. To memory-summoned menace and ritually ...


Christopher Tayler: Muriel Spark’s Essays

24 September 2014
The Golden Fleece: Essays 
by Muriel Spark, edited by Penelope Jardine.
Carcanet, 226 pp., £16.99, March 2014, 978 1 84777 251 0
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... No two pictures​ of her look at all alike,’ Stephen Schiff wrote of MurielSpark in 1993. ‘In one she may seem a sturdy English rose, in another a seductress staring down at her prey, in still another an intellectual prankster peeking wryly over her spectacles, and sometimes ...
4 March 1982
Evelyn Waugh, Writer 
by Robert Murray Davis.
Pilgrim Books, 342 pp., $20.95, May 1981, 0 937664 00 6
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... of how he says it. Nor did Waugh quite start at random and see what happened, though his early books feel as if he did: he boasted that he could, when young, contain a whole novel in his head. MurielSpark is said to sit down at her desk, take a clean piece of paper and begin, say, ‘Loitering with Intent by MurielSpark. Chapter One’, before she has thought further. Not so Waugh, who set ...

Snob Cuts

Rosemary Hill: Modern Snobbery

3 November 2016
... come from Thackeray, whose Book of Snobs appeared in 1848, and George Orwell – he has written biographies of both. Alan Bennett, who has the finest antennae for social nuance, is absent. So is MurielSpark whose short story, ‘You Should Have Seen the Mess’, is a forensic analysis of the subject. It is narrated by a woman who has based every decision in her life on considerations of hygiene ...

What does she think she looks like?

Rosemary Hill: The Dress in Your Head

28 March 2018
... In the 1920s in the respectable but chilly and soot-stained city, the hat of choice or at least of convention was the pot-shaped cloche. But Mrs Camberg favoured another kind of hat, as her daughter MurielSpark recalled: these were ‘quite different’, ‘large, wavy-brimmed, shady and bedecked’ – more like Emily Tinne’s. These hats were ‘utterly impractical’, Spark wrote, ‘outside of ...


John Bayley

4 September 1986
An Academic Question 
by Barbara Pym.
Macmillan, 182 pp., £9.95, July 1986, 0 333 41843 3
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A Misalliance 
by Anita Brookner.
Cape, 191 pp., £9.95, August 1986, 0 224 02403 5
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... Philip Larkin accurately called her ‘innocent irony’ – innocent because not just seemingly innocent. In another writer it might be malicious or mechanical or just for show. In Evelyn Waugh or MurielSpark the same kind of observation would have about it a routine conscientiousness, a reminding of the reader what things are like, and a reassurance that the author’s outlook and style are ...

The Slightest Sardine

James Wood: A literary dragnet

20 May 2004
The Oxford English Literary History. Vol. XII: 1960-2000: The Last of England? 
by Randall Stevenson.
Oxford, 624 pp., £30, February 2004, 0 19 818423 9
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... former colonies who lived in or wrote about England can be included. (Oxford’s guidelines would have turned its own properly capacious Companion to English Literature into a mouse-eaten cheese.) So MurielSpark is curiously introduced as ‘a Scottish author, but one widely influential on English fiction in the 1960s and later’. Through no fault of Stevenson’s, we have an account of English ...

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