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She Who Can Do No Wrong

Jenny Turner, 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, Muriel Spark 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 to me just as I had finished a story on a similar theme, and I was struck by how much more ambitious Miss Spark’s essay was, and how much better she had accomplished it,’ is how this testimonial goes ...


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 Muriel Spark 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 elderly women in musquash coats taking tea at MacVittie’s, enunciating this word of final justification ...

Heartlessness is not enough

Graham Hough, 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 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 ...

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

James Wood: The Emaciation of Muriel Spark, 7 September 2000

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

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, Muriel Spark 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 they are separated by 28 years, and there are differences of tone ...

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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... of an immense biography of Evelyn Waugh, now publishes this excellent and far from brief life of Muriel Spark. 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, offered interviews and engaged in a huge ...


Jonathan Coe, 13 September 1990

by Muriel Spark.
Constable, 192 pp., £11.95, September 1990, 0 09 469660 8
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The Inn at the Edge of the World 
by Alice Thomas Ellis.
Viking, 184 pp., £12.99, September 1990, 9780670832743
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... authors more exasperating. They are dangerous terms because they tempt us to lump writers like Muriel Spark 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 latest books – some clear similarities of ...

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 Muriel Spark 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 recalled violation her response has been severe amusement or colder revenge; to the threat of madness or obsession (her own or another’s), controlled glee ...

Old Testament Capers

Frank Kermode, 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, Muriel Spark 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 topic on which, it seems, Mrs Spark once planned a book ...


Christopher Tayler: Muriel Spark’s Essays, 25 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 Muriel Spark 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 she looks merely square and oatmeal-faced, grinning wholesomely into too much flashbulb ...

Never the twain

Mark Amory, 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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... books feel as if he did: he boasted that he could, when young, contain a whole novel in his head. Muriel Spark is said to sit down at her desk, take a clean piece of paper and begin, say, ‘Loitering with Intent by Muriel Spark. Chapter One’, before she has thought further. Not so Waugh, who set about carrying ...

Snob Cuts

Rosemary Hill: Modern Snobbery, 3 November 2016

... biographies of both. Alan Bennett, who has the finest antennae for social nuance, is absent. So is Muriel Spark 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 since, at the age of 11, she chose the smart new ...


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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... In another writer it might be malicious or mechanical or just for show. In Evelyn Waugh or Muriel Spark 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 perfectly fitted to do them justice. Pym is not like ...

What does she think she looks like?

Rosemary Hill: The Dress in Your Head, 5 April 2018

... was the pot-shaped cloche. But Mrs Camberg favoured another kind of hat, as her daughter Muriel Spark 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 Ascot races, and ...

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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... turned its own properly capacious Companion to English Literature into a mouse-eaten cheese.) So Muriel Spark 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 fiction since 1960 which mentions William Trevor (many of ...

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