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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 ...

The Little Woman Inside

Dinah Birch, 9 March 1995

An Experiment in Love 
by Hilary Mantel.
Viking, 250 pp., £15, March 1995, 0 670 85922 2
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... our mothers, An Experiment in Love is in part a confrontation with Mantel’s own literary mother, Muriel Spark. The particular point of reference is The Girls of Slender Means, published in 1963. Parallels between the two books are specific enough, in terms of plot, style and narrative structure, to make the later work something approaching an act of ...

Separate Development

Patricia Craig, 10 December 1987

The Female Form 
by Rosalind Miles.
Routledge, 227 pp., £15.95, July 1987, 0 7102 1008 6
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Feminism and Poetry 
by Jan Montefiore.
Pandora, 210 pp., £12.95, May 1987, 0 86358 162 5
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Nostalgia and Sexual Difference 
by Janice Doane and Devon Hodges.
Methuen, 169 pp., £20, June 1987, 9780416015317
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Reading Woman 
by Mary Jacobus.
Methuen, 316 pp., £8.95, November 1987, 0 416 92460 3
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The New Feminist Criticism 
edited by Elaine Showalter.
Virago, 403 pp., £11.95, March 1986, 0 86068 722 8
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Reviewing the Reviews 
Journeyman, 104 pp., £4.50, June 1987, 1 85172 007 3Show More
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... with incorporating ‘unexamined social assumptions’ into their novels. The Driver’s Seat, by Muriel Spark, is similarly misread and its grimly playful quality not taken into account. It isn’t, despite Rosalind Miles’s assertion to the contrary, a depressing illustration of the female’s ‘masochistic search for the man who will ...

Lovers on a Train

Susannah Clapp, 10 January 1991

by Patricia Highsmith.
Bloomsbury, 240 pp., £13.99, October 1990, 0 7475 0719 8
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... whose mode is elliptical, and whose secrets are guilty. They are called Ivy Compton-Burnett, Muriel Spark and Beryl Bainbridge. All have crime at the heart of their novels. None of them is a crime novelist. Patricia Highsmith is. And in making murder her main point, she has avoided being thought of primarily as a woman novelist. She has made a ...

Speaking in Tongues

Robert Crawford, 8 February 1996

The Poetry of Scotland: Gaelic, Scots and English 1380-1980 
edited and introduced by Roderick Watson.
Edinburgh, 752 pp., £19.95, May 1995, 0 7486 0607 6
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... Several of the modern selections are disappointing. Watson includes George Bruce but he excludes Muriel Spark; there’s nothing from Douglas Dunn’s Elegies (Dunn is allowed only two poems, and is confused with Ted Hughes in the Introduction). At times the theory which seems to underlie this book is stronger than its actual contents. This is an ...

We’ve done awfully well

Karl Miller: The Late 1950s, 18 July 2013

Modernity Britain: Opening the Box, 1957-59 
by David Kynaston.
Bloomsbury, 432 pp., £25, June 2013, 978 0 7475 8893 1
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... to his magazine. His afterlife came later as afterlives do, and is missing from the book. So are Muriel Spark, V.S. Naipaul, and the explosive William Golding. Philip Larkin is present. Not really for his poems as for the tirelessly sardonic and sarcastic bulletins on national life sent in letters to his friend Monica Jones. Larkin’s offendedness was ...


Michael Hofmann: Shirley Hazzard, 6 May 2021

Collected Stories 
by Shirley Hazzard.
Virago, 356 pp., £16.99, November 2020, 978 0 349 01295 7
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... was married to the biographer and Flaubert scholar Francis Steegmuller (they were introduced by Muriel Spark, which doesn’t seem like the most propitious start) and lived with him in New York, Naples and Capri. She suffered from dementia and died in 2016.Hazzard published four novels – The Transit of Venus (1980) and The Great Fire (2003) are ...

Locked and Barred

Robert Crawford: Elizabeth Jennings, 24 July 2003

New Collected Poems 
by Elizabeth Jennings.
Carcanet, 386 pp., £9.95, February 2002, 1 85754 559 1
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... A similar preoccupation is present in some of the best writings by Jennings’s near contemporary Muriel Spark, but Spark is a novelist enjoying high sales, and living in sunny climes. Jennings was different. She lived in rainy Oxford where it is lonely to be an intellectual without a university attachment. Her work ...

The Duckworth School of Writers

Frank Kermode, 20 November 1980

Human Voices 
by Penelope Fitzgerald.
Collins, 177 pp., £5.25, September 1980, 0 00 222280 9
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Winter Garden 
by Beryl Bainbridge.
Duckworth, 157 pp., £5.95, October 1980, 0 7156 1495 9
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... reminds me a little of The Girls of Slender Means, though it lacks the theological ruthlessness of Muriel Spark. One sees these people not as caricatures but as somehow unsoiled by the next forty years, capable of simplicity and unconsidered goodness. This applies even to the principal male characters: the selfish Director of Recorded Programmes ...


Frank Kermode, 1 March 1984

The Paper Men 
by William Golding.
Faber, 191 pp., £7.95, February 1984, 0 571 13206 5
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William Golding: A Critical Study 
by Mark Kinkead-Weekes and Ian Gregor.
Faber, 291 pp., £3.50, February 1984, 0 571 13259 6
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... of the Cross, male orgasm of the death of Christ (emisit spiritum) etc. Less amazing artists – Muriel Spark, for example – might accept the more temperate Christian realism of Auerbach: each event signifies ‘something other’ but ‘without prejudice to the power of its concrete reality here and now’. William Golding is obviously in some sense ...

Booker Books

Frank Kermode, 22 November 1979

... Negatively, you won’t expect, and won’t find, anything that looks very ‘experimental’. Muriel Spark must have come up again and again, sometimes against what, looking at the list, one imagines cannot have been enormously powerful competition; and if she can’t make it, there seems little hope for such as Christine Brooke-Rose or Alan ...

Gentlemen Travellers

Denis Donoghue, 18 December 1986

Between the Woods and the Water 
by Patrick Leigh Fermor et al.
Murray, 248 pp., £13.95, October 1986, 0 7195 4264 2
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by Jonathan Raban.
Collins, 301 pp., £10.95, September 1986, 0 00 272119 8
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The Grand Tour 
by Hunter Davies.
Hamish Hamilton, 224 pp., £14.95, September 1986, 0 241 11907 3
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... with him, Nabokov and Davies wandered around Montreux. These men are rewarded with praising prose. Muriel Spark was stingy with her time – could she have had something better to do, I wonder, than kill a morning with Davies? – so she gets her comeuppance in The Grand Tour. As for the trip otherwise: our journalist starts out from Victoria, takes the ...


Frank Kermode, 5 September 1985

Family and Friends 
by Anita Brookner.
Cape, 187 pp., £8.95, September 1985, 0 224 02337 3
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... are fewer and the ethical positions less idiosyncratic, this book has a slight flavour of Muriel Spark. The family of the title is rich London-Jewish, established, we are told, from the debris of its European predecessor: living in pre-war London and enjoying what it offered, but without altogether sacrificing traditional Middle-European manners ...

Everybody knows

Christina Gombar: Kate Jennings, 22 August 2002

Moral Hazard 
by Kate Jennings.
Fourth Estate, 180 pp., £10, April 2002, 1 84115 737 6
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... in the story, Cath telegraphs her values to the reader through her favourite writers, who include Muriel Spark, Sylvia Townsend-Warner and Ivy Compton-Burnett: ‘they assumed intelligence – emotional as well as intellectual – on the part of the reader.’ Jennings’s style shares these writers’ brevity, directness and authority, but conveys more ...

Lobsters do not have eyelashes!

Joanna Biggs: Nell Freudenberger, 8 February 2007

The Dissident 
by Nell Freudenberger.
Picador, 427 pp., £14.99, March 2007, 978 0 330 49343 7
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... that will be put down and picked up over several sittings. I wonder if she’s considered writing Muriel Spark-length novels; not so long that she’d need multiple plots, but not so short that she could only have one character. Perhaps Travel and Leisure could arrange for her to go to ...

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