Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Spark and O'Brien

I decided that since I do seem to be reading Muriel Spark on an intermittent basis, I probably ought to track her as well.  I have to admit that so far I have not really cottoned to her.  I recall not really liking the structure of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and the way in which Spark revealed the student who betrayed her.  Some people have commented that if you don't like sly humour, then perhaps Spark isn't for you.  I don't know about that, but it is true that I didn't find the story about an inappropriate teacher to be all that enthralling, though I suppose it was more of a revelation when it came out (1961).

I also have to admit that in general, I started to like Muriel Spark less the more I knew about her, including her turn to Catholicism in her mid 30s and her feud with her own son where she disinherited him.  Many people seem to agree with me that the essays in The Informed Air do her little justice, though it does make me wonder about how seriously I should take someone who thinks hard and long about the Book of Job, and yet still remains a committed Christian.  I also found her unbelievably snobby in her defense of Marcel Proust, basically saying that those of us who didn't care for him were just not sensitive enough.  So those are two serious strikes against her in my book.

Nonetheless, the novels remain, and there are several that probably should be read by anyone who wants a thorough survey of 20th Century literature in English.  In addition to the books I own, I will probably some day tackle Memento Mori, The Girls of Slender Means and The Mandelbaum Gate (and just possibly The Public Image).  If I still am struggling to enjoy her or at least appreciate her novels, then I will throw in the towel.

I debated adding her here with Iris Murdoch, but decided it was best to start a clean post.

Muriel Spark - novels and short stories
    The Comforters (1957)
    Robinson (1958)
R    Memento Mori (1959)
    The Ballad of Peckham Rye (1960)
    The Bachelors (1960)
R    The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961)
    The Girls of Slender Means (1963)
    The Mandelbaum Gate (1965)
    The Public Image (1968) (shortlisted for Booker Prize)
    The Driver's Seat (1970)
    Not to Disturb (1971)
    The Hothouse by the East River (1973)
    The Abbess of Crewe (1974)
    The Takeover (1976)
    Territorial Rights (1979)
    Loitering with Intent (1981) (shortlisted for Booker Prize)
    The Only Problem (1984)
R    A Far Cry From Kensington (1988)
R    Symposium (1990)
    Reality and Dreams (1996)
    Aiding and Abetting (2000)
    The Finishing School (2004)
    Complete Short Stories (2001)

So as to not leave her too lonely, I added Edna O'Brien, who is also a Catholic novelist, though one who has had a complicated relationship with Irish readers (in fact many of her books were banned by the Irish Censorship Board and even burned in various communities).  I don't know a lot about her, though at first glance it looks like some of her books would appeal to me.  Reading her work is not a very high priority at the moment, but I will still track it below.

O  1960: The Country Girls (Country Girls Trilogy 1)
O  1962: The Lonely Girl, aka Girl with Green Eyes (Country Girls Trilogy 2)
O  1964: Girls in Their Married Bliss (Country Girls Trilogy 3)
O  1965: August Is a Wicked Month
O  1966: Casualties of Peace
    1970: A Pagan Place
    1971: Zee & Co.
R  1972: Night
O  1977: Johnny I Hardly Knew You
    1988: The High Road
    1992: Time and Tide
    1994: House of Splendid Isolation
    1996: Down by the River
    1999: Wild Decembers
    2002: In the Forest
    2006: The Light of Evening
    2016: The Little Red Chairs

Short story collections
    1968: The Love Object and Other Stories
    1974: A Scandalous Woman and Other Stories
    1978: Mrs Reinhardt and Other Stories
    1982: Returning
O   1985: A Fanatic Heart
    1990: Lantern Slides
O  2011: Saints and Sinners
    2013: The Love Object: Selected Stories, a fifty-year retrospective

Edit (11/13): I think at one point I owned A Fanatic Heart, which was an earlier volume of her selected stories.  In fact, there is still a slim chance that I still own this, but have it buried in a box downstairs.  I'm not sure whether it is worth looking for it.  There is only a little overlap with The Love Object, so at some point I may acquire both.  I did see Saints and Sinners is widely available for $0.01 (plus shipping), so I'll probably pick that up and later decide about The Country Girls Trilogy.*

* It looks like if I tackle The Country Girls Trilogy, I should read the reissued version with a new epilogue.  (I was trying hard to convince myself just to get this out of the library and not buy it, but I eventually succumbed.  I haven't reordered A Fanatic Heart yet.  I have just enough will power to at least look through some boxes for it...)

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