Present Reading


I am about to finish Jonathan Englert's The Collar, about which, more later when I've finished. However, present reading goes in another direction.

By now, anyone who really cares in St. Blogs has heard of the death of Muriel Spark. Ms. Spark was the author of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie which brought Maggie Smith to our notice. For this alone she deserves our eternal gratitude. However, Ms. Spark was a remarkable prose stylist producing some of the most elegant and odd novels of the latter 20th Century.

While Jean Brodie is her most famous and I have not read widely enough in her canon, my particularly favorite is a ghoulish little trifle titled Memento Mori--in which a mysterious voice calls over the telephone to individual members of a group of Octogenarians, each phone call presaging the recipient's death. Very interesting, and surprisingly funny.

So, hearing of Ms. Spark's death and desiring to make further acquaintance with her work, I went to our dismally stocked local public library and found the two works on the shelves by Ms. Spark--The Finishing School and Aiding and Abetting. Of this latter, many reviews considered it slight and not up to her other work, though still entertaining. Presently I am engaged with The Finishing School. It is a very slight novel. The hardbound edition is the size of a paper-back. It runs 181 pages of very large-leading prose, so it probably amounts to about 990 pages of real book-size prose. But the delights between the covers are extraordinary.

Take for an example, this toss-off,

Tilly took herself, tall and lonely, away to another part of the house to spread her story.

This after Tilly has shared her secret suspicion that the headmaster of the school was "making advances at me." Not only is it in a single sentence the life of a romantic teenager, it is a model of construction of melodic prose with the internal assonance and consonance. Ms. Spark's origins as a poet cannot be denied, and lend themselves to supple, sometimes gorgeous prose.

Muriel Spark starting her writing career near the end of Evelyn Waugh's and there are some striking similarities in story lines and in "hidden Catholicism" that informs the books of both authors.

In all truth, I can't recommend The Finishing School, as I've only just begun to read it, but my intuition and my experience with Ms. Spark's other books suggests that this one will be a delight. Ms. Spark is the hidden treasure among Catholic writers, not nearly so well-known as she has a right to be, not nearly as well appreciated in the world of Catholic readers as she ought to be.

Once I've finished these two Muriel Spark, I have set aside (and in fact already started) Madeleine St. John's The Essence of the Thing. Ms St. John is another Catholic writer, recommended sometime back in an article in either Crisis or First Things. Her prose is not as poetic or taut as Ms. Sparks, and she relies heavily on dialogue to carry the story; however, she deals with important themes and issues as most of the masters of Catholic writing do.

I'll keep you informed as to the progress of the books.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on April 27, 2006 9:19 AM.

His Majesty's Dragon was the previous entry in this blog.

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