book #2: the driver’s seat by muriel spark

while i’ve been slacking on the writing front these days (busy with rehearsals for ‘glengarry glen ross’, which occupies a lot of my creative energy, just want to snooze the rest of the day) i’m still furiously working my way through the 52 books i’ve challenged myself to read in 2013.

i was turned on to muriel spark while narrating nick hornby’s ‘more baths, less talking’ which is essentially a series of book recommendations from his column ‘the stuff i’ve been reading’ in believer magazine. he devotes almost an entire column to singing the praises of muriel spark, a writer i’d for some reason never come across. i knew about ‘the prime of miss jean brodie’ sparks’ most famous novel, but otherwise her work was a mystery to me.

‘the driver’s seat’ is an efficient and quite brilliant thriller that could easily be read in one sitting (i didn’t do so, but please refer back to my outside of rehearsal snoozing problem). it relates the tale of lise, an eccentric character working for an accounting firm somewhere in northern europe. her behavior is erratic, complicated, and entirely lonely. devoid of grounded emotional responses to her circumstances we’re constantly left to wonder whether we’re following the life of a lunatic or simply a tangible product of an isolating modern society.

sparks’ narrative is brief, to the point, and told in the very immediate present. there is no room for reflection because we are constantly being told what the characters are doing, not what they did. it presents an icy detachment from the rather bizarre occurrences, a deeply effective device in rendering the foretold conclusion of the story all the more disturbing.

it is not spoiling anything to say that sparks’ tells you very early on in the novel that lise is going to be murdered. the entire novel is about the path that leads her to that grisly conclusion, touching upon, as it weaves its strange spell, hack spirituality, the commodification of sexuality, the victimization/empowerment of women, and any number of other startling ideas with a similar detached efficiency. from a feminist perspective the novel is an absolute bonanza of complicated and challenging ideas.

it is a brilliant novel. to the point, unnerving (it reads like the written verison of david lynch’s most palatable work), and has made me an instant muriel spark fan. apparently the book was turned into a film called ‘identikit’ starring elizabeth taylor, ian bannen, and andy warhol, currently adding this to the old netflix queue.

read more about the 52 books project


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