Muriel Spark in prime form: one of her most enjoyable, complex, and instructive jeux d'esprit.
"How wonderful to be an artist and a woman in the twentieth century," Fleur Talbot rejoices. Happily loitering about London, c. 1949, with intent to gather material for her writing, Fleur finds a job "on the grubby edge of the literary world," as secretary to the peculiar Autobiographical Association. Mad egomaniacs, hilariously writing their memoirs in advance―or poor fools ensnared by a blackmailer? Rich material, in any case. But when its pompous director, Sir Quentin Oliver, steals the manuscript of Fleur's new novel, fiction begins to appropriate life. The association's members begin to act out scenes exactly as Fleur herself has already written them in her missing manuscript. And as they meet darkly funny, pre-visioned fates, where does art start or reality end? "A delicious conundrum," The New Statesman called Loitering with Intent.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Muriel Spark's 'Loitering With Intent' (1981) is a remarkable autobiographical novel based on the author's experiences on the intellectual and literary fringes of post-World War II London; the book may be Spark's greatest achievement following 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' (1961).
Wise, poised, hilariously funny, and almost seamlessly written, the book is also wonderfully instructive: Spark was fairly impoverished in 1949, and 'Loitering With Intent' reveals not only how an individual can successfully combat the banal "evil of the everyday," but perfectly illustrates Camille Paglia's maxim that "poverty is no excuse for groveling."
In fact, the voice of narrator Fleur Talbot is not unlike the voice of Paglia at her determined, sharp-tongued, pretension-piercing best. Fleur, like Paglia, calls it as she sees it, and isn't afraid to acknowledge that some people are irredeemably and aggressively awful. But Fleur doesn't avoid such people as a matter of principal:...
There is a sense of the autobiographical in this novel which in fact is quite appropriate when one considers the actual pivot around which the whole plot revolves. As a note of caution however I must add that I make this statement without having any knowledge at all of Muriel Spark's actual life. As the author spins out the plot she manages to capture the essence of the main character's experience as a secretary for a group of people organized by an individual with the sole aim of writing their biographies so that they may be put away in a safe place for seventy years and their contents not actually revealed until all the people mentioned in these sets of memoirs are actually no longer alive. The idea is that this will be of interest to the historian of the future. Not that the novel itself concentrates unduly on the efforts of this group but rather on the intellectual and emotional reactions of the novel's main character, a young writer whose main concurrent aim in life is to get her...
It's hard to believe this book is out of print (as it appears to be in many editions). Spark is the finest living English writer (as of early 2000, she's still with us) and this is one of her best novels. It folds back in on itself. It's obviously autobiographical even with the kind of foreshadowing and self-reflection of the author, who doubles back the flashback, first seeing herself, then seeing herself remember herself. The plot is fascinating and a constant undertow back into the same themes of the true reality of a book. Is this memoir (fictional) told by an unreliable narrator? I think so. It's hard to know. Some events seem Kafkaesque in their bizarreness, but then turn out to have plain explanations. Ultimately, evil bizarrely destroys itself; good triumphs with sacrifices. All is never as it appears with Ms. Spark.
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