I'm feeling completely enthused about, and infused by Muriel Spark's writing and that wonderful feeling that I have all those novels ahead of me waiting to be either rediscovered or read for the first time. Peter Kemp's book, the Cleveland County Libraries (Throston branch) reject, Muriel Spark in the Novelists and Their World series published by Elek Books in 1974 is providing useful background information too.
Muriel Spark is the master disconcerter, her writing subverts, unsettles expectations and is certainly leading me into unknown reading territory.
Or perhaps it's that my reactions all feel slightly alien to my usual way of thinking?
Whatever it is it's quite exciting and very refreshing.
If I'm reading a novel that deals, for example with mental illness as does The Driver's Seat , then I'd approach any thoughts I might write here with an element of respect and compassion for the subject. I wouldn't slip into any of that behind the scenes medical black humour. Except perhaps the responsibility isn't all mine, it's also down to the author to lead my thinking in that direction.
So after a few pages I wouldn't normally be describing the main protagonist as several sandwiches short of a picnic, that would be a step too far, so blame Muriel Spark for the creation of the character of Lise who by page three I realised really was as mad and as disturbed as a bag of frogs. With that came the awareness that I was reading a book that could, and probably would, take me anywhere and everywhere and it did.
Lise...and I couldn't help but tranpose those last two letters to spell 'lies', is due a well-earned holiday from the seemingly mundane office where she works and setting off to buy a new travel outfit purchases something quite outlandish, the colours and designs clash with garish abandon and you almost get that sense of visual disturbance that a Bridget Riley painting offers
'a lemon-yellow top with a skirt patterned in bright V's of orange, mauve and blue.'
and a coat over the top
'narrow stripes, red and white with a white collar.'
It's the stuff of migraines that's for sure but perhaps a true reflection of Lise's state of mind, and in sharp contrast to her 'meticulously neat', minimalist, uber-modern and very functional apartment. Everything has a place.
'Lise keeps her flat as clean-lined and clear to return to after her work as if it were uninhabited.'
Rightly or wrongly, I'm quickly leaping to assessments about the distressing nature of mental illness and the impact of uncontrollable mind processes which can so often reflect in a need to control something external such as immediate surroundings.
So Lise boards her plane and heads off and really I can't tell you any more without spoiling the plot, suffice to say Lise is in a driver's seat of her own and searching for slightly more than a rest by the pool and a suntan.
What transpires is dark, deranged and shocking.
Just about every sentence will make you stop and start, because nothing is as it should be, much is quite bizarre and absurd, nothing is what it seems or what you might expect, or what you might even call normal. Nothing Lise says quite connects to what has gone before or what is to come either so don't expect to feel in the least bit settled whilst you are reading this book.
It makes you want to jump up and pace around as you try to get a handle on it, to understand what is going on and interpret and reframe the black humour with which it seemed to begin
'I'm a strict believer, in fact a Witness, but I never trust the airlines from those countries where the pilots believe in the afterlife. You are safer when they don't. I've been told the Scandinavian airlines are fairly reliable in that respect.'
It's all imperceptibly replaced by something far more serious, forget bags of frogs and picnics, Muriel Spark left me no room for levity or flippant analysis of Lise's mental state as I reached the final pages.
There are moments too when you wonder why Muriel Spark has chosen a particular word or phrasing over another and marveling at this book's tightly constructed cleverness. I came away knowing that I had read as serious an account of the deranged, paranoid mind as it was possible to find, Lise's purpose and destiny is unstoppable,
''Dressed for the carnival!' says a woman looking grossly at Lise as she passes, and laughing as she goes, laughing without possibility of restraint, like a stream bound to descend whatever slope lies before it.'
Except deranged or not Lise takes control of her destiny and you know you're just going to have to close your eyes when she meets it.
Spark season continues.