Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Loitering With Intent

The magic of Muriel Spark is how honestly cold she is in print when it suits her, and it does suit her. She has no hesitation in making her heroines difficult, unsympathetic, and hard around the edges; Fleur Talbot heroine of ‘Loitering With Intent’ is no exception to this difficult mould. Fleur is a formidable sort of girl living on the fringes of post war bohemia writing her first novel. She’s a Catholic having an affair with a married man in a by the by sort of way. Although she’s not at all concerned when he heads off with a male poet in 1981 when this was first published that would still have been just a little bit shocking, partly because it happens without comment or judgement in a sort of plot dead end.

Fleur’s affairs although they have repercussions also happen without much comment or judgement, I think the inference is that it is for those without sin to cast the first stone; those of us in glass houses can lay off and mind our own business. It’s something Spark and Alice Ellis Thomas have in common, as is their Catholicism, as it’s an attitude I enjoy in both writers it makes me inclined to look out for more catholic women writers to test a half formed theory (but that’s a little detour).

Back to ‘Loitering With Intent’ – it’s a fascinating book which I really couldn’t put down (normally early working hours will make me stop reading but I couldn’t sleep until I finished this so the last day of work before Christmas was far harder than it should have been). Fleur is writing a book, and looking for a job whilst she does it. A job turns up with the Autobiographical Association which she takes only to discover that its members already exist in her novel. As the story unfolds it becomes more sinister, life and art (within art) merge closer and closer; Fleur who controls the art struggles to control life as her novel is appropriated to a point that makes it seemingly impossible to get back. What will happen? How will it resolve? This is what kept me reading long into the night, not least because Spark reveals the ending long before the end, what you have to read all the way through for is to find how she gets you there.

Part of the tension – and it really does get tense, almost frightening, is in seeing a woman who’s basically very self possessed, have control over her own creation taken away from her so easily, and so clearly against her will by a man who however charismatic and convincing he is to the other characters is clearly shown to us as a dangerous fraud by Fleur. Part of me was as angry as Fleur about these turns in events, and this is entirely due to Spark’s ability to draw the reader round in circles until it’s hard to tell what’s meant to be real and what isn’t. It’s a wonderfully sharp, clever but above all grippingly entertaining book. My biggest concern on finishing it was to find something as good to follow up with...Which I think I’ve done, but more of that another day.


  1. What a wonderful review. I've been meaning to read this for a while but your post makes me want to go out and finally buy a copy.

  2. Oh do it, really really enjoyed this book:)

  3. Interesting. I was a little less sympathetic towards Fleur. I wasn't convinced that she was an entirely reliable narrator and had a lot of questions about her story. A wonderful book though and I think it could reveal more on a second reading,

  4. I had the same reservations - life seemed to imitate art to completley at times, but the over all impression for me was one of challange - she dares you to disbelieve her - and I loved that.

  5. This sounds like a great book and you have definitely made me want to read it -- thanks. If you want another very interesting Catholic woman writer, try Jill Paton Walsh -- and then tell us your half-formed theory!