Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Complete Short Stories - Muriel Spark

I haven't completely read the complete short stories; there are quite a lot of them and I don't want to end up feeling like I've had to much of a good thing, or perhaps more to the point find somewhere past the middle that I've stopped noticing the nuances in each story. Instead, and as it's been  Muriel Spark week, I've been dipping in and out as time allows and think I've ended up with a pretty good over all impression of Spark as a short story writer whilst still leaving myself with plenty to look forward to for future reading.

A recurring theme of this week has been a general sentiment of 'this isn't Spark's best book, but...', it was my own reaction to 'Territorial Rights' - well 'The Complete Short Stories' contains Spark in all her moods and forms. A witty, playful, sometimes cruel writer the short story suits her and for anyone newish to Spark this is the where I'd suggest you go after the inevitable 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie'; it's a very good place to get to know her. So far the only one I haven't liked was 'The Thing About Police Stations' which was set in an almost Orwellian dystopia and I found somewhat baffling.

At entirely the other end of the spectrum was the really charming 'A Hundred And Eleven Years Without A Chauffeur', in which an elderly woman finds some of her family photographs have gone missing including one of an aunt by her sewing machine who had always wanted a Rolls Royce. They turn up again having been pinched by an ersatz Baron in search of some ancestors but meanwhile he's doctored the images and the long gone aunt ends up immortalised with the Rolls she always dreamt of.

Perhaps most interesting so far has been 'The Gentile Jewess' it felt autobiographical to read being about a girl with Jewish and Anglican antecedents turning to Roman Catholicism - Wikipedia backs that up. It also has something interesting to say, in a quiet sort of way, about the nature of belief and faith and like 'A Hundred And Eleven Years Without A Chauffeur' was exceptionally satisfying as a story. (That's it, I won't give a break down of the dozen stories I read but rest assured they were all, with the possible exception of the police one, excellent)

I can honestly say that this is Spark at her best (if you only buy one Spark book make sure... etc.) it's also a book that's going to be rescued from the neglected spot at the back of the bookshelf that it's been hiding on to be sent to a new home somewhere more prominent and generally handy for bed time reading.


  1. Delighted that you read this, as strangely enough so far you are the only person (as far as I know) who has commented on the short stories. I'm not a short story lover myself but I can see that this would be an excellent introduction to Spark in all her moods for anyone who was. Many thanks!

  2. I do love short stories for many, many, reasons. From the selection I've read it's a format that suits Spark who doesn't really do long novels anyway. There's a lot to entertain and think about in there so even if you wouldn't normally go for a short story collection I would really strongly urge anyone with an interest in Spark to get this one.

  3. Of the Spark short stories I've read, "Bang, Bang, You're Dead" really sticks out in my memory as being highly enjoyable and also Spark in the mood I like best: dark and subversive.

    1. It's in the book - I'm fighting a distraction in the form of Elizabeth Jenkins 'Harriet' but it's good to have things to look forward to. Now where's your contribution miss - I would love to read what you have to say about a Spark novel.

  4. oh I must try the short stories now I know I like her ,all the best stu

  5. I read The Go-Away Bird for the Reading Week and loved many of the stories. I'll have to look out for this now. The short-story format certainly suits her style. -

  6. I think The Go Away Bird collection is in here, I agree about the format suiting her and she's certainly a fascinating writer.

  7. I read two of her short stories from this collection (The First Year of my Life and The Girl I Left Behind Me)for the Reading Week and later, 'A Hundred And Eleven Years Without A Chauffeur' after reading your review. It really is a charming piece and I enjoyed it very much. I think I am finding myself to prefer Spark in her short stories more than her novels. The format really does suit her very well.

  8. I like the variety in the short stories. The 111 years without a chauffeur was unexpectedly sweet at the end, not what I thought she would do with it at all (though looking back it's obvious). Looking forward to reading the rest sometime soon.