Monday, March 23, 2009

Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - Muriel Spark

My weakness for reading books by certain breed of British female author is growing: Iris Murdoch, A.S.Byatt, and now Muriel Spark. In Spark's tidy novella, the drama takes place in a school in Edinburgh in the thirties, during the "prime" of an unorthodox educator. A lover of the Fascisti, the exotic, Pavlova, and Sybil Thorndike, Miss Brodie promises the girls who prove their commitment to their education and their loyalty to her that they will become the "creme de la creme." The elect become known as the "Brodie set."

The aroma of sex prevails. How can it not when the central characters are making their way from age ten to age sixteen? One of them, it is assured at the outset of the novel, will be "famous for sex" amongst their male peers. Spark allows each member of the set to have a "thing" - sex, mathematics, stupidity - and includes the reader as an unseen member of the set with the gnostic knowledge of the intimate distinctiveness of the others.

Spark does not flinch from revealing the end alongside the beginning: we know characters will become nuns, fall in love in Italy, become actresses, die young in a fire, or marry bankers. Miss Brodie herself has a perfect arc of appearing as an untouchable glowing figure during the set's childhood; as they grow, so the reader grows in awareness of Miss Brodie's indulgences, her weaknesses, her weird exploitation of power. The novella's denouement of betrayal is not surprising, and Spark's whispers herald its coming.

Savage Detectives - Roberto Bolano

The Savage Detectives" is a truly lusty novel. Bolano orders us to live and experience; he presents a world in which literature is a vocation, and is taken seriously by an unending stream of characters. This is Literature - that prompts love affairs, causes duels, and drives us to the interstices of "normal" life.

Bolano convinces us. He is the real thing. His passion is infectious. He and Artur Belano are one - a sort of Casanova/ Don Juan/ Ulysses, the suffering poet-lover.

Bolano's strength is his Mary Poppinesque ability to pull characters endlessly out of his bag, that he gives these characters individual voices, that we sympathize with them no matter how sordid their lives. I lost track of the names, the places; they are fluid. What is important is the minutiae, the motivations, the impulses, the words. Bolano sculpts scenes so potent that we can feel the dust, the poverty, and the urgency that drives the characters.

I sunk into this book. Much prefer it to "2666."
"2666" may be hailed as his masterpiece because of its sheer size, but the "Savage Detectives" is his manifesto for a rough poetical existence. Sign me up.

Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame

The Wind in the Willows is, I think, about enchantment. The book begins with Mole spring-cleaning his earthy home, but lured outside by the sunlight and the aromas and colors of spring, he meets a friend, and does not return to his home for several chapters. Toad is consistently enchanted with himself and his "cleverness" and with various fads - boats, carriages, and motorcars. (Hilarious how a toad donning a washerwoman's dress is seen as a crone by everyone he passes; humans in Grahame's world are very gullible.) Mole and Rat are enchanted by nature, and in the midst of it, come across a divine figure - some combination of Christ and Bacchus.


D. I. Dalrymple said...

A couple recommendations for you since you enjoyed the Spark: 'The Fountain Overflows' by Rebecca West, and 'The Towers of Trebizond' by Rose Macaulay. Both are marvelous.

Christy Edwall said...

I just got The Towers of Trebizond in the mail today. Can't wait to start it:) Thanks for the recommendations.