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Spark, Muriel

book miss murdoch iris

(British, 1918– )

Spark was born in Edinburgh and her best-known book, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), is drawn from memories of her schooldays there in the 1930s. This is a good place to start; a charismatic teacher encourages her girls to high achievements, but her charisma is dangerous as well as inspiring. An excellent film of the book starred Maggie Smith as Miss Brodie. Spark is fascinated by the ways in which people try to outsmart one another, and how we often betray the people we love. Her most extreme study of power is The Driver's Seat (1970), a rather horrible book about a woman who seeks—and finds—someone to murder her. Spark is particularly good at dialogue; like Iris Murdoch, she conveys a good deal through what is not said. She is also a brilliant and subtle satirist. The Abbess of Crewe (1974) parodies the Watergate scandal; it is set in a convent with a powerful and paranoiac Mother Superior who spies on the nuns. A Far Cry from Kensington (1988) is a gentle satire on the world of publishing, narrated by a serene young woman who likes being fat and who dispenses sage advice to the reader as well as the characters. She advises all aspiring authors to acquire a cat, but warns that, unfortunately, the cat will not write the book for you. Spark's first volume of autobiography, Curriculum Vitae, appeared in 1992. She lives in Italy.

Brigid Brophy, Iris Murdoch, Evelyn Waugh  TT

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