Tuesday, May 24, 2011
“When I recall what happened to me and what I did in 1949, it strikes me how much easier it is with characters in a novel than in real life. In a novel an author invents characters and arranges them in convenient order. Now that I come to write biographically I have to tell of whatever actually happened and whoever naturally turns up. The story of a life is a very informal party; there are no rules of precedence and hospitality, no invitations.”
So says Fleur Talbot, intrepid heroine and narrator of Muriel Spark’s Loitering With Intent.
She’s a captivating heroine – clever, witty, vivacious and perceptive. You’d love to have her as a friend.
And she’s a book-lover and an aspiring writer.
“I always desired books; nearly all of my bills were for books. I possessed one very rare book which I traded for part of my bill with another bookshop, for I wasn’t a bibliophile of any kind; rare books didn’t interest me for their rarity but their content. I borrowed frequently from the public library, but often I would go into a bookshop and in my longing to possess, let us say, the Collected Poems of Arthur Clough and a new Collected Chaucer, I would get into conversation with the bookseller and run up another bill.”
(It wasn’t this Fleur’s name that inspired mine, but after reading that paragraph I wished that it was!)
The story begins with Fleur living in a bedsit in south-west London and working on her first novel, Warrender Chase. She need a job to get by, and a friend points her in the direction of a job that sounds perfect for her: secretary to the Autobiographical Association.
The Autobiographical Association? It’s the brainchild on the supremely pompous Sir Quentin Oliver; a society that will support and assist people in writing their biographies and preserving them until all of those mentioned are dead so that they can be safely published. Because, of course, they will be of interest to the historians of the future!
It’s a wonderful concept, and it gives Muriel Spark a free rein to create a wonderful gallery of characters. She uses it quite brilliantly!
Fleur gets the job, and so she finds herself writing memoirs – which may be more fiction than fact – by day, and working on her novel. And gradually the boundaries get blurred. Are Fleur’s characters growing to resemble her authors. Or are her authors turning into characters? Just where is the line between fiction and fact?
The story is intricate, clever, and not one that I can easily sum up. Fleur carries you along with her, and it is a wonderful journey.
Loitering With Intent is the kind of book that the more you think the more you realise is there. And it may just be my favourite Muriel Spark – praise indeed!