25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Brazen Spiritual 'Biography' Of "A Woman And An Artist"
Muriel Spark's 'Loitering With Intent' (1981) is a remarkable autobiographical novel based on the author's experiences on the intellectual and literary fringes of post-World War II London; the book may be Spark's greatest achievement following 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' (1961).
Wise, poised, hilariously funny, and almost seamlessly written, the book is...
Published on June 6, 2005 by J. E. Barnes
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Spare yourselves
So many of Amazon's reviewers waxed lyrical about this novel that I felt certain it was a safe choice for a wonderful weekend read. Wrong! This is no better than a mass market suspense thriller. A woman of Muriel Spark's genius should never have given in to the temptation of writing for the market rather than from her soul.
I am writing this review is to...
Published on October 10, 2011 by Paula E. David
Most Helpful First | Newest First
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Brazen Spiritual 'Biography' Of "A Woman And An Artist",
This review is from: Loitering with Intent (Paperback)Muriel Spark's 'Loitering With Intent' (1981) is a remarkable autobiographical novel based on the author's experiences on the intellectual and literary fringes of post-World War II London; the book may be Spark's greatest achievement following 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' (1961).
Wise, poised, hilariously funny, and almost seamlessly written, the book is also wonderfully instructive: Spark was fairly impoverished in 1949, and 'Loitering With Intent' reveals not only how an individual can successfully combat the banal "evil of the everyday," but perfectly illustrates Camille Paglia's maxim that "poverty is no excuse for groveling."
In fact, the voice of narrator Fleur Talbot is not unlike the voice of Paglia at her determined, sharp-tongued, pretension-piercing best. Fleur, like Paglia, calls it as she sees it, and isn't afraid to acknowledge that some people are irredeemably and aggressively awful. But Fleur doesn't avoid such people as a matter of principal: she accepts them as inevitable and lives a life of creative "infiltration": "I was aware that I had a daemon inside me that rejoiced in seeing people as they were, and not only that, but more than ever as they were, and more, and more." Fleur reveals other unusual skills as the story develops: like many artists, she is a bit of a mystic, a bit of a shaman.
Also like much of Paglia's work, 'Loitering With Intent' is something of a blistering attack on high WASP hypocritical good manners and social decorum.
While Fleur clearly believes in human decency, fair play, and politeness, she also believes in determined counterattack when duly provoked ("I was not any sort of a victim; I was simply not constituted for the role"), and her responses can be volcanic ("I was glad of my strong hips and sound cage of ribs to save me from flying apart, so explosive were my thoughts").
Fleur uninhibitably recognizes her eventual adversaries as "swine," "stupid," "awful," "hysterical," "insolent," and "self-indulgent fools." The Baronne Clotilde du Loiret is "so stunned by privilege that she didn't know how to discern and reject a maniac," homosexual poet Gray Mauser is "small, slight, and wispy, about twenty, with arms and legs not quite uncoordinated enough to qualify him for any sort of medical treatment, and yet definitely he was not put together right," and a friend has "the ugliest grandchild I have ever seen but she loves it."
'Loitering With Intent' is partially a transposition of Spark's experience of the Poetry Society in the late Forties, when she held the position of General Secretary. In her autobiography, 'Curriculum Vitae' (1993), Spark stated that she was "employed, or embroiled, in that then riotous establishment." In the present novel, Fleur becomes workaday secretary to the Autobiographical Association, a "crank" operation run by social snob and blackmailer Quentin Oliver, who also suffers from a messianic complex of vast proportions. Ever perceptive, Fleur is confident that what she is witnessing around her is pure collective madness.
In Spark's first novel, 'The Comforters' (1957), protagonist Caroline Rose slowly awakens to the fact that she, everyone she knows, and indeed her entire perceived universe are actually only the fictional creations of an unknowable author composing Caroline's history on some unrealizable, presumably higher plane.
In 'Loitering With Intent,' almost the opposite is true: as Fleur nears the end of completing her first novel, she becomes aware that the members of the Autobiographical Association are genuine human doppelgangers of the characters she has created, enacting an identical drama to the one she has constructed purely from her imagination. Thus, Fleur has foreseen the future unaware, and hazily anticipates the unavoidable disasters to come to those who are manipulative, vain, arrogant, and power-crzed.
One of the book's most fascinating elements is the chronically antagonistic relationship between Fleur and the aptly named Dottie, the maudlin wife of Fleur's bisexual lover, Leslie.
Dottie is 49% friend and 51% enemy, and thus their oddly symbiotic relationship is of a kind most readers will recognize as having experienced at some point in their own lives. "I don't know why I thought of Dottie as my friend but I did. I believe she thought the same way about me although she didn't really like me. In those days, among the people I mixed with, one had friends almost by predestination. There they were, like your winter coat and your meager luggage. You didn't think of discarding them just because you didn't altogether like them."
'Loitering With Intent' is also one of the most acute examinations of the artistic temperament ever committed to paper. "When people say that nothing happens in their lives I believe them. But you must understand that everything happens to the artist; time is always redeemed, nothing is lost, and wonders never cease." And: "I have never known an artist who at some in his life has not come into conflict with pure evil, realized as it may have been under the form of disease, injustice, fear, oppression or any other ill element that can afflict living creatures. The reverse doesn't hold true: that is to say, it isn't only the artist who suffers, or who perceives evil. But I think it is true that no artist has ever lived who has not experienced and then recognized something at first too incredibly evil to be real, then so undoubtedly real as to be undoubtedly true."
The novel is also a celebration of applied self knowledge and the self confidence that evolves from it: Fleur repeatedly realizes "what a wonderful thing it was to be a woman and an artist in the twentieth century," and, regardless of the formidable enemies positioned against her, continually "goes on her way rejoicing."
In keeping with the era in which it is set, 'Loitering With Intent' also includes a brief tribute to Edith, Osbert, and Sacheverell Sitwell as Leopold, Cynthia, and Claude Somerville, owners of The Triad Press, the publishers who eventually accept Fleur's prescient first fictional work.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Story of One's Life,
This review is from: Loitering with Intent (Paperback)There is a sense of the autobiographical in this novel which in fact is quite appropriate when one considers the actual pivot around which the whole plot revolves. As a note of caution however I must add that I make this statement without having any knowledge at all of Muriel Spark's actual life. As the author spins out the plot she manages to capture the essence of the main character's experience as a secretary for a group of people organized by an individual with the sole aim of writing their biographies so that they may be put away in a safe place for seventy years and their contents not actually revealed until all the people mentioned in these sets of memoirs are actually no longer alive. The idea is that this will be of interest to the historian of the future. Not that the novel itself concentrates unduly on the efforts of this group but rather on the intellectual and emotional reactions of the novel's main character, a young writer whose main concurrent aim in life is to get her first novel published. She is quite a likeable and attractive character and in fact she seems to be the only normal person amongst the rest of the characters portrayed in the novel, even though this impression may in fact be subconsciously and gradually formed in the reader's mind by the first-person point of view of the novel since everything is seen and judged through the eyes of the novel's main character. Even though this is a rather short book it is rather rich with experience and latent meaning well beyond the mere surface of the mostly humorous type of entertainment that pervades it from beginning to end.
20 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of her best; one of the best books ever,
This review is from: Loitering with Intent (Hardcover)It's hard to believe this book is out of print (as it appears to be in many editions). Spark is the finest living English writer (as of early 2000, she's still with us) and this is one of her best novels. It folds back in on itself. It's obviously autobiographical even with the kind of foreshadowing and self-reflection of the author, who doubles back the flashback, first seeing herself, then seeing herself remember herself.
The plot is fascinating and a constant undertow back into the same themes of the true reality of a book. Is this memoir (fictional) told by an unreliable narrator? I think so. It's hard to know. Some events seem Kafkaesque in their bizarreness, but then turn out to have plain explanations.
Ultimately, evil bizarrely destroys itself; good triumphs with sacrifices. All is never as it appears with Ms. Spark.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Plotty, Chatty, and Racey,
This review is from: Loitering with Intent (Paperback)A bit "plotty" and very, very chatty, this novel is more interesting than "A Far Cry from Kensington" because it is racier and keeps apace.
I liked the novel within the novel idea, and I liked how Muriel Spark weaved memories to make a context. However, most of her characters are defined by inessentials.
It's true and interesting that Ms. Spark doesn't interest herself in motives.
How can she reconcile absence of a motive in her novel while at the same time have her main character assert that the antagonist is evil?
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars English Rose,
This review is from: Loitering with Intent (Paperback)An aspiring writer striving to complete her first novel, young Fleur Talbot finds herself loitering in post WWII London with the intent of gathering material for her literary debut. When she is offered a job as secretary to an eccentric troupe of autobiographers, it seems like just the thing. And it is, but in stranger ways than she could have foreseen. And what an eye has Fleur for the foibles of her employers, who, being Very Important People, lead Very Ordinary Lives. As Fleur incorporates what she is learning into the fabric of her novel, some of the VIPs begin to sense that art is imitating life - or, is it the other way around? Perhaps her book is a little too good, and it's nearly lost before this serious but amusing literary tour de force draws to a close. But Fleur is no English Rose, she's one smart cookie who, after a series of mis-steps, beats her nemesis at his own game.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A mature and energetic exploration of life's formative years,
By A Customer
This review is from: Loitering with Intent (Hardcover)Spark, as always, completely captures the reader with her straight-on energy and wit. She is a master at this craft, always providing honest and intimate portraits of real, but sometimes quirky, humans. This is nothing new for her. What I find especially intriguing about this novel is the striking perspective it takes--that of a young lady diligently pursuing her destiny despite the hilarious, distracting, and downright mean actions of those more "adult" than she.
This perspective, of honest and thoughtful youth, I find refreshingly sane. The protagonist triumphs completely over the obstacles set before her by employers, publishers, and especially, friends, ultimately realizing her full potential and achieving success. She also defeats passion to some extent, by remaining thoughtful and true to herself, a lesson I find extremely important for young people in modern society, where so little guidance is offered in this area. Though overcoming passion, Fleur is by no means dispassionate, nor is she judgmental or moralizing. She simply recognizes and accepts others for what they are, choosing to spend her time at things most important to her. The clarity of self-perception Spark offers us is, I feel, poetic and inspirational. She manages to convey strength as a force of will and self-worth, rather then the all to frequent hodge-podge of money, appearance, peers, employers, etc., offered by the mass media to young people today.
I hope that this book would be used in cirruculum for teenagers or summer reading programs.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Imitation of life,
This review is from: Loitering with Intent (Paperback)With the only possible exception of THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE, LOITERING WITH INTENT must be the funniest of all Muriel Spark's novels, though as always its extremely sharp and satiric humor is interwoven closely with much deeper and darker ideas and themes. Re-reading this in coffee shops, I found myself laughing out loud in public (even despite my intentions not to draw attention to myself), but I always wanted to withdraw to think more closely about what Spark intended with regard to the novel's themes of mimesis and evil. The novel is drawn someone loosely from that most productive period of Spark's life, her years in her twenties working in the shabby-genteel literary world of Kensington where she lived a very hand-to-mouth existence in the lodging houses of post-War London with their coin-operated heaters and shared accommodations. Her heroine, Fleur Talbot, is hard at work on a novel, "WARRENDER CHASE," when she is offered a chance to work for a peer's grandchild, Sir Quentin, and his Autobiographical Association. Fascinated by his snobbishness and prissiness, Fleur decides that the work will provide great further fodder for her novel, and the early chapters describing the bizarrities of Sir Quentin and the members of the Association are practically unforgettably hilarious. But Sir Quentin is less ridiculous than he seems in his potent control over the members of the Association, and when he discovers the truth about Fleur's novel, he becomes determined not only to steal it from her but to take it as a blueprint for his behavior and that of the Association's members. More than just a comic romp, the novel is a meditation as to how we live and write our own lives, and who should have control over them and over what we say about them.
5.0 out of 5 stars Muriel really does spark!,
This review is from: Loitering with Intent (New Directions Classic) (Kindle Edition)Her wit and her joy at being a woman in the 20th century, a writer, makes me happy. Her sex life is part of her life unapologetically, in the late 40's? Her right to write and get paid for it refreshing (oh that I had read her in high school). Her subjects harken back to the 19th century, characters stuck in the British class system, with wonderful eccentricities, but seen through her Scots rebel eyes. I love her. Is there a biography?
4.0 out of 5 stars A Perfect Novel for Spark Fans,
This review is from: Loitering with Intent (Paperback)I have now reread this (the New Directions paperback edition) for the second time in eight years. Every page is a delight and a wonder. Its 209 pages pack more imagination and excitement than any other short novel I can think of, with the possible exception of a couple of other Muriel Spark productions.
The time is set quite firmly in 1949-1950. The narrator tells of how she took an oddball job at the same time that she was completing a novel. Her employer, a snobbish (and possibly mad) idler named Sir Quentin Oliver runs an outfit called The Autobiographical Association. Sir Quentin ropes in a small band of eccentrics to write no-holds-barred autobiographies, to be kept under lock and key for 70 years to avoid the brutish British libel laws. Of course most of those folks can't write, won't write, or back off from the commitment. But Sir Quentin doesn't care about these deficiencies: he's mostly interested in keeping his well-born associates around him as a chatty support group. But then he finds out that his new employee, Fleur Talbot (Spark's narrator), is an inventive fiction-writer who can enhance everyone's autobiography so brilliantly that no one takes offense. He is utterly enchanted but not sure where to go with all this brilliance.
That's the basic setup of the story, and from here it could wing off in any number of directions. Spark chooses to make Sir Quentin an obsessive madman who steals her narrator's soon-to-be-published novel, and weaves its conversations and plot elements into his Association's various memoirs. It is never exactly clear why Sir Quentin goes to the trouble of stealing the novel, rather than encouraging Fleur in the task she is already doing so well.
This and other weaknesses of the plot are easily brushed over by the reader, because of the wonderful, detailed distractions that the narrator provides about her life in a Kensington bedsit, where she entertains a boyfriend and his wife and his male lover, and other weirdoes, all apparently based on real-life folks Muriel Spark ran across in her early career. Nevertheless the weaknesses are there. And although the book is entertaining and seems authentic in its place and time (because of the autobiographical elements), I feel that Spark is cheating us as the book winds down offhandedly to its conclusion.
Top-notch Spark for the Spark enthusiast, definitely--myself included. But can a newcomer really enjoy this book? I think most people would bow out after the first few chapters. Too much of it is flowery and self-indulgent fictionalized memoir...dressed as bedsit-life mutton.
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Spare yourselves,
This review is from: Loitering with Intent (Paperback)So many of Amazon's reviewers waxed lyrical about this novel that I felt certain it was a safe choice for a wonderful weekend read. Wrong! This is no better than a mass market suspense thriller. A woman of Muriel Spark's genius should never have given in to the temptation of writing for the market rather than from her soul.
I am writing this review is to spare those of you who, like me, hope for a novel of the quality of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. While I would not go so far as to say that this novel is hopeless trash; if your expectations are high, it may cause you (as it did me) immense anguish.
Most Helpful First | Newest First
Loitering with Intent by Muriel Spark (Paperback - June 2001)