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The Ballad of Peckham Rye (New Directions Classic) Paperback – May 17, 1999

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Touched with a Satanic glamour and a manner so disarming that grown men dissolve in tears at his slightest provocation, the Pied Piper of Spark's charming 1960 satire captivates the residents of Peckham, a small London suburb. Dougal Douglas is, like Spark (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie), a Scot. He comes to Peckham hoping to conduct "research" for an autobiography he's ghostwriting about an aging stage star, and succeeds in convincing the managers of two competing companies that he is researching worker productivity on their behalf. While he claims his investigation into the psychology of Peckham's hoi polloi will lead to lower rates of absenteeism, in fact Dougal Douglas (or Douglas Dougal, or Mr. Dougal-Douglas, as he variously calls himself) frolics around suggesting to the typists and engineers he chats up that they take every Monday off. In Peckham there are "classes within classes," and Spark's sharp portraits needle at the members of the "upper-working" and the "lower-middle" classes alike. There is prim Dixie, who practices an unattractive thrift with an eye toward furnishing her new bungalow when she gets married. Humphrey Place, Dixie's fianc?, repeats union boilerplate with the conviction of an idiot. Miss Coverdale, the head of the typing pool, maintains her grim affair with her married employer because he gives her an allowance to keep up her flat. Douglas comes to have a great deal of influence in the town and his strange ways and antics earn him friends and foes in equal numbers. The drama of the novelAwhich most properly lies in the brilliant accuracy of Spark's spoofingAreaches its peak when Douglas is blackmailed by Dixie's 13-year-old stepbrother and the rumors of Douglas's identity (is he a spy? a police informant? the Devil himself?) lead to murderous hysteria. Witty and quite perfect in its construction, this light and mock-folkloric novel is the work of an inspired satirist.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Sparks 1960 comic novel follows Dougal Douglas, who is hired by a company to poke into the private lives of its employees. Douglas turns out to be a demonical researcher who butts in so much he begins to influence his subjects actions rather than just observe them. LJs reviewer found the book well written but thought American readers might have trouble with the dialect. A wickedly funny novel for all fiction collections.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Series: New Directions Classic
  • Paperback: 143 pages
  • Publisher: New Directions (May 17, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0811214087
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811214087
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,940,582 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Muriel Spark (1918-2006) was a prolific Scottish novelist, short story writer, and poet whose darkly comedic voice made her one of the most distinctive writers of the twentieth century. Spark grew up in Edinburgh and worked as a department store secretary, writer for trade magazines, and literary editor before publishing her first novel in 1957. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), considered her masterpiece, was made into a stage play, a TV series, and a film. Spark became a Dame of the British Empire in 1993.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By DAVID BRYSON VINE VOICE on January 26, 2008
Format: Paperback
This novel was new when I first picked it up for a train journey. I had been reading a good deal about Muriel Spark in newspaper notices at the time, so this was the chance to find out for myself. It was love at first read, and I was curious whether the wonder of it all might have survived the decades.

Muriel Spark's work is commonly classified as `satire', and I suppose that's fair. However something that her early admirers, including Evelyn Waugh, stressed was that she is not really like anyone else, and I believe that is true also. Obviously, satire has contemporary themes, so it might seem a likely candidate for early obsolescence, but a few moments' thought suggests otherwise. Juvenal Voltaire Swift and Macaulay have not exactly gone out of fashion, and are still read with enjoyment by people who cannot be bothered to look up their contemporary allusions, and 40 or more years after it was launched the satirical magazine Private Eye seems not only to be still going strong but to have passed on its special vocabulary, originally attached to figures now little remembered, to a new generation of fans. Small wonder in that case that Mrs Spark is still wearing well.

For newcomers to the author, this is as good an introduction as any. It is completely characteristic of her, it does not threaten memory overload with a huge cast of characters as The Bachelors possibly does, it stops short of being downright weird like The Hothouse by the East River, but on the other hand it escapes being lightweight like The Abbess of Crewe or even the immortal Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on October 10, 2000
Format: Paperback
Dougal Douglas (or Douglas Dougal, depending on who you're talking to) may be a devil, and some people think he seems more Irish than Scottish. Whatever else he is, he is a lot of fun. THE BALLAD OF PECKHAM RYE lacks the sympathetic, possibly autobiographical central character found in many Spark novels (THE COMFORTERS, THE BACHELORS, etc.); however, it doens't fall into the black hole that swallows THE DRIVER'S SEAT or other works consumed by Spark's sense of evil. Instead, Dougal Douglas, the ever-present mischief-maker, takes the place of the sympathetic center. He wreaks havoc, but only by bringing out the devil in others--he himself has a kind of curious innocence in the midst of their scheming and violence, and acts as a (presumable) spokesman for Spark when he categorizes their various moralities (Functional, Emotional, Puritanical and Christian).
Such a summary doesn't begin to capture the delight and wit of one of Spark's most enjoyable and economical (again, not a page too long, which cannot be said for many of even our best writers today) books.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Mike Lai on March 24, 2000
Format: Paperback
Dougal Douglas, the protagonist of this short novel, is a modern-day trickster, stirring up the sleeping industrial town of Peckham, where secrets and neuroses are in abundance. I loved Ms. Spark's sense of comedy. It makes her books always a fun read, and it's subtle enough so it never becomes an annoyance to distract one from the story.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By zugenia on July 30, 2006
Format: Paperback
The Ballad of Peckham Rye (1960) seems more typical Sparkian fare than 1958's Robinson, which is to say more arch, more satirical, and more stylistically bizarre. And yet, while in Robinson Spark uses realism to loosen readers from their moorings so that they founder in the depths of what seemed to be a straightforward story, in Peckham Rye her wry, detached sketches release the reader into a kind of drunken clarity about such Big Ideas as, say, human nature. Reading this short novel, I told a friend at the time, felt like being in one of those whiskey-induced hazes in which certain lines and observations blaze with a delightful, transcendent truth--for example, "Dougal gazed at him like a succubus whose mouth is in its eyes," or "My lonely heart is deluged by melancholy and it feels quite nice"--while the lesser details, like What Is Actually Going On, recede elegantly into obscurity.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jay Dickson VINE VOICE on April 2, 2011
Format: Paperback
Muriel Spark's short novels are so highly polished and carefully wrought that they deserve several readings each before you get the fullest sense of how densely layered they are. This funny satire of sex among the working classes in 1950s London is mostly dialogue (of a very inflected and period sort) that obfuscates its difficulty and density. Dougal Douglas, an Edinburgh-educated young man with a crooked shoulder, comes to the borough of Peckham as an "arts" specialist to study the behavior of the workers in a firm; glib and supremely self-confident, the wicked Douglas begins to seduce everyone he comes into contact with, and then hires himself to other firms in town to play the same tricks there. He so thoroughly disrupts the morals and manners of the town that he might be the devil himself, as he repeatedly hints: but as with all of Spark's fiction, this is more than just a Catholic allegory, and is an unsettling study of why people behave the way they do with regards to sin and propriety. (It's often been argued that Douglas is more properly a figure for the novelist than for the powers of hell, and Douglas is secretly writing a biography of a faded music-hall star on the side.) It's a funny work, though perhaps not as enjoyable as some of the other books Spark wrote near the same time that established her name, such as MEMENTO MORI and THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE.
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