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Muriel Spark: The Biography Hardcover – April 12, 2010
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Though the Klopstocks are "obsessed with sex," the "downstairs" inhabitants, are also not immune from this allegation, however more circumspect they may be. Heloise, the pregnant maid, has had so many lovers, she has no idea who is the father of her baby. Lister wants to marry his aunt; Sister Barton, the nursemaid for the Klopstocks' mentally challenged son, wants to marry her charge, though he throws dangerous tantrums, destroys furnishings, and has to be kept in the attic. They will all, however, be able to do what they want after the Klopstocks are dead. They have separately signed contracts to give their stories to various news outlets for large fees, and they have numbered accounts in the Swiss Trust Corporate, which will make them wealthy beyond their dreams.Read more ›
Martin Stannard is patient and relentless in unraveling two subjects that always made Spark uncomfortable. One is her relationship to her son, Robin, whom she basically abandoned as a child and never much liked afterwards. Another is the tale of Derek Stanford, her writing partner in the early days. Prior to this biography, it was never clear what their relationship was. In 'Curriculum Vitae' Spark makes him out to be a pathetic and overreaching little man who stole and sold her personal papers. In 'A Far Cry from Kensington' Spark caricatures him as the bumptious hack Hector Bartlett, the 'pisseur de copie.' It is now clear that Stanford and Spark were lovers during their writing partnership. Once she became successful, and he didn't, Spark found the memory of him irksome and embarrassing.
Spark personally chose Stannard as her biographer, but she was a most unhelpful subject. This book could never have been published during her lifetime. Stannard never succeeds in making her interesting or likeable. Quite the opposite, in fact; the more you know about her, the less you like her. At least I liked her less as a person...having hitherto based my conception of her mostly upon a 1996 BBC television interview where she was just charming as pie. But as a writer and artist? Oh, I think I respect her more.
Mr. Stannard clearly loves his subject and spent time with her as well. He captures her drive, her disagreeable qualities such as her moodiness and peripatetic nature. But he also gets that her high seriousness comingles with her absurdist humor and that her fictional explorations weren't novels but fictions that inhabit the novel form.
He is also very good on her religious, spiritual explorations as they relate to her fiction but I don't think he get across the role her Catholicism played in her life. While I get a sense of her Catholic intellectualism I don't get a sense of the passion for her faith. I think its there but the book doesn't get at it very well, maybe because she hid it from public view.
The last few hundred pages feel somewhat repetitious, we gather that Muriel grew more comfortable in her skin as she aged and face old age and dying with great courage. I think he could have built more literary criticism into the last part of the book and synthesize some of her themes and show how her work come together as a whole. All in all, an excellent biography one that made me want to read more of her fiction!
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Not to Disturb (1972) is a Muriel Spark novella that reads more like a play, with lots of dialogue and accompanying exposition that sounds like stage directions than narrative... Read morePublished 2 months ago by M. Buzalka
An absurdist novelette that could have been a theatrical farce. It's fun.Published 4 months ago by Gorilichis
This was my fourth Muriel Spark and the only one I disliked. I had no interest in any of the characters nor what they were involved (or not involved) in. Read morePublished 19 months ago by John B. Gray
If you like morbid (not grisly at all) slightly sinister tales, this is for you. It's a quick little read and perfectly engrossing for a flight somewhere... Read morePublished on May 28, 2014 by Bookwoody
The good news is, you can read this book in one sitting. The bad news is, you might not want to. I was thinnking this might be an Agatha Christie type of book with servants... Read morePublished on March 20, 2014 by montymom
This is an excellent and balanced view of the famous author. It is very readable, and one feels that one truly gets to know Spark by reading it. Read morePublished on May 29, 2013 by kip
This is a very short novel, which delves into it's character's personalities and motivations in a rather unapproachable, abbreviated style. Read morePublished on December 17, 2012 by Charlene
Muriel Spark, The Biography, Martin Stannard; W.W. Norton & Co. (2009)
"[His] editor at The New Yorker, William Maxwell, said yesterday that Mr. Steegmuller... Read more