Muriel Spark’s acerbic, unsettling novels populated by vivid types have their origins in her rackety life
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The young Spark, if we trust the author’s recollection, had already perfected the unruffled moral certainty that makes her prose such a pleasure. In nearly all her 22 novels, the narrative voice sounds like a witty judge summing up a case: characters are hauled up, humorously belittled and then dragged away for punishment.
In Sparkworld, the novelist observes what appears innocuous – colourless, you might say – and sniffs out the poison. In her fifth novel, The Bachelors (1960), the pale Patrick Seton plots the murder of his pregnant girlfriend; in The Ballad of Peckham Rye, published the same year, a man working at a textile factory might actually be Satan. Spark’s vivid types belong more to the world of a Ben Jonson satire than the modern psychological novel.