Thursday, February 11, 2010

Immersing Myself in Muriel Spark's Life and Work

I read Muriel Spark: The Biography by Martin Stannard over the course of the last couple of weeks with much pleasure.

It's not a great biography. Stannard's tendency to skip back and forth in time and to shift between first and last names when referring to the vast cast of characters made it difficult at times to figure out what exactly happened between who when. And he had theories about Spark that he sometimes presented as fact. I've got no objection to biographers putting forth theories⎯that's part of what makes biographies interesting to me⎯but I do object to those theories being presented as fact.

But as the first full biography of Spark it is a must-read for fans of her work, and it is an impressive work of scholarship that is packed full of interesting detail, much of it new to me despite having read most of Spark's books and followed her career with interest for decades. Most importantly, Spark's writing, both process and product, is the central focus of the biography throughout. Stannard's thorough and thoughtful commentary on Spark's novels and stories did for me just what a good literary biography ought to do⎯send the reader back to the work itself.

I've begun a grand re/read with the intention of working my way through all 22 of Spark's novels in the order in which they were published, and finishing up with the collected stories. Stay tuned for many Spark-inspired posts along the way.


Suko said...

Kate, I look forward to your future posts about Muriel Spark's works. Your words led me to read Spark in the first place; because of you I read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Comforters.

Anonymous said...

Started Prime of Miss Jean Brodie last night, and I really, really like it. Thank you!

Thomas at My Porch said...

What a fun challenge you have set for yours self. Since I have only read about half of her output I can't go back to the beginning and start over like you are. Although I am tempted.

Anonymous said...

I really like Muriel Spark and am trying to read all of her books. I have read nine. I particularly liked Driver's Seat (v. dark) and The Girls of Slender Means and The Finishing School.

Lulu said...

This is an excellent review - I've picked up this biography a couple of times and put it down again, undecided. But you're right - as a fan of Spark herself, it should be on my essential reading list.