Friday 18 January 2019

On Spark and Comprehensibility

Do you read for pleasure? I do, and I know it is wrong. I know I should read to be challenged and discomforted. But I want consolation. I'm nervous of very short novels, and almost never read short stories. Having to work out what's going on and who everyone is! The stress and anxiety of it!

Some writers make almost no effort to put the reader at their ease. Muriel Spark is one of these, especially in her later work. I read Aiding and Abetting (2000) recently, and it was an alienating experience. Two men, each purporting to be Lord Lucan, consult a psychoanalyst in Paris. The analyst has her own preposterous secret: she is wanted for fraud after pretending to be a stigmatic and harvesting money from the gullible. Then we're in Scotland with two fresh characters who are in pursuit of one of the Lucans. Then Spark starts to tell the story as though one (or possibly both) of the Lucans were the real thing. The novel ends in Africa and involves cannibalism.

Aiding and Abetting flies by, and at times it's a romp. But it's a difficult read. I don't like to feel I'm only just keeping my head above water. I want to be taken just a little by the hand, and I want things to make sense. And it makes me rather uncomfortable when I get the feeling that the author, who will always know more than I, is quietly having a diabolical little laugh at my expense.

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