The Complete Short Stories by Muriel Spark****

Reading dates: 09 January 2012 – 31 August 2013

One day in my young youth at high summer, lolling with my lovely companions upon a haystack, I found a needle. (The Portobello Road)

There are so many stories I loved in this collection … I began reading it while also reading Martin Stannard’s biography of Spark. When things were not looking very good for her, she won a prize with ‘The Seraph and the Zambesi’, the first story I read in this book. The experience of reading it reminded me of the contemplation of a Fra Angelico painting now; there was something eternal, maybe transcendental in it. I fell in love with her African stories: ‘The Go-Away Bird’, ‘The Curtain Blown by the Breeze’, ‘Bang-Bang You’re Dead’, ‘The Ormulu Clock’. But her European ones were wonderful too. The stories mentioned by Stannard — such as the stunning ‘The Portobello Road’ which contains one of my favourite first lines, together with Beckett’s Murphy and Nabokov’s Lolita — and those unknown to me — for example ‘The Girl I left Behind Me’ — made an impression. There are a lot of stories in this collection, and a lot of very diverse narrative strategies. I did not find them as absorbing perhaps as her novels (but that’s me, I like novels more than short stories) but I did enjoy most of them despite my long involvement with the book (I was not so keen on ‘The Young Man Who Discovered the Secret of Life’). I read them at breakfast, or in between books, or while waiting for someone and they always left that peculiar Sparkian feeling. She deals with the supernatural like no other writer, not even the Latin-American magic realists …

If you are in the UK, you can listen to her talk about the supernatural and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p00fc431/Bookclub_Muriel_Spark. She is wonderful.