Loitering with Intent by Muriel Spark ***

Reading dates: 10 — 31 January 2014

N—— recently criticised my review of The Dogs of Riga. In his view, it focused too much on plot. ‘Books are more than plot’, he said to me as we were reading Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. This means that it is perhaps time for me to explain what the purpose of these little snippets of thoughts about books are. They are just that, a reading diary, an aide-memoire of my encounter with these texts. I write them as if I was at a party, a little merry of course, and I mentioned to someone I happened to have read a particular book. ‘What did you think?’ Well, the answer is these short paragraphs. The context is a party, not a book group and most certainly not a publication. They are not reviews; I do not look at the book in all its facets: style, author, plot, rhythm, reading experience … but focus on my own instinctual orientation to it. That’s all.

So, my orientation to Muriel Spark’s novel is set around the reading experience. This is a book that N—— and I chose to read together, aloud and in bed, and much to my disappointment (for my adoration of Spark is clear), it did not work. Given that my New Year’s resolution is to abandon books that are not giving me pleasure, we stopped the joint reading just half way through. I continued on my own and Spark’s marvellous voices and her idiosyncratic characters came alive in my mind. I could hear them, whereas when we read aloud, I did hear them — and this was not right. As Fleur discovers the truth about the Autobiographical Association she works for and becomes a writer, I also began to sympathise with her. Spark writes of writers and what they go through (the novel is vaguely autobiographical and it was great fun to guess the roman a clef bits), of publishers, of intellectual property, of the gift of a visionary state some artists have, of envy, of hysteria, of what it is to be a woman-artist. True, I did not like this novel as much as Girls, or Brodie, or Peckham Rye or A Far Cry or The Driver’s Seat. My reading experience had something to do with my rating. Yet, I found enormous pleasure is her distinction of good versus evil, her illuminated old women (Edwina is fantastic) and her sharp prose.

I didn’t know then, as I know now, that the traditional paranoia of authors is as nothing compared to the inalienable schizophrenia of publishers. (p. 81)

After last year’s experience, just this sentence is worth the three stars. It did make me smile.