A wickedly funny and odd little book, hard to know how to read it. A clue is in the title: The Ballad... The character of Dougal Douglas or Douglas DoA wickedly funny and odd little book, hard to know how to read it. A clue is in the title: The Ballad... The character of Dougal Douglas or Douglas Dougal, is the quintessential "stranger who comes to town" and leaves many maimed in his wake. Is he the devil incarnate? perhaps. Is Dame Muriel Spark a devilishly good writer, always surprising, nudging her characters and the reader off balance...? Yes, indeed....more
An absolutely delightful read. What I love about Spark is that each of her novels is entirely different from the next...yet one can always count on aAn absolutely delightful read. What I love about Spark is that each of her novels is entirely different from the next...yet one can always count on a generous dose of charm and wit along with keen observation and insight. And so far (I think I've read five of her novels), A Far Cry rises to the top of the heap.
According to Stannard (Spark's biographer), when the novel appeared, reviewers contented themselves with repeating Mrs. Hawkins' bon mots, her clever advice: The best way to diet is to eat only half of each dish. The best way to write a novel is to imagine you are writing to a friend...For concentration, one required a cat, for a successful relationship, it was wise to start off early and ease off; for rheumatism, a banana a day (half a banana if you're following the diet)...[don't marry] before seeing the fiance drunk. The novel is highly quotable: 'I had a sense he was offering things abominable to me, like decaffeinated coffee or coitus interruptus.
I love the novel for its lively narrator, Mrs. Hawkins, her smarts and her boldness; she is not to be intimidated and she speaks the truth when no one else does: Hector Bartlett is a pissuer de copie! She delights in doing so, even to his face (and his back). The novel also has an intriguing plot, a mystery of sorts at its center.
In this novel (novella, really, or very long short story) published in 1970, Spark turns traditional gender relations on their head. As the buoyant, fIn this novel (novella, really, or very long short story) published in 1970, Spark turns traditional gender relations on their head. As the buoyant, frenetic Lise, dressed in clashing colors, goes on holiday in Genoa on the hunt for "her type," she meets the elderly Mrs. Fiedke. The two team up for a shopping spree (slippers for Mrs F's nephew; a food mixer, among other things, for Lise):
"They are demanding equal rights with us," says Mrs. Fiedke. "That's why I never vote with the Liberals. Perfume, jewelry, hair down to their shoulders, and I'm not talking about the ones who were born like that...there was a time when they would stand up and open the door for you. They would take their hat off. But they want their equality. If God intended them to be equal to us he wouldn't have made them different from us to the naked eye. They don't want to be dressed all alike any more. Which is only a move against us. You couldn't run an army like that, let alone the male sex. With all due respect to Mr. Fiedke, may he rest in peace, the male sex is getting out of hand. Of course, Mr. Fiedke knew his place as a man, give him his due...Fur coats and flowered poplin shirts on their backs...If we don't look lively...they will be taking over the homes and the children, and sitting about while we go and fight to defend them and work to keep them. They won't be content with equal rights only. Next thing, they'll want the upper hand. Mark my words. Diamond earrings, I've read it in the paper."
Much of the novella is as hysterical. But it's also very unsettling. The frenetic, inscrutable Lise's hunting down of her "type" proves very successful indeed, to unexpected and terrifying consequences.
Spark does it again: wholly original, pithy, and dark....more