Tony's Reviews > Muriel Spark: The Biography

Muriel Spark by Martin Stannard
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Nov 12, 10

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Read in November, 2010

Stannard, Martin. MURIEL SPARK: THE BIOGRAPHY. (2009). Ms. Spark is one of favorite writers, though as I read over the list of her publications I realized that I’ve only read about five of her (about) 26 books. I’ve got a task ahead of me! In spite of my limited reading, where I took advantage of what info the publisher provided about her on the flaps, I also realized that I didn’t know much about her life. This biography certainly corrected that. It is well written and well researched, and was written with the permission of Ms. Spark – though she did balk at having it called, “The Authorized Biography.” Personal letters and papers were made available to the author by Spark and solicited from her friends. It is written, as are most biographies, chronologically, but soon gets by the dull business of childhood and parents and grandparents. Although her immediate family was a mixed bag of characters, they were fairly typical of Scots families from the lower-middle class at the time. Her mother did manage to give her quite a hard time in later years, but pretty much left her alone when she was young. She married Mr. Spark and went off with him to South Africa. She soon discovered that she had made a mistake, and separated from him after a few years and returned to England. She had a son by him, Robin, who later turned against her for religious reasons when he was a young adult. Religion and belief are at the core of Ms. Spark’s creative efforts. Although raised as nothing in particular – although heated debates occurred as to whether or not she was Jewish – she later joined the Anglican Church, and then moved to the Catholic Church. She has been classed with the two other famous writers of her time who converted to Catholicism – Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene. The philosophical thrusts of her novels all reveal her extreme interest in morality, but done in such a way that the reader – unless he knows what to look for – is not distracted by them. Although she started out poor, she ultimately became very successful as a novelist, playwright and essayist – and became well off. She was obsessed with money. She was constantly accusing her publishers of somehow cheating her out of what should have been hers. Much of her correspondence strikes a petty chord about her compensation. Sometimes she was correct; money was not being properly accounted for – but often she was just being a pain with a petty fixation. She had lots of male friends, but never carried her affairs on for too long. When she found herself becoming too interested in one man, she broke off the relationship. Several men remained her friends throughout her life and provided the support she needed intellectually, but she ended up spending most of her life with her secretary/companion, Penelope Jardine. She led a busy, active life, dying at age 88 in Tuscany from kidney failure. This book presents her fascinating life in a very readable way. It’s reader-friendly. Recommended.
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