Stephen's Reviews > The Driver's Seat

The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark
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May 07, 12

bookshelves: 1970-1979, literature, audiobook, classics, classics-european, novellas
Read from May 05 to 06, 2012 — I own a copy

A disturbed woman's journey of conscious self-annihilation...a perverse fairy tale in which the "prince" becomes a vehicle of destruction...and a brutally piercing statement on female victimization and empowerment.

Yeah...there's a lot to admire in this work.

That said, I must admit that the story didn't engage me emotionally the way a work dealing with themes of this magnitude usually will. My thinking was engaged, and my philosophical curiosity was certainly feeling it, but my compassion, my inner core tethered to the human condition, felt mostly ignored.

I say mostly...but not completely...because the climax of the story went a long way towards rehabilitating all my complaints.

The last 5 pages of this work were so brilliantly constructed, so surfeit with existential genius, that I wanted to crawl into the book and kneel in supplication before Ms Spark's skill.  It was perfect and devastating, and turned a weak, clinically appreciative 3 star rating into a memorable read that was just a wisp of something away from a 4th star.

This is my first time reading Muriel Spark, and I intend to continue my travels through her catalog as there were moments of dazzle in this work that were almost blinding. Our guide through this novella is Lise, whose inner motivations and desires are a puzzle we are meant to solve. Spark never lets us into Lise’s head, and all we are witness to is her behavior and her dialogue.

From her gaudy, attention-seeking attire, to her dysfunctional interactions with the world, to her sexual hangups, to her off-kilter reactions to everyday situations, she is a rubik’s cube whose complex patterns must be aligned. This character dissection becomes suffused with urgency when we learn early on that Lise is going to be savagely murdered. In just over a day, she will be tied up and stabbed repeatedly.

Spark’s described this as a “whydunnit” because who killed Lise is less important for the reader to determine than the why.

This work felt a bit like “anti-Kafka.” By this I mean that, instead of a normal person waking up in a world gone mad and unknowable, Lise begins the story loaded with crazy and proceeds to impose her madness on the society around her. Whereas Kafka’s characters feel out of control and eventually realize the futility of their struggle, Lise feels in complete control and never realizes that she is swept up in forces that are, in the end, beyond her ability to orchestrate.

In the end, I liked this. It's a short work and the pages seemed to turn quickly. I stayed engaged throughout, and genuinely enjoyed the story.

I just found myself intermittently anxious for Spark to more deeply explore certain of her narrative observations, to provide a bit more commentary on events. There was some of this, but it generally failed to reach the deep places inside me...until the very end.

But the ending...WOW...that was...a...MOMENT.

You know what I mean, those fleeting instances when a book will just pound you and leave you reeling...the moments that reinvest your passion for reading and the written word. The ending was one of those moments. A completion of a momentous journey that is both utterly successful and an abject failure...leaving nothing but victims in its wake.

My timbers shiver to think of it now.

It's short, it's well written, it has an ending of sublime genius. It's worth reading...maybe more than worth reading.

3.5 stars. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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Comments (showing 1-36)




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Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways Shovelmonkey1 wrote: "I recommend The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie"

AND The Girls of Slender Means!


message 34: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey Keeten Wow I don't think I've read Murial Spark since the '80s. I wonder why? It is so easy to lose track of people with the onslaught of new literature.


message 33: by Shovelmonkey1 (new)

Shovelmonkey1 Richard wrote: "Shovelmonkey1 wrote: "I recommend The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie"

AND The Girls of Slender Means!"


I've not read that one yet but I will endeavour to do so sometime soon!


Stephen Shovelmonkey1 wrote: "I recommend The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie"

I just read an article on that and it is going to be my next Spark novel. Thanks, SM1.


message 31: by Shovelmonkey1 (new)

Shovelmonkey1 It is set in the area of Edinburgh where I lived as a kid so it was especially appealing to me.


Stephen Richard wrote: "Shovelmonkey1 wrote: "I recommend The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie"

AND The Girls of Slender Means!"


Will research and add to the list, good sir. Thank you.


message 29: by Mark (new) - rated it 2 stars

Mark memento mori is my favourite of hers


Stephen Shovelmonkey1 wrote: "It is set in the area of Edinburgh where I lived as a kid so it was especially appealing to me."

The story looks very good. Looking forward to it.


Stephen Jeffrey wrote: "Wow I don't think I've read Murial Spark since the '80s. I wonder why? It is so easy to lose track of people with the onslaught of new literature."

I hope this leads to a reunion of sorts.


Stephen Mark wrote: "memento mori is my favourite of hers"

I will look that one up as well. Thanks, Mark.


message 25: by [deleted user] (new)

I don't think you're meant to be emotionally engaged in this story. It's all very detached and absurd, which is what makes it so powerful and unique.


Stephen For me, I generally find that even in works that are told in a very detached manner (Cormac McCarthy springs to mind), there is still a powerful undercurrent of emotion, often made the stronger by how removed it is from surface of the story.

I definitely felt that at the very end of this story, I just was hoping for a bit more during the lead up. I thought the ending was something very special.


Petra X smokin' hot I liked the book more than you, but then I like everything Muriel Spark writes. Her style is so clever.


Stephen Yeah, there were parts I loved, Petra, and parts where I was looking for more.


message 21: by Anne (Booklady) (new)

Anne  (Booklady) Molinarolo Shiver me timbers! I recommend The Bell Jar


message 20: by Mark (new) - rated it 2 stars

Mark Couldn't vote yesterday cos I was reading your review on my phone but great review. Have to say, though I really love Spark, that this one, 'Not to Disturb' and 'Hothouse by the East River' are my least favourites by a long haul


message 19: by Sketchbook (new) - added it

Sketchbook Spark disarms in a black comic way. My fav, "The Public Image."


Stephen I like the way you put that. I think after I've read a bit more of her work, I may have to revisit this to see if my perception changes.

Thanks for the recommendation on "The Public Image."


message 17: by Sketchbook (new) - added it

Sketchbook Caution : she pulls what a pal calls "a cunning stunt."
As a fan of hers and black comedy, it knocked me over !


Stephen Ah...thanks for the heads up. I certainly don't mind being knocked over by writing.


message 15: by Sketchbook (new) - added it

Sketchbook Report back--.


Stephen I definitely will.


message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

I haven't read anything I've disliked by her. Can't wait to read it all. She's in a class all be herself, as far as I'm concerned.


message 12: by Sketchbook (new) - added it

Sketchbook Agreed.


Stephen So many choices of where to go next with Spark, sounds like there isn't really a wrong one.


message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm reading her ghost stories next.


message 9: by Sketchbook (new) - added it

Sketchbook Btw, why does one set Profile to "private."


Mark Stephen wrote: "So many choices of where to go next with Spark, sounds like there isn't really a wrong one."

Except 'Not to disturb'....weird and very disturbing


Mark Maybe all you Sparkian searchers should join the Muriel Spark Group. We could do with new enthusers


Jessica yes, please do! The group needs newcomers!


message 5: by Werner (new)

Werner Stephen, you might enjoy Sparks' short story "Portobello Road" (which, to date, is my only first-hand experience with her work). It's an unconventional ghost story, narrated by the ghost.


Jessica Oh yes, that's a great short story. I also like her novel "A Far Cry from Kensington.'


Stephen Werner wrote: "Stephen, you might enjoy Sparks' short story "Portobello Road" (which, to date, is my only first-hand experience with her work). It's an unconventional ghost story, narrated by the ghost."

Thanks, Werner. That sounds like something I would like.


Stephen Jessica wrote: "Oh yes, that's a great short story. I also like her novel "A Far Cry from Kensington.'"

Another wonderful suggestion. Apparently I have much to enjoy from Ms. Spark.


message 1: by Brittany B. (new) - added it

Brittany B. What a fascinating book!

I saw this on the "hottest review of the week" section! Well-deserved, of course... :)


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