The Comforters PDF/EPUB Ú Paperback

The Comforters Having loved The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and inspired by the centenary of Muriel Spark s birth, I decided to tackle this, her debut novel.It is a very odd book but I mean that in a good way There is some of the acerbic humour of Jean Brodie, but this is a very meta book Remarkably so, given this is a first novel, and one published in 1957 Coming straight from Brodie, you could easily be wrong footed.Its offbeam style is present from the get go From the moment we meet Laurence and his gr Having loved The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and inspired by the centenary of Muriel Spark s birth, I decided to tackle this, her debut novel.It is a very odd book but I mean that in a good way There is some of the acerbic humour of Jean Brodie, but this is a very meta book Remarkably so, given this is a first novel, and one published in 1957 Coming straight from Brodie, you could easily be wrong footed.Its offbeam style is present from the get go From the moment we meet Laurence and his grandmother Louisa, we know there are going to be plenty of eccentrics in the novel.But the most subversive part of the plot focuses on Laurence s fiancee Caroline, who begins to be plagued by the noise of typewriter keys, and realises she can hear her actions and those of everyone around her being narrated She appears to be in a novel but it s up to the reader to decide how much of this is a genuine piece of metafiction, and how much is purely in Caroline s mind.There are other strands to the novel too though Could Louisa be running a ring of spies, or perhaps even be a criminal mastermind And then there s family friend Baron Stock s pursuit of Britain s most notorious Satanist.In fact, when you write those bare details down, the book sounds utterly deranged, but it s Spark s genius that she marries the mad with the mundane courtesy of a light and skilled touch that prevents the whole conceit crashing and burning.There is also plenty of humour, and it is skilfully and playfully constructed I am sure when I readof here work, these skills will be even better employed, but The Comforters is still a remarkable beginning.Ali Smith, no stranger to metafiction herself, has sung its praises, and the influence and reputation of Muriel Spark is justifiably growing I will be reading Another Muriel Spark novel I had read already some five books by her And she is one of my favourite writers I knew what I expected when I began the novel and I was not disappointed Only that I was surprised to find out in the curse of reading The Comforters was Spark s debut When I learned that fact, few things easily fell into places For instance, the themes of conversion She became a Catholic in 1954 and writing a novel a character in the novel, who is also meditating to write a novel Another Muriel Spark novel I had read already some five books by her And she is one of my favourite writers I knew what I expected when I began the novel and I was not disappointed Only that I was surprised to find out in the curse of reading The Comforters was Spark s debut When I learned that fact, few things easily fell into places For instance, the themes of conversion She became a Catholic in 1954 and writing a novel a character in the novel, who is also meditating to write a novel, is obsessed with a thought that she is part of a plot written by a disembodied spirit.About the theme of Conversion I expect the theme of religion specifically Catholicism in Spark s novels She was an unorthodox kind of a Catholic This novel being a debut, we get a glimpse into Spark s own reasoning into her own conviction that led her to Catholicism She clearly states that it was not easy way to salvation that led her to Catholicism She writes in the novel in a tongue in cheek manner of a recent convert who justifies his conversion in the following mannerThe wonderful thing about being a Catholic is that it makes life so easy Everything easy for salvation and you can have a happy life All the little things that the Protestant hate, like the statues and the medals, they all help us to have a happy life This is a shallow level Any Christian, irrespective of the denomination that he belongs to, who has such a shallow opinion is deceiving himself She writes rather forcefullyThe demands of the Christian religion are exorbitant, they are outrageous Christians who don t realize that from the start are not faithful They are dishonest their teachers are talking in their sleep Love one another brethren, beloved your brother, neighbours, love, love, love do they know what they are saying This thought is expressed by a character who is a recent convert who is haunted by a muse that at last succeeds in making the character to write a novel Surely that character in the novel must be Spark The autobiographical elements add flavour and I love them For I love Spark.About the theme of Writing As I said earlier, the writer is to be haunted The character in the novel hears voices preceded by sound of someone typing the keys on a typewriter No one else hears When she shares it with the friends they mistake her for suffering from delusion In fact, that may be right too But that is the way with the writer To escape the torment, advice given is to take short notes and organize them later into a novel I think, that is what Spark must have decided The autobiographical elements thus spotted till then in the novel get justified She Spark must have consulted herself and others as she began contemplating the idea of being a novelist The advice she received must have beenMake it straight old fashioned story, no modern mystifications End with the death of the villain and the marriage of the heroineThis is the advice given to the character in the novel by a senior character And I think Spark stuck to such advice.Finally The above two vies on the novel are my obsessions I expect them in Spark But that should not cancel out other elements She is a writer for everyone She is a master story teller You begin a detached reader and then suddenly you are caught in the hypnotic words of Spark Spark will look at you teasingly and you will want her to go on narrating turning furiously the pages This story is not so different There are interesting characters 76 year old lady who is the Queen of a Diamond smuggling ring, a full breasted woman who is hated by all, a man who is obsessed with diabolism black magic without he himself realizing it, a business tycoon who is fond of making retreats, etc Spark entertained me And I am thankful Sly wit and subtle humor abound in these pages This author was brought to my attention by GR friend Fionnuala, thank you Very different from my usual reading material, but thoroughly enjoyable Georgina Hogg is a veritable beast of a woman, mean spirited and unforgiving, with an ample bosom that threatens all in her path Worse yet, she suffers from chronic righteousness Caroline Rose is quite a character, but in what way A recent convert to the Catholic faith, she begins hearing an uns Sly wit and subtle humor abound in these pages This author was brought to my attention by GR friend Fionnuala, thank you Very different from my usual reading material, but thoroughly enjoyable Georgina Hogg is a veritable beast of a woman, mean spirited and unforgiving, with an ample bosom that threatens all in her path Worse yet, she suffers from chronic righteousness Caroline Rose is quite a character, but in what way A recent convert to the Catholic faith, she begins hearing an unseen typewriter clacking away, followed by voices Is this a religious experience, or could she be going mad Laurence Manders has a predilection for snooping, fancies himself a sleuth With his knack for glomming onto absurd details, he s not all the way wrong While nosing around in his grandmama s kitchen, Laurence comes across a loaf of bread that yieldsthan typical wholemeal goodness It may be that granny is mixed up in some very questionable activities.As an aside, the edition I checked out from the library is a 1957 copy Our library did not have this title, but was able to locate one at the Washington University library in St Louis through the wonderful Mobius program It was ensconced in some sort of a cardboard protective package that had a sticker on it saying This book is fragile Please use it carefully and return it to the box when finished I figured it would be falling apart in my hands, but it was in remarkably good condition and had that wonderful old book smell that wafted from the pages as they were turned Spark s debut is a sizzling multi character romp with an unexpected metafictive subplot and an unexpected Grandma s smuggled diamonds into loaves of bread subplot, amongst other sub and foreplots Read the Ali Smith preface in this edition then find an edition with a less revolting cover to read the actual novel The pace sags but the novel sings Metafictioneers take note of this one Spark predates Barth et al by a decade. Meta literary novels are boring though not as boring as meta filmic movies , and if they don t bore you by now 2012 well, you need to think about something else for a while Which makes this novel particularly notable, since it is meta literary and also not boring It s not hard to work out why, though Spark isn t out to subvert our expectations or undermine the authority of the Author or anything like that Instead, she draws a wonderful analogy between faith in God and faith in art, and Meta literary novels are boring though not as boring as meta filmic movies , and if they don t bore you by now 2012 well, you need to think about something else for a while Which makes this novel particularly notable, since it is meta literary and also not boring It s not hard to work out why, though Spark isn t out to subvert our expectations or undermine the authority of the Author or anything like that Instead, she draws a wonderful analogy between faith in God and faith in art, and, therefore, human beings There is no physical evidence that art is any good, or even that it exists you can t prove that something is a novel by pointing to a thick wad of paper there s certainly not much evidence that human beings are any good And yet Here we have a very good novel, written by a narrator with whom I would love to spend time I would love to spend time with the characters The plot is self consciously convoluted and based on coincidence and unlikely events and fabulous for all that Spoiler the evil woman dies The end is happy, despite the omnipresent creepiness of the whole thing And all this in the fifties, back when nobody was thinking about meta literary themes, right Well, no Spark was thinking about them, writing about them, and doing itcoherently,interestingly, andprofoundly than any of your favorite writers from the seventies, eighties and today I wonder how that radio station advertizes itself now I m getting old As a special bonus, the book isn t about literature It s about life What a thought Just before the libraries closed, I borrowed the longest Muriel Spark novels that I hadn t read yet this and The Mandelbaum Gate The Comforters , as it turns out, was her first published novel I doubt I d have realised that without it being pointed out in the introduction, as Spark already has her assured narrative voice and arch wit fully developed The plot is perhaps not as tight as some of her later, shorter novellas, though There is also a central conceitexplicitly experimental t Just before the libraries closed, I borrowed the longest Muriel Spark novels that I hadn t read yet this and The Mandelbaum Gate The Comforters , as it turns out, was her first published novel I doubt I d have realised that without it being pointed out in the introduction, as Spark already has her assured narrative voice and arch wit fully developed The plot is perhaps not as tight as some of her later, shorter novellas, though There is also a central conceitexplicitly experimental than I ve found in her other fiction one of the main characters becomes aware that she s in a novel This meta twist is treated in characteristically deadpan fashion Caroline, the character experiencing it, unsurprisingly assumes at first that she is delusional and receives a variety of unhelpful advice from friends, relatives, and her boyfriend Laurence I found Laurence a very entertaining character, essentially a Useless Sherlock Holmes He is very nosy and has a remarkable eye for detail, but by temperament and inclination doesn t draw useful conclusions from what he discovers When he does uncover something interesting, like a smuggling ring involving his grandmother, he cannot keep it to himself.The darkly farcical plot of The Comforters revolves around secrets incompetently concealed and blackmail ineptly attempted The dramatic climaxes are sudden, apparently random events that appear dropped in by the novelist, who Caroline can sometimes eavesdrop on As usual with Spark, Catholicism is a running theme, the dialogue is witty and tart, and several characters are convincingly unbearable people Georgina Hogg and the Baron are especially memorable creations and Louisa is magnificently enigmatic Mental illness is asignificant theme here than in other Spark novels My favourite moments tended to centre upon this I m sure, Willi, said Caroline, that you are suffering from the emotional effects of Eleanor leaving you I am sure, Willi, that you should see a psychiatrist If what you say were true, he said, it would be horribly tactless of you to say it As it is I make allowances for your own disorder Is the world a lunatic asylum then Are we all courteous maniacs discreetly making allowances for everyone else s derangement Largely, said the Baron I resist the proposition, Caroline said That is an intolerant attitude It s the only alternative to demonstrating the proposition, Caroline said I don t know, said the Baron, really why I continue to open my mind to you Muriel Spark s writing is a balm in troubled times, definitely recommended as lockdown reading Written in 1957, The Comforters is a curious and fun mix of English manners, mystery, and a post modern writer s examination of writing that reminded me of I liked this book in that it was sometimes very dry and funny, sometimes quite shocking, and often made me feel like a complete idiot for not being sure about what was going on. True to the saying nomen est omen this is a sparky novel, unfortunately my senses have been blunted by reading The Secret, I suspect I need a diet of sensible non fiction and fresh air to restore my reading sensibilities before I can appreciate Muriel Spark again However I reassure you, gentle reader, that this is a comic novel While I didn t fall off any chairs holding my aching ribs, my smile to page ratio seemed to be high view spoiler although as with The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie this i True to the saying nomen est omen this is a sparky novel, unfortunately my senses have been blunted by reading The Secret, I suspect I need a diet of sensible non fiction and fresh air to restore my reading sensibilities before I can appreciate Muriel Spark again However I reassure you, gentle reader, that this is a comic novel While I didn t fall off any chairs holding my aching ribs, my smile to page ratio seemed to be high view spoiler although as with The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie this is humour that can bite, in this case, close to the close of the novel, the family patriarch He had misgivings then, about his retreats He told his spiritual director I might have done better to spend the time at home My family have had to cope with difficultiesmy sonmy brothermy mother in lawone of our old servantsI might have done better had I not made so many retreats You might have done worse, said the shrewd old priest, and sounded as if he meant it It was a humiliating thought, which in turn was good for the soul They manage admirably without me, Edwin Manders admitted.And so he was in retreat again pp182 3 hide spoiler In any you have any doubts that this is a comic novel there is also an absurd sub plot about a smuggling gang headed by a Granny who relies on pigeons for communicating with her merry men.In comparison with The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, the only other Spark I ve read, this is very much a first novel A first novel that sticks to the principle of write what you know What does a person writing their first novel know about They know about writing their first novel So the central character is a young woman, a Catholic convert, writing a book on twentieth century British literature and having a problem with the chapter on realism She comes to be haunted by a phantom typewriter which she identifies as someone in another dimension writing about her and eventually it turns out that view spoiler well you can probably guess view spoiler that this novel is one that she writes hide spoiler hide spoiler However the other characters try to kick against the implications of this, one theme then is seeking to escape the restrictions of definition and description that other characters attempt to impose on them Unfortunately since this is a novel they have no real existence and tend to disappear view spoiler for once I think I can even say that they literally disappear hide spoiler when the author has no further need of them view spoiler and why not hide spoiler One of the problems that the characters have is that because they are only characters rather than people, their efforts to comfort others run awry They are too caught up with their own hobby horses to ever be helpful to each others, except accidentally Another theme is Catholicism In my mind I m beginning to create a reading list of Catholicism in twentieth century British writing from Evelyn Waugh via Graham Greene and Muriel Spark to David Lodge view spoiler and three of those four were converts, which is why Catholicism is prominent in their work I suppose hide spoiler Still after a while this came to blend together with the predominant meta fictional game The novelist is a creator god who expresses themselves through rituals and formulae The readers and characters can join in the responses at the expected moments knowing that the villain must die and that the heroine and hero must marry for the sacred history to repeat itself with divine precision The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a very different novel, quite how Spark gets there from here is unclear to me as a reader, that path is shrouded in mist Though path plainly there was since she did write both I remember once seeing an exhibition about the riddle of the development of Rembrandt as an artist A row of drawings were arranged chronologically from very early apprentice works with no discernible Rembrandt style to works although early in his career that had an unmistakable personal style Yet in this long row there was no smooth transition, rather an abrupt, jagged, change The riddle of his development remained, perhaps I might also find this to be the case for Spark s novels Caroline Rose is plagued by the tapping of typewriter keys and the strange, detached narration of her every thought and action Caroline has an unusual problem she realises she is in a novel Her fellow characters also seem deluded Laurence, her former lover, finds diamonds in a loaf of bread has his elderly grandmother hidden them there And Baron Stock, her bookseller friend, believes he is on the trail of England s leading Satanist In Muriel Spark s brilliant first novel, the only things that aren t ambiguous are her matchless originality and glittering wit


About the Author: Muriel Spark

Dame Muriel Spark, DBE was a prolific Scottish novelist, short story writer, and poet whose darkly comedic voice made her one of the most distinctive writers of the twentieth century In 2008 The Times newspaper named Spark in its list of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945 Spark received the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1965 for The Mandelbaum Gate, the Ingersoll Foundation TS Eliot Award in 1992 and the David Cohen Prize in 1997 She became Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1993, in recognition of her services to literature She has been twice shortlisted for the Booker Prize, in 1969 for The Public Image and in 1981 for Loitering with Intent In 1998, she was awarded the Golden PEN Award by English PEN for a Lifetime s Distinguished Service to Literature In 2010, Spark was shortlisted for the Lost Man Booker Prize of 1970 for The Driver s Seat.Spark received eight honorary doctorates in her lifetime These included a Doctor of the University degree Honoris causa from her alma mater, Heriot Watt University in 1995 a Doctor of Humane Letters Honoris causa from the American University of Paris in 2005 and Honorary Doctor of Letters degrees from the Universities of Aberdeen, Edinburgh, London, Oxford, St Andrews and Strathclyde.Spark grew up in Edinburgh and worked as a department store secretary, writer for trade magazines, and literary editor before publishing her first novel, The Comforters, in 1957 The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, published in 1961, and considered her masterpiece, was made into a stage play, a TV series, and a film.


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