When Less is so much More…

I think my greatest literary (re)discovery of 2010 has to be Muriel Spark. I’d tried a couple of her books years ago but had never taken to the style. Revisiting her writing this past year, with different, more appreciative eyes, has seen me absolutely devouring her work. 


Santa brought me her autobiography, which I’m very much looking forward to reading. In the meantime I’m finishing The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – and am loving itThankfully I’ve never seen the film which I doubt could ever capture the nuances of her characters.


She has to be the Mistress of Spare Prose, and it is this – plus the dry humour – which does it for me. Her ability to convey the darkest aspects of the human psyche without resorting to ramming a character’s rawness down our throats, without ever really leaving that light and frivolous tone, is sublime. It’s a level of narrative control I’d love to achieve as a writer – almost unbearably tight… but I’m now firmly of a mind that in writing, as perhaps in life, it’s the holding back that evokes emotion, not the bleeding onto a page.


I’ve read lots of books this year, and some real beauties (one that springs to mind is the glorious Divine Farce by Michael S Graziano) but it’s Spark’s work that’s had the biggest impact on me as a writer


So, seven down and another 15 to go… should see me nicely into 2011.
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3 Replies to “When Less is so much More…”

  1. Difficult to find anyone who hadn't seen the film version. Muriel Spark may be one of those writers best appreciated when very young or after a long interval. I agree with your conclusions on her style, less is most certainly more, just wish I'd written them myself. You have an ability to bring out the essentials of a writer's specific skills in a few, beautifully conceived sentences, as I've seen on many occasions. Don't be too hard on yourself – comparisons with acknowledged experts are invariably invidious – your own strengths as a writer have been evident to me from the very first exposure to your work. Thank you most of all for persuading me to return to a writer I've rated for many years, 22 books, eh? That should keep me busy!

  2. I also recently read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie for the first time. After finishing it, I can't believe I've never read Muriel Spark! I too was very affected as a writer and I love the way you've expressed it here–"it's the holding back that evokes emotion." I'm not sure I've ever read a better characterization that what she has created here with Miss Brodie. Amazing. What other books of hers do you recommend?

  3. My two favourites of those read so far are "Symposium" – which is hilarious – and "Momento Mori" which I finished recently. The latter is sheer brilliance in terms of characterisation and human observation, but the humour is *very* dark and so not a laugh-out-loud read like Symposium.I also really enjoyed "A Far Cry from Kensington" and her first book "The Comforters" which has a surreal plot but some fabulous characters.

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