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Saturday, April 15, 2006

Muriel Spark has died at 88. Here is the NYT obit. Here is the archive page of NYRB where you can enter her name to see reviews of many of her books through the years.

Though her most famous work is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, I think first of Memento Mori and A Far Cry from Kensington and The Girls of Slender Means when I remember her novels.

Two friends of mine find her detached and comic vision of the world as a place where evil is not everywhere at once but potent and waiting anywhere incredibly discomforting. Spark's evil is snarky and petty, and that it lurks in prose both deceptively and exquisitely crafted makes the knife-sharp comedy all the more ominous.

Every word counts. She demanded much of the reader, not the endurance required by the encyclopedic postmoderns but the agility of a dodger and the quickness of a survivor. She expected you would get all the ramifications of her sentences and chose her words carefully, excising all that wasn't absolutely essential. I'm not talking minimalism: I'm talking maximalizing the effect of every word.

Take three or four hours and read her last novel, The Finishing School, or 1981's Loitering with Intent or 1960's The Ballad of Peckham Rye: if you're lucky enough to become addicted, you'll work your way through them all.



The Walkmen

The Glands

(Ba'al, great band, great song)

Mary Lou Lord
(if anyone can find an mp3 to "She Had You"
off *Got No Shadow* please send me the link)

Okkervil River

And go read:

Not as strong as John Henry Days or The Intuitionist, though just as ambitious, and still better than most novels, Whitehead's Apex (which can be read in a single-sitting) is a fleshing out of themes I suspect Whitehead is just beginning to plumb. Maybe it's the English major in me, but sometimes I find minor works from a major artist more fascinating: it's like watching the unhatching of works that will follow.