Muriel Spark – The Driver’s Seat

Posted on | September 12, 2011 | 9 Comments

Oh, for such a small novella (tautology?), The Driver’s Seat covers so much, with a dark plot, completely mental characters and just bizarreness all around! Lise, a thirty-something year old woman, is stuck in a dull office job for a decade or so, and she’s about to embark on her first vacation. At the very outset, we discover that Lise is completely and utterly nuts. Like flips out in a shop, while looking for a dress to travel in, when the salesperson tells her it’s made from stain-resistant material… so much so that she walks out of the store, as she is affronted by the insinuation that she does not eat properly.

When she finally finds an outfit to wear (“a lemon-yellow top with a skirt patterned in bright V’s of orange, mauve and blue.’ and a coat over the top ‘narrow stripes, red and white with a white collar”) during her travels, the reader is left truly bewildered, by the sheer garishness of it, which she justifies easily.

The colours go together perfectly. People here in the North are ignorant of colours. Conservative; old-fashioned. If only you knew! These colours are a natural blend for me. Absolutely natural.

Okay, so possibly, Lise is on the verge of a breakdown of sorts, but she does seem to have an agenda. She insists she’s meeting her boyfriend at the destination, but one wonders if she knows the man in question, for she does incessantly use the phrase, he’s not my type while interacting with any of the strange men she encounters from the start of her break till… well… her death. Again, early on, Spark lets us know about the fate of her character. Not the who, not the why, just the what.

She will be found tomorrow morning dead from multiple stab-wounds, her wrists bound with a silk scarf and her ankles bound with a man’s necktie, in the grounds of an empty villa, in a park of the foreign city to which she is travelling on the flight now boarding at Gate 14.

Lise’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic as the novella progresses. She lies glibly, steals a car, and just seems to have lost all regard for any semblance of normality. Everything as per her convenience. Everything on her terms. Bizarre, uncomfortable, gripping.

This is the third book by Muriel Spark that I have read, and it couldn’t be more different than the other two. It’s significantly darker, to begin with, and suspenseful. The characters are just – wow – I really hope I never have to interact with people like them! Honestly! And despite it being a mere hundred-odd pages, Spark covers a lot of ground, and the ending just fits perfectly. Almost as though everything makes perfect sense.


9 Responses to “Muriel Spark – The Driver’s Seat”

  1. Simon T
    September 12th, 2011 @ 10:32 pm

    This was the third Spark novel I read too, and the one which turned me into a huge Spark fan (even though I wish she hadn’t given it that title, as I guessed the plot twist really early on). The next one I intend to read is The Ballad of Peckham Rye.

  2. Steph
    September 12th, 2011 @ 11:32 pm

    To date, I’ve only read one Muriel Spark novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, but I’ve read it twice and had wildly different reactions to it! The first time, I felt very ambivalent towards the book, but the second time I liked it a lot more, finding it to be wonderfully mordant. Ever since that experience I’ve been wanting to read more Spark… I have a lovely Everyman’s edition that has three of her novels, of which is this one, I believe. Your review has made me all the more eager to read it!

  3. Kristen M.
    September 13th, 2011 @ 1:59 am

    This sounds like one that might convince me to give Spark one more try. I liked one novel, was rather neutral about a second and then hated a third. But how can you go wrong with a super short novella, right? It might be worth a try.

  4. Becky (Page Turners)
    September 13th, 2011 @ 6:06 am

    Sounds incredible. A bit like Steph, the only Muriel Spark I have read is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and to be honest, I didn’t finish it. I started it last week actually – but im finding that pregnancy brain is really only letting me read popular/genre fiction at the moment. Once I am back in proper reading mode, I will give this one a go though. What I did read of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was intriguing (if a little slow) and this one sounds darkly fascinating

  5. Alex (The Sleepless Reader)
    September 13th, 2011 @ 5:46 pm

    This sounds exactly like my cup of tea. It seems a good second entry into Sparks’ writing after The Prime. To where does she travel?

  6. Selena
    September 13th, 2011 @ 7:36 pm

    i’ve never read a think by muriel spark but this may change my mind. to be honest, i hadn’t expected a plot like this from her. i love characters that are… a little unhinged. or that sink into being unhinged. they’re fascinating!

  7. Kari
    September 13th, 2011 @ 10:43 pm

    I’ve only read one Muriel Spark book—A Far Cry from Kensington—and I picked that up because, from other comments and reviews, I thought I’d be a big Spark. I may have chosen the wrong book, because I believe that was the first book during my blogging career that I didn’t write anything about, because I just didn’t have a reaction AT ALL. Maybe I was in the wrong mindset, or maybe it was the wrong Muriel Spark book…

    What has been your favorite of hers?

  8. Joanna
    September 18th, 2011 @ 11:32 am

    This sounds so strange – but good! The only book of hers I’ve read is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and I loved her style. I’ve been wondering if her other books are any good!

  9. Bina
    September 21st, 2011 @ 7:45 pm

    Some people are better only met in fiction! :D At least I hope I wouldn’t have the same affection for real-life villains ;)
    I have yet to read any of her books, but you make this one sound so good! Hope I can find a copy at my library.

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