Sunday, 29 April 2012

The Bachelors by Muriel Spark

My last Spark novel for Muriel Spark Reading Week, hosted by Stuck in a Book and Harriet Devine's Blog, is The Bachelors, a tale of young men and the women they dally with.

The central story concerns Patrick Seton, a spiritualist medium accused of defrauding a woman out of two thousand pounds. While he's certainly a rogue, with a long list of convictions to prove it, we are given the impression that his psychic trances are genuine, and he has a staunch group of supporters who will do anything they can to defend him. Not least among these is his diabetic girlfriend, Alice, whom Patrick plans to murder when she refuses to abort his child. 

Spark introduces a large cast of characters, many of them bachelors, who are to have a role to play in proving Patrick's guilt or innocence. The most notable of these is Ronald, a graphologist called in to testify to the veracity of a letter supposedly written to Patrick. Ronald is the most sympathetic character in the novel, though this is an ensemble piece so I wouldn't like to call him the protagonist, and he's something of a recluse on account of his frequent epileptic fits. Other memorable characters include a self-styled priest with delusions of grandeur, a cross-dressing fake doctor-cum-medium, and an eccentric catholic-hating aunt.

The greatest strength of The Bachelors is its dialogue, of which there is a great deal, and all of it very sharp and witty. The bachelors have various problems in their relationships with women, and most of them enjoy their single existence, while at the same time feeling a pressure to marry and conform. 

The Bachelors is a fairly early work from Muriel Spark, written just before The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and is missing some of the characteristics I had come to associate with her writing. For once, we actually have to wait until the very last page to find out whether Patrick is judged guilty or innocent, and there is less (though still a little) jumping around in time than with other Sparks I have read. The frequent Spark theme of religion is, of course, much in evidence, and the spiritualist group reminded me a little of the autobiographical society in Loitering with Intent. Spark seems to like writing about small, enclosed societies, such as the school in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie or the convent in The Abbess of Crewe.

This was probably my least favourite of the Sparks I have read so far, mainly because I didn't feel there was enough plot to sustain a story of this length. On balance, I enjoyed the darker novels best, and would put The Driver's Seat in the number one spot. With six books crammed into a week, I feel as though I have had the best possible introduction to this marvellous author, and have enjoyed Muriel Spark Reading Week very much indeed.

6 comments:

  1. This one, on paper, sounds brilliant - but this is another review which suggests perhaps it isn't Spark at her best. But I will definitely read it at some point.

    If I had some prize to award for enthusiasm and interesting posts during MSRW, you'd win! But, er, I don't... ;)

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    1. Thank you, what a nice thing to say!

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  2. Wow, you did really well - 6 books!

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