Two weeks ago I mentioned that Muriel Spark was one of eighteen nominees for the new Man Booker International Prize for lifetime achievement in literature and that I was checking out her autobiography Curriculum Vitae to learn more about her. I have now finished the book, which she wrote at age 75, which deals with her first 39 years, ending when she published her first novel The Comforters. Like her novels there are aspects of her story that you expect followed by surprises. She attended a girls’ school in Edinburgh, Scotland, just like the youths in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. She went to Africa to marry an older man she barely knew, spent much of World War II there glad he was away in the service, and left Southern Rhodesia under false pretenses, so she could catch a troop ship from Cape Town back to London. She got a job with British Intelligence in 1944. Like the characters in The Girls of Slender Means, she lived in a cheap boarding house in London during the time of rationing. She took a series of low paying publishing jobs like the heroine of Loitering with Intent. Until she published her first novel, she was poor and malnorished.
Unlike many successful novelists, she never intended to write prose. She wrote poetry, not stories, in her youth. In her late thirties, she wrote the story “The Seraph and the Zambesi” and submitted it to a contest hoping to get prize money, and she won. Several publishers saw the story and were impressed and asked her to try writing novels. Many aspiring novelists must find her story unfair. They continuously submit manuscripts that are rejected. In fairness, Spark had had many poems rejected by literary journals before her success.
The new Booker award nominations were announced on February 18. The cast is very international, including Margaret Atwood from Canada, Kenzaburo Oe of Japan, Naguib Mahfouz of Egypt, and numerous Americans and Europeans. I do not know all these authors. There is plenty of time for speculation, as the winner will be announced in June. Go to http://www.themanbookerprize.com to learn more.
Spark, Muriel. Curriculum Vitae: Autobiography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993. ISBN 039565372X