Wednesday, January 28, 2015

All the Stories of Muriel Spark

In late December, I noticed on the old librarian's desk that we use for displays several complete-short-stories-of-an-author-in-one-volume books. Several tempted me, but I chose All the Stories of Muriel Spark, having had a personal Muriel Spark reading phase between 2004 and 2005. I had then intended to read much more of her work, but other books and authors were also calling to me. I read Spark's autobiography Curriculum Vitae in 2005 and the wickedly funny The Abbess of Crewe in 2008, but I had not really gotten back on track to reading the whole oeuvre. Reading all of the short stories was an important step toward my goal, so I borrowed the volume.

It took me nearly a month to finish, having other reading commitments as well as other reading opportunities. Spacing the reading of the 41 stories has let Spark's writing style and wit sink in deeper than if I had whipped quickly through them. It also seemed more polite to take time. It took the author most of her writing career to write the collection. I could surely give her a month of my attention.

The month was time well spent. All the Stories of Muriel Spark is an entertaining collection with great variety. I especially like the stories set in Africa drawn from Spark's experience in Southern Rhodesia in the late 1930s and early 1940s. These include the story that she wrote to get prize money "The Seraph and the Zambesi," which launched her career in fiction, and my favorite "The Go-Away Bird." The latter, the longest story in the book at 52 pages, tells the tragic story of Daphne du Toit, an orphaned daughter of Afrikaner and British parents, who fails to escape a fate that the reader foresees. One of Spark's great talents was to tell readers how a story will end in her opening sentences and charm into reading every word.

All the Stories of Muriel Spark is a great companion to Curriculum Vitae, the autobiography mentioned above, as she wrote stories that reflect every stage of her life. The fun is then in trying to decide how much of her fiction was about her long and unconventional life. Ask for a renewal if the book is due before you finish.

Spark, Muriel. All the Stories of Muriel Spark. New Directions, 2001. 398p. ISBN 081121494X.

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