This book is an intimate, fond and funny memoir of one of the greatest novelists of the last century. This colourful, personal, anecdotal, indiscrete and admiring memoir charts the course of Muriel Spark's life, revealing her as she really was. Once, she commented, sitting over a glass of chianti at the kitchen table, that she was upset that the academic whom she had appointed her official biographer did not appear to think that she had ever cracked a joke in her life.
Alan Taylor here sets the record straight about this and many other things. With sources ranging from notebooks kept from his very first encounter with Muriel and the hundreds of letters they exchanged over the years, this is an invaluable portrait of one of Edinburgh's premiere novelists.
Alan Taylor was working on Scotland on Sunday when he went to interview Muriel Spark where she was living with her companion Penelope Jardine in Arezzo. It was the beginning of a genuine friendship which lasted 15 years until Spark’s death in 2006, during which time Taylor frequently stayed in Italy in the old rambling Tuscany mansion and accompanied Spark on literary occasions abroad. This book has been published in time for her centenary year in 2018.
Much has been written about Muriel Spark, but this account of the woman and the writer inspired by a deep and sincere admiration ( love actually) presents a vivid and fair portrait. Taylor was particularly keen to show her ‘spark’ (the surname came from her brief unhappy marriage) – the entertaining sharp wit and the laughter, the expensive bright clothes – and he certainly succeeds. The contentious subject of her estranged son Robin is sympathetically dealt with. He was born when she was just 20 and given over to her parents to bring up, but he was financially supported by her throughout his life until he returned her cheques. His obsession with his mother’s Jewish roots was calamitous for both mother and son and is sensitively recounted.
Taylor’s memoir is stuffed with good things: it’s a delicately written travelogue with a sensuous, colourful creation of Tuscany; it’s drenched in an intimate knowledge of Spark’s archive letters and of her 22 novels enlightened by her life at the time of writing them; it’s an insightful but non-prurient examination of her tangled life-relationships, and of her childhood; it conveys her exclusive dedication to writing at the expense of all else (she couldn’t even boil an egg). Importantly, it’s also an exploration of her Scottishness which is an essential part of both Taylor and Spark, and of the relationship formed between them, what Taylor calls the ‘blood speaking to blood’ which drew them together.
But the narration! Was Alan Walker chosen merely because he is a Scot (if he is)? I don’t know anything about him, but I’m sad to have to say that the narration is dreadful and if I hadn’t been interested in the text, I’d have sent it back. His voice is expressionless, monotonous and dreary (so inappropriate for Taylor’s SPARKY memoir) with many examples of wrongly pronounced words. His Italian is laboured and inaccurate (hard and soft ‘c’ for example), English words are mispronounced and even his Scots (quotation from The Twa Corbies for instance) is not confident.
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