My review of Martin Stannard’s Muriel Spark biography appears at Barnes & Noble Review (and is reprinted at Salon). One of the things that struck me while reading is just how easily Spark — one of the finest and funniest novelists of the last century, or of any century — could have continued to write poetry and criticism and not tried her hand at fiction at all.
She composed her first story at thirty-three, almost by accident; she needed money and the Observer was sponsoring a contest. After publishing her first novel at thirty-nine, though, she completed the next few books astonishingly quickly, at half-year intervals, as though some part of her mind had been readying itself.
Despite its sprawl, Stannard’s biography is a fascinating read for Spark fans. And if you haven’t read Spark yet, please get cracking. I recommend starting with The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Girls of Slender Means, or my personal favorite, Memento Mori. Or maybe with her first book, The Comforters, or her last, The Finishing School… Just plunge in; it’s hard to go wrong.
Now that my thoughts are in the can, I look forward to reading The New Yorker’s recent Spark appreciation, and Dwight Garner’s New York Times review. Also, worth returning to: James Wood on Spark’s omniscience and Brock Clarke on her ruthless authorial manipulation.