Book of da Week: The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark

The Driver's Seat - Muriel Spark
Are you in… the Driver’s Seat?

As we saw from A Room of One’s Own last week, Virginia Woolf championed the right for women to write stuff. In the 20th century, thanks to women’s liberation, we had increasingly daring writing from female writers, one being the legendary Muriel Spark. Thusly, today we’re covering the Driver’s Seat, a macabre and twisted tale of a young woman named Lise who decides to be more hedonistic… with disastrous consequences.

Our edition features a concise, but excellent, introduction from John Lanchester who gleefully picks up on Spark’s unusual writing style and her intentions behind certain sentences. All of this makes for a novella which can be read quickly, yet you’ll likely want to head back into Lise’s bizarre world to pick up on more details. Wicked!

The Driver’s Seat

Welcome to the world of Lise, an oddball with numerous personality quirks who has grown bored of her 1960s desk job. Feeling emancipated by what modern life has to throw at her (fancy clothes, holidays abroad, cake etc.), she decides to head on out for a hedonistic holiday in order to unleash her inner temptress.

As she’s a bit peculiar (at the beginning of the novella, she decides to buy a batch of new clothes which are unbearably garish and psychedelic), this leads her into a new world of flirting with dudes, dodgy meals on a continental flight, and a rapid shift towards a self-destructive lifestyle.

At 100 pages this is something you can simply blast through, so it’s impressive what Spark achieved here. We try not to do spoilers at Professional Moron, but it’s established early in the Driver’s Seat Lise is heading towards an untimely end. It’s how she’s going to meet this fate which is what draws the reader in.

It’s also quite what’s going on in her brain which is so fascinating. Published in 1970, we have here an excellent philosophical crime novella. Spark, the quirky Scottish writer, instills a real sense of menace into the prose. Oddball Lise is heading towards something bad, we sure do know it, but what idiotic thing does she do to achieve this nasty fate? Read the Driver’s Seat to find out.

Muriel Spark

A quick note on the writer, who died in April 2006 aged 88. Clever works such as this marked her out as a real talent during her life. Born in Edinburgh in 1918, she wrote 22 novels – the Drivers Seat is “her spiny and treacherous masterpiece”, according to the New Yorker. Well… why not? As it goes without saying what was dubbed as a “metaphysical shocker” is an unsettling look at a woman losing her mind.

Her writing was influenced heavily by her Catholicism, which can be seen in the likes of her other works the Comforters, Memento Mori, the Public Image, and the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. She’s well worth a read if you like clever, often bizarre books. The Driver’s Seat is, probably, the ideal way to start, too. Enjoy!

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