Loitering with Intent by Muriel Spark


Published in 1981, Muriel Spark’s book was set in 1950; the narrator is a successful author looking back on writing her first book, Warrender Chase. I have thoroughly enjoyed Muriel Spark’s books in the past, A Far Cry from Kensington and Memento Mori and in the distant past, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.  This one seemed to be a bit more odd than the others and to have a little less of a plot that I could relate to. The oddness is exemplified by the countless times the narrator Fleur Talbot refers to the name of her book. By that I mean she refers to her book by name, so that “Warrender Chase” becomes a mantra. There’s some slapstick in the stealing of manuscripts back and forth. Accusations of plagiarizing on the part of the narrator and by the narrator of her employer leave you wondering not what happened, but what you might think about these narratives.

Fleur takes a job working for Sir Quentin Oliver, creator of the Autobiographical Association, in the business of recording the biographies of people that will not be public for 70 years. Fleur feels free to spice up the biographies she types to make them more interesting. After Sir Quentin takes over production of the biographies, Fleur begins to notice that the biographies have elements of her novel in them. Her publication contract is cancelled, she is accused of plagiarizing her novel, and the manuscript is stolen from her room. She then contrives to steal the biographies from Sir Quentin.

The characters include Lesley, Fleur’s lover who is married to her friend Dottie, Lesley’s boyfriend, Sir Quentin’s mother, the twits in the Autobiographical Association, Fleur’s friend Solly who helped her find another publisher. Sir Quentin’s mother, thought to be a troublesome incontinent bother, turns out to be a good friend and able to help take down her “rotter” of a son. Part of the background (or perhaps foreground), include the rationing and poverty in postwar Britain, a exuberant cry for new freedom for women, and evidence of a new sexual liberation.

Muriel Spark, Loitering with Intent, Coward, McCann, Geoghagen, 1981, 217 pages (I listened to the audiobook). Available at the UVa and public libraries and from Amazon.

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