At the end of the 20th century, an Englishman in his 60s walks into the Paris practice of famed Bavarian psychiatrist Dr Hildegard Wolf and announces that he is the missing Lord Lucan. But Hildegrad, key protagonist of Muriel Spark's new novel Aiding and Abetting
, is already treating one Lord Lucan, and they both have dirt on her--for isn't she really Beate Pappenheim, the fraud who used her menstrual blood to fake her stigmata? Increasingly obsessed with the Lucans, and fearing for her safety, Hildegard flees to London where her path inevitably crosses that of two British Lucan-hunters...
The seventh earl of Lucan disappeared on 7 November 1974, leaving behind him the battered body of his children's nanny Sandra Rivett and a beaten wife. Lucan´s sensational story and the possibilities of his whereabouts over the past quarter century provide Spark with several issues with which wittily to play: identity, blood ("it is not purifying, it is sticky"), class (working class nannies bleed more than the aristocracy), the dynamics of psychiatry ("most of the money wasted on psychoanalysis goes on time spent unravelling the lies of the patient"). But it remains a strange, slight affair--its unspoken tenet being that the Lucan case still preys on the communal mind of the British public, its details (like his penchant for smoked salmon and lamp chops) indelibly printed there. For anyone under 30 that's a difficult argument to swallow, and for good reason. As one wise character puts it "Few people today would take Lucan and his pretensions seriously, as they rather tended to do in the 70s". Times have changed--and perhaps that's Spark's point, that the "psychological paralysis" that allowed Lucan to escape is now long gone. --Alan Stewart
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'Unmistakable Spark, to be relished and enjoyed, like a late vintage claret or a high-grade murder' The Times
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