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on 25 November 2010
Though known better for her subtly subversive, insightful and often tragic novels, such as 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' and 'The Girl's of Slender Means', Muriel Spark's 'The Driver's Seat' is perhaps her most innovative, and definitely her most provoking novel. The short, staccato novel tells the tale of Lise, an office worker, stifled by her mundane and uniform existence, who goes abroad in an attempt to find 'the one' in the form of a man. Spark's cruel, and quickly apparent twist, appears to be that 'the one' will be a man whom she wants to invoke some form of sexual crime or severe sexual deviancy upon her, whilst she is forced to subjugate to him, and this realisation gives the novel a sense of horror from the very early stages. Set around a vapid, soulless expanse of shopping malls, traffic jams and faceless hotels, Spark's novel gives a very powerful evocation of the sense of an absence of humanity and connectedness in the mid-late 20th century of her writing.

In Lise, Spark has a heroine who is a sort of diametric opposite of characters such as Jean Brodie. Terse, antagonistic and clearly in the throes of mental dissipation; the outlandishly dressed Lise forces the novel to unravel in a purposefully hectic style, as Lise appears to become more convinced of her plans, and equally further away from her sanity. Hugely troubling and genuinely startling, even for the contemporary reader; the only thing the novel falls down on is Spark's purposeful but sometimes maddeningly repetitive implications of what is wrong with this modern world in which Lise exists. Equally, though the technique of making the reader feel a sense of alienation by making Lise so other, and not giving her the qualities with which one would traditionally empathise, makes the novel especially hard to connect with, as superbly written as most of it is. For those looking for a gripping and challenging look at the human condition on the brink of itself, this is a superb work; but one that most readers aren't going to find themselves altogether enjoying the experience of.
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on 16 June 2016
The Driver’s Seat (1970) is another miniature masterpiece from the excellent Muriel Spark.

It’s the era of the mini skirt in Britain, and Lise readies herself for an Italian getaway in order to “get a rest”. We notice there’s something odd about Lise. That feeling grows when she’s aboard as we see her unravelling, moving from middle-class eccentricity to some kind of mental breakdown. What will happen to Lise and where will she end up?

Spark’s precise prose trims every loose word, leaving us a skeleton of a book that is 108 pages long. We never know if Spark loves her characters or not. She presents them with a journalistic eye, reporting the facts and nothing more. Yet she allows us to love them. Lise is marvellously opinionated; take this earnest remark she makes to an old woman she’s teamed up with and dragging around the shops: “If he uses a paper-knife,” Lise says, “obviously he isn’t a hippy. If he were a hippy he would open his letters with his fingers.”

A highlight of this work, and one she does in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), is forewarning the ending. Usually I dislike that technique as I believe a strong ending is a device that should be held back to create greater dramatic impact, but with Spark it works incredibly well, probably as it’s done so matter-of-factly.

My comparison is completely chalk and cheese, but it did remind me of Hunter S. Thompson’s magnum opus novel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1972). It’s the way both protagonists effortlessly lie that formed the link.

The Driver’s Seat is a spectacular novella. It starts funny, becomes frightening and finally pitifully sad. The more I read of Spark’s work, the greater my admiration grows.
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on 16 July 2014
Before reading The Driver's Seat I had only ever read one other Muriel Spark work, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and I hadn't particularly enjoyed it. The Driver's Seat inspired a much more positive reaction. I've since read a lot of Spark's books and I'm really glad The Driver's Seat got me started on them.

It's humorous, dark, and for being so short and using such deceptively simple language there was so much to think about: identity, rape-myths, mental health, how much control you have over your actions...(I could go on), along with a good dash of metafiction. As soon as I had finished it I flicked straight back to the start and began reading it again. I read a lot, however this still one of my favourite books.
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on 27 April 2016
I bought this book as it was my local Waterstones' book club, book of the month (for April).

I was intrigued by the tantilizing blurb and the simple cover. I've never read anything by Muriel Spark before but, after reading this odd but charming book I can definitely say she will be adorning my bookshelves more regularly.

The story is about an unhappy woman called Lise who decides to take control of her life. We soon find that instead of finding herself like many young female characters do, she (Lise) does the opposite. She seeks to end her life. Muriel Spark cleverly switches Lise's place in this narrative from protagonist to antagonist and back again.

I am also in love with the way she touches on what to me seems to be the subject of poor mental health; namely depression and a need for death.

Definitely not an easy read because of all the backwards and forwards with Lise's mental state and choices but definitely worth a go.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 19 August 2012
SPOILERS

I read my only Muriel Spark book a few years ago, "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie", and while I enjoyed it, it didn't make me want to read more Spark. Then before reading this I read Nick Hornby's latest collection of "Stuff I've Been Reading" columns from The Believer magazine where he highly recommends Spark's "The Driver's Seat" and it was his one-line summation of the book that made me excited to read it - which I did in a sitting. It may be considered a spoiler but I think if more people knew what this book was about, they'd seek it out because it's such a strange and creepy novel. Here it is: an office worker called Lise loses her mind and goes on holiday abroad to be murdered. WHAT?!?!

I can honestly say I've never read a book where that was the main story. I mean, just imagine the state of mind someone must be in where they set up their own death, will it into existence and choose such a horrific way to die. Why? is the question that drives the reader's motivation through this book but it's not a book that willingly gives you answers. You have to try and understand a deeply troubled person through their erratic actions and try to come up with a solution yourself.

The tone of the book is immediately unnerving with Lise arguing with a shop assistant in a clothes store about a stainless fabric to her holiday dress; she doesn't want to hide the stains! Then you see her spotless flat and her mundane work life - 16 years in an accountant's office - and you begin to see why she desperately wants to be messy, both physically and spiritually.

From there, every encounter with a character is tinged with an aura of desperation, sadness and despair as the reader finds out Lise's fate and wonders if each character she meets - and she meets a series of odd men - is the one who kills her. The mounting unease of the novel is matched by Lise's increasingly bizarre behaviour as she wanders about the foreign city in a daze speaking in four different languages.

This novel is as unsettling as Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery" which has all the elements of an ordinary life until the horrific finale which completely forces you to re-examine everything that went before it. There are so many great artists which I felt this book had elements of - Hitchcock, Kafka, Shirley Jackson, Daphne Du Maurier, Patricia Highsmith. "The Driver's Seat" could be classified as horror because it's such a weird, unpleasant yet compulsively readable book that I couldn't put down - I had to know who kills her in the end and why. And having read the novel now I only have more questions rather than answers.

Most people, myself included, tend to read a writer's best known book and move on to the next great writer and their best work, and so on. I did this with Spark and "Jean Brodie" but this writer has far more to offer than a girl's grammar school, complex relationships and secrets - "The Driver's Seat" proves that Spark is a formidable talent whose nightmarish novel is a must-read for people looking for a thrilling book that still has the power to shock more than 40 years since it was published. I was disturbed by this book and I can't remember the last book that genuinely made me feel this way. "The Driver's Seat" shows a fearless writer journeying deep into the darkness of the human psyche and showing the rest of us the mysterious horror that lurks beneath. Highly recommended.
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on 5 June 2016
I have and love many Muriel Spark books. This was not one of them. This was disappointing and meaningless. The characters were unformed and I did not care what happened to any of them at all. Waste of time and money.
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on 13 April 2009
Amazingly concise yet fluid writing. Probably one of Spark's finest works yet somehow overlooked. If you want to know how to write a crisp, well-plotted novella this is one of the best examples out there. The plot twists make the story - I must admit I thought I saw one coming but there is no audience cheat here. The suspense just keeps on building. I won't give away plot points. No spoilers here. Just read it.
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on 7 February 2010
As the minimal 109 page novel `The Driver's Seat' by Muriel Spark opened I knew that with the main character Lise I, as the reader, was in for quite an unusual treat, mind you Muriel Spark always manages to create something quite special with any book she writes. As we meet her Lise is having a bad moment in a changing room whilst shopping for a dress for her impending holiday. The bad moment in question seems to be tearing of a dress in an offended rage after being told `the material doesn't stain' leads her to feel the saleswoman is being insulting by insinuating something or some things. As we spend more time with the ever contrary Lise you begin to realise that she is definitely not quite right mentally, yet when we look at her perfect uber-tidy and neat flat and her regular sixteen year job we begin to question ourselves.

In fact it seems that the holiday the dress is for is actually some form of much needed escape for Lise and so she in a way firmly grips the drivers seat of her life and promptly goes completely off the rails into crazy unknown territory, starting at the airport before she has even boarded the plan, meeting a small quirky cast of characters along the way and heading towards a climatic life event for herself. I can't give away anymore than that without spoiling the plot. I will say that the opening paragraph of chapter three had me says `what, no, surely not'. No more shall I say on the subject of plots though.

I will say I think this has almost instantly become my favourite Spark yet. In comparison to some of the other works of hers I have read this has the darkest undertone despite its bright cover and flamboyant lead character. It also packs one of her hardest punches. It also sees Muriel dabble in a genre that I wouldn't have seen her try and yet she does brilliantly in her own Sparkish way. I realise I sound vague but I do so hate to spoil things and this is a book that should not be spoiled in any way at all and in fact if you haven't read must be read immediately.
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on 20 June 2016
The first and last Muriel Spark book I shall probably ever read. Several sentences needed re-reading as I they weren't very clear.
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on 20 September 2004
This is a realy interesting book which makes you question what you expect from reading and why. All the obvious pattern are absent in this novella which left me feeling lost and confused throughout, however upon completion this seemed entirely suitable. The Driver's Seat follows Lise the main character as she holidays somewhere in the south and seems to create her own ultimate ending. She is in the driver's seat as she takes control of her life and also her end, or is she? Reading this was an entirely new experience in novel reading and one which has opened my eyes to new and different literary forms. I would recoment this novel, it is interesting, different and unusual.
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