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Insightful and innovative; but not a pleasant read
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.